The Orthographic (Dis) Agreement

What is it?

The Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement aimed to establish a single official orthography in the eight CPLP countries (Community of Portuguese Language Countries): Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe, comprising a population estimated at 270 million people.

This new (old) orthographic agreement is based on the language reform approved in 1990, the so-called AO90 (“Acordo Ortográfico de 1990”), signed by seven of the Portuguese speaking countries but not ratified then. Only in 2008, four countries – Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe, Brazil and Portugal – ratified this latest agreement which, however, had not been implemented at the same time.

In Brazil and Portugal, the agreement took official effect in 2009 but, in practice, it has not been fully applied. In Portugal, the AO is facing a great rejection within different segments of civil society. The government of Angola has not yet approved it and Mozambique´s Parliament has not yet ratified this agreement.

What is the problem?

The AO90 is an altered copy of previous reforms. It does not incorporate a new concept of orthographic unification neither has incorporated the advances in the linguistic domain occurred during these long years. In many aspects, it maintains some of the provisions established in the reform approved in 1986 and its innovations aggravate many of the problems present in previous versions.

Orthographic normative rules have always existed in the Portuguese language side by side with the cultural particularities of the regional variants. The existing differences, as those present in English or Spanish variants, have not been a visible obstacle to free communication, commercial affairs, etc. In various aspects the Portuguese language has been benefited and enriched by the cultural features of all the Portuguese speaking countries.

Even considering the questionable argument that the orthographic diversity could affect the international dissemination and use of Portuguese and that some kind of unification was necessary, the implementation of the AO90 is proving to be unable to consistently address this issue. And, foremost, it has created a chaotic situation as result of its grave structural problems.

Some of them:

  • The AO90 has not been based in any scientific-linguistic study and consequently has many inconsistencies and technical errors.
  • The AO90 is not in fact an orthographic agreement because syntactic, lexical and semantic differences remain untouched while the “pronunciation” criterion was the most preeminent aspect considered.
  • The AO90 has introduced many unnecessary facultative forms of writing and accentuating words destroying the normative concept of orthography. A single expression like “expectativa económica” (economic expectation) can be written in at least four different forms, just to give one among several examples.
  • The AO90 has created hundreds of new words, artificial words, which never existed in any Portuguese variant, based again on the controversial criterion of “pronunciation”. Mute consonants, but clearly expressed in the written language in Portugal, have been arbitrarily erased affecting the most used words and taking away the traces of the Greek and Latin roots. A completely nonsense bearing in mind the different pronunciations in these different countries and within their different regions.
  • The AO90 was not submitted to any public discussion and not a single study was made to evaluate the cost-benefits of its application.

The illogical and critical changes introduced do not only affect a small percent of words. The negative impact of this so called “orthographic agreement” is greater than expected, especially considering the radical changes in the European variant.


The problems caused by the Orthographic Agreement, its contents and legal value, the fact that “it does not respect the language diversity and autonomy of Euro-Afro-Asiatic Portuguese”, as pointed out by The Portuguese Pen club, have created a strong opposition in Portugal. But also in Brazil, among intellectuals, scholars, etc. Recently the Brazilian culture minister, Juca Ferreira, declared that “probably we have made a mistake” referring to the AO.

In Portugal many legal actions have been taken place since then in order to review or revoke the AO90, actions supported by linguists, philologists, writers, scholars, translators, journalists, politics, etc. By now, a collection of signatures is going on to hold a national referendum.

In brief : Impacts on translations

It is clearly a difficult situation for Portuguese language translators, not to mention many other professional categories and those who mandatory have no option to choose – like civil servants and students – and the overall Portuguese-speaking population.

It poses as well difficulties for foreign clients, translation buyers, who need a translation into Portuguese. And if you are one of them, you may be wondering now how to proceed.

  •  Firstly, there is a transition period for the AO adoption during which the different spellings, before and after the AO, are accepted. In Brazil, it will end on 31st December 2015. In Portugal, it was supposed to end on 13th May 2015 but according to the jurist Ivo Miguel Barroso the period of transition ends on 22nd September 2016 ( Angola and Mozambique have not even ratified the agreement. So, unless explicitly required, or unless it is an official document, the best is to wait, and have the text translated as usual to the Brazilian or Portuguese variant. There are some software that can convert texts into the AO90, if necessary.
  • Secondly, if you are still in doubt apply the golden rule: consider your target audience/market. Who is going to read your text, your catalogue, your website, etc.? Where? And for how long? Has your material a long lifetime? Is the audience receptive or not to the changes established in the AO? Considering that the European Portuguese was the most affected by the AO90, it is important to bear in mind the existing high level of rejection to the AO and that many words/terms/expressions may convey unclear, imprecise or incorrect message/information to the reader. It is best to wait until the AO90 is fully implemented or reviewed or revoked.

I hope this post can be helpful for those who, in one way or another, need a bit more information about the AO90 in English. Numerous valuable documents have been written in Portuguese about this issue. If you need more information, please contact me.

Sweden, 23rd July

Maria do Carmo Rodrigues Amorim