Portuguese Reform of 1911
How the Reform Came About
In 1911, the brand new Portuguese Republic was eager to make the literacy rate of its residents better. To do this, they hired philologists to create a standard orthography for Portuguese. Orthography is defined as the conventional spelling system of a language. The outcome of this was what is now known in Portugal as the orthographic reform of Gonçalves Viana. At the time, this new standard became official in Portugal and its overseas territories. These territories included the independent nations of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, So Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor, as well as the Chinese S.A.R. of Macau and Indian territories of Goa, Daman, and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli.
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During the next few decades, many negotiations occurred between representatives of Brazil and Portugal. These occurred with the hopes of agreeing on a consistent orthography for Portuguese. In spite of this, development was very slow. Finally, in 1931, Portugal and Brazil signed an orthographic agreement. From this agreement, Brazil was able to set up its own official orthography in 1939. This orthography had the same basic rules as that of the Portuguese orthography (yet not completely the same).
The creators of the first spelling reform of Portuguese were filled with modern ideas of phonology. Phonology is the branch of linguistics that deals with systems of sounds in a certain language. These authors wanted of a system of writing that had a direct connection between symbols and sounds (like those of Spanish and Italian). Yet they still aimed to keep the new orthography very close to the ancient spelling.
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They did this because the golden age of Portuguese literature was during the period of Galician-Portuguese poetry. What came of this was basically a negotiation between modern phonology and traditional Portuguese. In some cases, spelling rules that went against a word’s origin (but had become customary) were made official.
There have only been small changes that have occurred involving vowels, consonants, and digraphs. The only areas that have undergone significant changes in orthography are the use of diacritics and silent consonants. A diacritic is defined as a sign, such as an accent or cedilla, which, when written above or below a letter, indicates a difference in pronunciation from the same letter when unmarked or differently marked. These two categories still hold large differences between Portuguese orthography and Brazilian orthography.
The orthography that was established by the 1911 reform is still used currently by some share of the Portuguese population. Although there was a new orthographic agreement between the Sciences Academy of Lisbon and the Brazilian Academy of Letter, the 1911 reform still represents the preferred language standard for much of Portugal society.