Is there such a thing as US Portuguese?

Last week I got a request for translating some patient information material into Portuguese. They requested a Portuguese-speaking translator living in the United States; in other words, they were after some sort of “US Portuguese.” I guess they heard of “Spanish (United States)” as a locale and extrapolated this to Portuguese, which is a somewhat similar language after all.

But is there such a thing as US Portuguese? Short answer: nope.

The differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese are more marked than between variants of English, to the extent that quite a few common words have acquired different meanings in Portugal and in Brazil. Some curious examples include “comboio” (train in Portugal and convoy in Brazil), “bicha” (queue in Portugal and effeminate gay man in Brazil), and “cu” (informal for buttocks in Portugal, but vulgar for anus in Brazil).

In speech the differences are even more marked. Brazilian Portuguese was heavily influenced by Native Brazilian languages and, to a lesser extent, by Yoruba and other African languages brought along by slave trade. In the meantime,  European Portuguese shifted to the Estremenho dialect, which is different from the language that was “exported” to Brazil in the first place.

Due to these historical differences, some Portuguese television programs and interviews are subtitled when shown in Brazil. However, the Portuguese press regularly interviews Brazilians in Portuguese, and Brazilian telenovelas also find some audience in Portugal.

In summary, both variants are mutually understandable, but you must pick one—unfortunately there is no such thing as “neutral” Portuguese either—and choosing the right variant is important. A message in the “wrong” dialect will be understood most of the time, but it can also be unpersuasive, ineffective, useless or even offensive. It pays to pay attention.