Brazil Table of Contents
Language is one of the strongest elements of Brazil's national unity. Portuguese is spoken by nearly 100 percent of the population. The only exceptions are some members of Amerindian groups and pockets of immigrants, primarily from Japan and South Korea, who have not yet learned Portuguese. The principal families of Indian languages are Tupí, Arawak, Carib, and Gê.
There is about as much difference between the Portuguese spoken in Brazil and that spoken in Portugal as between the English spoken in the United States and that spoken in the United Kingdom. Within Brazil, there are no dialects of Portuguese, but only moderate regional variation in accent, vocabulary, and use of personal nouns, pronouns, and verb conjugations. Variations tend to diminish as a result of mass media, especially national television networks that are viewed by the majority of Brazilians.
The written language, which is uniform all over Brazil, follows national rules of spelling and accentuation that are revised from time to time for simplification. They are slightly different from the rules followed in Portugal. Written Brazilian Portuguese differs significantly from the spoken language and is used correctly by only a small, educated minority of the population. The rules of grammar are complex and allow more flexibility than English or Spanish. Many foreigners who speak Portuguese fluently have difficulty writing it properly.
Because of Brazil's size, self-sufficiency, and relative isolation, foreign languages are not widely spoken. English is often studied in school and increasingly in private courses. It has replaced French as the principal second language among educated people. Because Spanish is similar to Portuguese, most Brazilians can understand it and many can communicate in it, although Spanish speakers usually have difficulty understanding spoken Portuguese.
Under the military governments in the 1970s, Brazil's state-owned system of telecommunications became highly developed. The telephone system was modernized by means of massive government investments. Long-distance and international calls, which had been difficult to make and hear until then, were made accessible through direct dialing, at least to those who could afford the high price of telephone lines. The Postal and Telegraph Company (Empresa de Correios e Telégrafos--ECT) also became a model of efficiency. Some of the quality of telephone and postal services was lost in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The development of telecommunications in Brazil was originally part of a strategy of modernization with centralized control. However, the widespread flow of information contributed to democratization of society in the 1980s and 1990s, a process in which the uncensored press played a key role. Censorship imposed during the military regime was lifted during the Figueiredo administration. The press is owned by private enterprises, none of which can be owned or controlled by foreigners; it includes dozens of daily newspapers, several weekly magazines, and a myriad of other periodical publications.
Radio and television stations are licensed to private businesses owned by Brazilians. There are hundreds of radio stations all over the country. Television became widespread in the 1970s, with several national networks and numerous local stations in all states. Television sets are common even in low-income households. Soap operas (telenovelas ) are widely watched and are a common topic of conversation. It is a sign of their high technical quality that these programs have been sold to countries all over the world. The news programs often include editorial comment. In the authoritarian period, this expression of opinion, sometimes in subtle ways, tended to support government. In the 1990s, it has contributed to clearer notions of good government and citizens' rights among strata that had not developed political consciousness, but it may also have contributed to disillusionment.
Data as of April 1997
Brazil Table of Contents