The Brazilian Academy of Letters and The Science Academy of Lisbon have been working since 1931 to establish common spelling among the variations and their other forms. Brazil ratified the Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990 in 2004. In 2009 Brazil implemented it. While Portugal signed the agreement into law in 2008, public sentiment forced the Portuguese government to give the law a six-year transition period, which allowed both spellings to be used in Portugal. The other Portuguese-speaking nations have also followed suit.
The Agreement as of January 1, 2015 became mandatory with the following changes:
- When the letter is silent, C and P should not be included in the spelling.
- The diaeresis marks and acute accent are eliminated.
- There are new guidelines about hyphenation and capitalization.
- The letters K, W and Y are added to the Portuguese alphabet.
- For spelling differences that remain, the law considers both of them as legitimate, according to the author’s dialect.
Now the rules apply globally to all the Portuguese-speaking countries, including Cape Verde, Mozambique, Angola, Macau, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea and East Timor since May 13, 2015. The new rules will affect about 203 million people living in 12 countries.
The law is meant to standardize the Portuguese written word so that it comes closer to the spoken word and create one form of spelling that could be used in all countries where Portuguese is spoken.
The unifying move of the new spelling reform law is viewed as both political and economic in nature. It will make it easier for speakers of European Portuguese to understand people speaking in Brazilian Portuguese. Economically it means that books and other printed materials will be printed only in one version rather than two.
Although the spelling reform will only affect about 1.5 percent of Portuguese words, the reactions to the spelling reform are varied. Business and political societies, artists, translators, writers, journalists, academics and linguists in the Portuguese-speaking countries all have something to say about the new Portuguese spelling reform law.
Some are saying that the law benefits the speakers in Brazil. Technically it does because Brazil has about 80 percent of the total speakers of the Portuguese language. There are critics saying that the spelling law interferes in culture and say that the difference is what makes for cultural heritage.
There are some people who view the reform on a positive light. Former history teacher and author Jose Geraldo Gouvea said that the previous spelling differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese made it difficult for people wanting to learn Portuguese. He said that the literary classics will have to be re-edited but many more people will be able to enjoy them.
Many more are welcoming the spelling reforms. They are saying that the reforms do not mean the death of the Portuguese language as some nostalgics of the former Portuguese empire see it. For the forward-thinkers, this only shows that the Portuguese language is alive and continues to evolve.