LINGUIST List 23.3335

Tue Aug 07 2012

Review: Language Documentation; English; Portuguese: Allen (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 07-Aug-2012
From: Rolf Kemmler <>
Subject: The Routledge Portuguese Bilingual Dictionary
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AUTHOR: Maria AllenTITLE: The Routledge Portuguese Bilingual DictionarySUBTITLE: Portuguese-English and English-PortuguesePUBLISHER: RoutledgeYEAR: 2011

Rolf Kemmler, Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro / Centro de Estudos emLetras, Portugal


This is the first edition of a relatively small bilingual dictionary ofPortuguese and English. It is divided into three sections; an introductionsection (pp. i-xxiii), an English-Portuguese dictionary (pp. 1-349); and aPortuguese-English dictionary (pp. 351-753).

The introductory section offers a quite concise ''Preface'' that offers some keyinformation on the work and its author. One of the most essential details is thestatement that ''it contains approximately 65.000 entries and over 50.000definitions in a current lexicographic structure with examples and manyidiomatic expressions in both languages, including the Brazilian variant, whereit differs from the European-African Portuguese and, to a smaller extent,American English'' (p. vi). The preface's final paragraphs inform the readerabout the author, Mary F. Allen, who used to be a Portuguese lecturer at theUniversity of Westminster for several decades.

Following the author's ''Acknowledgements'' (p. vi) are four pages with practicalinformation on ''How to use this dictionary'', both in English (pp. viii-ix), andin Portuguese (pp. x-xi). The text on these pages is, however, no simpletranslation, but rather serves as an explanation for the English-Portuguese andthe Portuguese-English dictionary.

The next chapter is dedicated to ''Orthographic Changes'' in the Portugueselanguage (written in English; pp. xiv-xviii), which include:

- the formal introduction of the graphemes in words of foreign origin;- the suppression of non-voiced consonants in the sequences (e.g. ‘ação’, ‘diretor’, ‘ótimo’; formerly ‘acção’, ‘director’, ‘óptimo’)and (e.g., in Brazil, ‘súbdito’ vs. ‘súdito’ and‘aritmética’ vs. ‘arimética’);- the use of small letters for days, months, and seasons (e.g. ‘quinta-feira’,‘janeiro’, ‘primavera’) and facultative use of small or capital letters inseveral other cases (e.g. titles of books, honorific titles, disciplines, etc.);- the suppression of dieresis (e.g. Portuguese ‘trema’, only used in Brazil) asformerly in 'lingüística' and 'agüentar', now 'linguística' and 'aguentar';- the suppression of the use of accents in some specific contexts and theintroduction of the facultative use of accents in some norms;- changes in the use of hyphens (as Allen states, ''this is still a grey area,which is under discussion'' (p. xvii)).

The dictionary is completed by a chapter on ''Abbreviations/Abreviaturas'' (pp.xix-xxi) and Weights and Measures (pp. xxii-xxiii).


Given the 65.000 entries with 50.000 definitions, the dictionary may beconsidered a bilingual pocket dictionary, being only slightly larger than astandard paperback book. The dictionary, as such, certainly isn't pioneeringwork, but it seems quite obvious that the author wished to elaborate a slendermodern dictionary meant for the use of British students, translators andbilingual speakers of the Portuguese language. Thus, she opted to offer mostlyone or two equivalences for most entries which, all in all, seem to be quiteadequate -- even when referring to more colloquial terms. Occasionally, theauthor adds cultural information in small grey text areas. Due to thedictionary's size, it would have been most desirable if more of suchextralinguistic comments had been introduced in order to further enrich thedictionary. It's quite obvious that the lexicographic part is the author'sforte. It might, however, be argued whether or not the dictionary really mightbe of use to full-fledged translators and bilingual speakers, as its brevity(which might be positive for beginners) could be viewed as a disadvantage bymore advanced and professional users of both languages. Also, if we considerthat the dictionary is made for all kinds of users of lexicographic works (butmostly non-native-speakers of the Portuguese language), one might ask why thereis a total absence of phonetic information?

Concerning the ''Notes on Portuguese grammar'' and ''Algumas observaçõesgramaticais'', we cannot fail to note that together, they occupy a little morethan one page. The English notes are reduced to observations on the singular andplural endings of most Portuguese nouns (p. xii). The Portuguese notes areslightly more elaborate and contain short considerations on the definite article(e.g. ‘o Senhor Silva’ (‘Mr. Silva’); ‘os alunos’ (‘students’)) and thepossessive adjective (e.g. ‘vou lavar as mãos’ (‘I am going to wash my hands’)),as well as the use of the past tense ('tenho comido' as 'I have been eating' butnot 'I have eaten') and passives in Portuguese (‘Aqui fala-se chinês’ (‘Chineseis spoken here’)). Also, these notes contain some considerations on the use ofcomparatives and superlatives in English as well as some English verbs. All inall, the linguistic observations seem to fall somewhat short of what readers mayhope for. In this sense, a short overview on both Portuguese and Englishgrammar, with stress on the more difficult areas for the respective non-nativespeakers, would have been more satisfying.

