Brazil's Unforked Tongue
John Geipel chronicles the tenacity of the tongue in Brazil's Indian heritage
Not for nothing is Brazil known as the greatest melting pot of South America. Five centuries of intimate miscegenation between peoples of European, African and Native American origin have resulted in what has come to be recognised as a distinctively Brazilian culture, a synthesis of the folk traditions of three continents, a dense and by now inextricable weave of influences originating in the Old World and the New.
Nowhere is this rich and heterogeneous heritage more in evidence than in the variety of Portuguese spoken in Brazil, where exotic terms of African (chiefly Kimbundu and Yoruba) inspiration co-exist and interact with others derived from the numerous indigenous languages of the region, over 300 of which may have been spoken at the time of the European discovery, in the year 1500, of the 'Island of the True Cross'. It is the regular use of such expressions, many unknown in Portugal, which most distinguishes Brazilian Portuguese from its European parent; it is also the reason why many Portuguese refer derisively to the Brazilian version of their language as a decadent and mongrel creole.