Thousands wait as politicians perpetuate Portuguese spelling controversy

It is hated almost universally, rejected outright by thousands and has spectacularly failed to bring about what it set out to achieve – yet the government has dug in its heels. The coalition majority agreed last week to the setting up of a working group to assess the controversial ‘Acordo Ortográfico’ (literal meaning: Spelling Agreement), but made it quite clear – “radical attitudes to suspend” the treaty will not be tolerated.
Reporting on the mutterings and grumblings over what many see as the “mutilation” of the Portuguese language, Público newspaper writes how the working group’s hands will thus stay firmly tied.
In a strange choice of words, Público explained that the final brief for the group had been “radically amputated” from the original, in order to get PSD approval.
“Discussion of the application (of the treaty), yes; radical attitudes to suspend it, no,” ran Público’s opening sentence.
It is a decision that flies in the face of the 18,000-strong petition calling for the scrapping of the unpopular new form of spelling that came into effect in Portugal in January 2011, instantly creating what opponents call “orthographic chaos”.
For Algarve MP Mendes Bota, the decision signalled “possibly the saddest day” in his long-running political career. An “opportunity lost to put a brake on a process that is leading to the destruction of the Portuguese language”, he called it.
One of many thousands who reject the new spelling – although as a government official he is actually obliged to use it in his press releases – Bota sent out a statement in bold capital letters last week declaring: “Contrary to intentions, this agreement does not unify the spelling of the Portuguese language. It does the opposite. Politically, Portugal runs the absurd risk of arriving at the beginning of 2016 being the only country to oblige people to use a form of spelling that was never theirs.”
Not only has the new spelling not been requested by the people for whom it is destined, claims Bota, it has not even been officially adopted in any of the world’s Portuguese-speaking countries.
Público points out that neither Brazil, Angola nor Mozambique have officially adopted the new form of spelling, yet here it has been causing widespread confusion for over two years, with even primary-school age children complaining to parents and teachers that they “preferred words the old-fashioned way”.
“I have done everything that was in my power to get my parliamentary group to take a different position,” Bota’s statement continues. “I have proposed a project for the suspension of the agreement, but the decision went against. I have to respect the decision, but this respect does not oblige me to stay silent. I am in a democratic party.”
The decision for the setting up of what amounts to a very conditioned working party is the “minimum of minimums”, he concludes. “A weak solution that will do nothing to halt this strange political consensus brought about by economic, diplomatic and operational convenience”.
Meantime, as parliament is due next to discuss the 18,000-strong people’s petition calling for the scrapping of the ‘Acordo’, one of the first to sign it, legal lecturer Ivo Barroso, told Público that he has no intention of listening to the debate, as he feels “completely disillusioned” by the way all parties have dealt with the issue.