Concerning the orthographic changes, the Portuguese language was subjected to(due to the reform of 1990) some important issues that need to be outlined. Thesubchapter ''The principal changes'', which offers insight into the linguisticchanges made to what formerly was known as the Luso-Brazilian orthography, ismostly correct. The following introductory paragraphs, however, require somerevision, as they contain some incorrect information concerning this vital area:

''Portuguese is the official language in eight countries across the world, andduring the compilation of this dictionary, the talks about orthographic changeshave been going on between Brazil and Portugal. Four countries agreed andratified these changes in 2008. There are still some aspects to be discussedand, consequently, the dubious areas which are still unresolved, shall not beincluded in the current dictionary. Portugal has proposed a six-year moratorium,so that all eight countries have time to adjust to the new orthography. The''old'' spelling is still in use in all the eight countries.''

The ''Acordo ortográfico da língua portuguesa'' (‘The Portuguese LanguageOrthographic Agreement’) the author is talking about, without any explicitreference, was signed by the representatives of the then-existing sevencountries where Portuguese is an official language (i.e. Angola, Brazil, CapeVerde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe) onDecember 16, 1990. In the document, it was agreed that the new orthographicregime would come into effect on January 1, 1994, but it seems logical that theAfrican signatories would be awaiting the application of the new orthographicrules by Portugal and Brazil, who had been arguing about a solution for a commonbase of a simplified Portuguese orthography since 1911 (cf. Kemmler 2009).

In Portugal, the reformed orthography was ratified in 1991, and in Brazil, onlyin 1995. As this obviously meant that a new date, or even better, a new mode forthe implementation of the plurilateral orthographic reform needed to be found,the ''Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa'' (CPLP), founded as a ‘Communityof Portuguese Language Countries’ in 1996, served as a platform for thenegotiation of further terms. In 2004, East Timor, a CPLP member since 2002,became the eighth member of the agreement's signatories.

As the First Modifying Protocol (signed July 17, 1998) didn't produce thedesired effect, on July 25, 2004, the CPLP members agreed on another modus thatestablished for the coming into effect of the new orthographic regime after thedeposition of the third ratification title with the Portuguese Foreign Ministryin Lisbon. Given that by December 2006, three of these documents had beendeposited, the Brazilian President decreed that the new regime would take effectin Brazil beginning on January 1, 2009 (Kemmler 2010). With the correspondingPortuguese document having been deposited on May 13, 2009, the formalapplication of the new regime beginning January 1, 2012 was only a formality(Kemmler 2011). While there is still some opposition amongst a small number ofprivate citizens, the application of the new orthography in the whole publicsector in Brazil and in Portugal has been swift and rather pacific.

By facilitating unity in the diversity of the linguistic reality of theLusophone countries, the key element of the orthographic agreement is the 'normaculta', that is, the spelling in accordance to the 'educated norm' that can beobserved as linguistic reality in the country in question. Thus, Brazilians getto write 'Antônio' and 'fato' [‘for fact’], whereas the Portuguese write'António' and 'facto'.

Obviously, private citizens that aren't obliged to partake in publiccommunication may still go on writing as they wish. Teachers, professors, andpublic servants, however, are obligated to write according to the new, somewhatsimplified rules no later than five years after the agreement's coming intoeffect in the aforementioned countries. For students living in Lusophonecountries, this means, naturally, that they cannot really count on any graceperiod, but rather that they have to write according to the new rules no matterwhat. Also, most of the important Brazilian and Portuguese newspapers haveapplied the necessary changes; some did so even before the new regime wasmandatory in the public sector.

In this sense, the author's ambivalence concerning the new orthographic rules(even those she might have reason for disagreeing with, as other scholars do)doesn't really make sense in what was meant to be a popular dictionary forpractical use. Even if we consider that the orthographic agreement only changeda tiny proportion of Portuguese words, the utility of a dictionary that doesn'tadhere to the current orthographic system seems questionable; even if weconsider the dictionary to serve for the use of beginners. This, as well as anyother of the mentioned slight shortcomings can (and should) be remedied inpossible future editions.


Kemmler, Rolf. 2009. Para a história da ortografia simplificada. Silva,Maurício. Org. 2009. Ortografia da língua portuguesa: história, discurso erepresentações. São Paulo: Editora Contexto. 53-94.

Kemmler, Rolf. 2010. O Papel do Segundo Protocolo ao Acordo Ortográfico de 1990na História da Ortografia Simplificada. Chrystello, José Chris. ed. 2010. Atas /Anais do 14.º Colóquio da Lusofonia, Bragança, Portugal: 27 setembro -- 2outubro 2010. CD-ROM (ISBN 978-989-95891-5-5). file CDlusofonia2010\atasfinais.pdf. 261-282.

Kemmler, Rolf. 2011. Uma querela lusófona com final feliz: a entrada em vigor doAcordo Ortográfico da Língua Portuguesa de 1990. Associação Internacional dosColóquios da Lusofonia. 2011. 15.º Coloquio da Lusofonia, Macau: quatro séculosde Lusofonia - Passado, Presente e Futuro (11-15 abril 2011). CD-ROM (ISBN978-989-95891-7-9). file CD AtasEncontros 2011 Macau/ATAS2011.pdf. 287-298.


Rolf Kemmler is an auxiliary researcher in the field of Portuguese linguistic historiography with the Centro de Estudos em Letras (CEL), University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD, Vila Real, Portugal). He received his doctorate in Romance Philology from Bremen University (Germany) in 2005, with a thesis entitled 'A Academia Orthográfica Portugueza na Lisboa do Século das Luzes: Vida, obras e atividades de João Pinheiro Freire da Cunha (1738-1811)', published in 2007. His research interests focus on the history of Portuguese orthography as well as the history of Portuguese and Latin-Portuguese grammar.

Page Updated: 07-Aug-2012