Portuguese is a “Neo-Latin” or “Romance” language that developed from Latin. It is written using 23 or 26 letters of the Latin alphabet. It is spoken by more than 250 million people in Portugal, Brazil, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Malaysia, Malacca, in the former territories of Portuguese India (Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Diu, Gogol, Simbor, Isle of Angediva, Daman and Goa), São Tome and Principe, Mozambique, Macau, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and Angola.
In this blog, I would like to discuss some tips related to Brazilian Portuguese translations including grammar, sentence length, DTP related “issues” and more…
Tips for grammatical structures when translating
- Gerunds: It is advisable to avoid gerunds and use instead a noun or a verb form like an infinitive.
- Relative Pronouns: Appropriate use of Relative Pronouns (“that” and “which”) to introduce subordinate clauses.
- Modifiers: Modifiers may follow the noun or nouns they modify, or they may describe only one item in a string of nouns.
- “Helping” Verbs: “Helping” Verbs such as “can”, “could”, “should”, “might”, “may”, “would” and their various verb forms (“could have”, “might have been”) can cause problems for translators. The idea is to think about every use of these helping verbs, and restructure sentences to minimize their use in Portuguese translation.
- Adverbs: Adverbs such as “since”, “while”, “where” and “when” have meanings beyond time and place. They can also mean “whereas”, “although”, “after” or “because”. Every word has its most appropriate use, and professional communicators need to choose the word that best conveys the desired meaning.
- Articles: Articles like “a”, “an” and “the” are often dropped in English and form “telegraphic sentences”. For example: “selection of…” and “suitability of planting locale”. When articles are dropped, a written clue indicating that the word that follows is a noun is omitted. This custom is a problem in translation, especially with words that function as both nouns and verbs (“display”, “record”, “time”, “document”, “address”, “use”). For some of these expressions, differences in pronunciation alert the listener to meaning. In script, they require additional clues, such as articles. The idea is to use these constructs consistently in one way, either as nouns or as verbs (“display” as a noun, “show” as a verb), and to use articles whenever appropriate (“the suitability of the planting locale”).
- Colloquial Expressions: Some verbs are used often in colloquial expressions: “Get” is one legendary example. For instance: “I get it” (understand); “I get it” (receive). These informal uses are not appropriate for technical writing in Portuguese translation.
Brazilian Portuguese may be up to 30% longer than the English text. This may cause some problems, from increasing the number of pages in a document due to text reflows to resizing issues in a text box in UI for software, for example.
DTP related “issues”
Longer text or expansion is also an issue with the Portuguese language. This happens as well in many languages, like Spanish, Italian, French and German. You will probably have a longer document, graphics and text boxes and the document or UI may need to be adjusted, as well as the page breaks, accentuation and graphic signs may be corrupted, among other things.
Degree of difficulty in translation
Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese are not more difficult than any other language. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that the text will be longer than in English, as we mentioned before. In some cases, this may cause serious issues (for example, translating a text that will show in a small LCD display). The translator should be aware of this in order to keep the text as short as possible. Sometimes, there is simply no room for a sentence or a word, and the translation will have to be abbreviated. This of course does not look very good for the client, but sometimes it is the only solution.
Often badly drafted Portuguese translations follow an English capitalization rule which requires that the first letter of every word in a heading be capitalized; whereas in Portuguese, only the first letter of the first word should be capitalized.
Dates are represented in day/month/year format; in Continental/African Portuguese, months of the year and days of the week are capitalized, whereas they are not in Brazilian Portuguese. Time is represented using a military 24-hour format and not with a.m./p.m.