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To borrow or not to borrow: the use of English loanwords as slang on websites in Brazilian Portuguese

  • Eduardo H. Diniz de Figueiredo

The use of English loanwords in different languages has been discussed from various perspectives by several scholars (e.g. Takashi, 1990; Kay, 1995; Takashi Wilkerson, 1997; Smead, 1998; Friedrich, 2002). Although this phenomenon has been regarded as enriching and/or creative by some (e.g. Crystal, 2003; Friedrich, 2002), it has encountered opposition in many parts of the world. Phillipson (1992: 7), for instance, views it ‘as a phenomenon that has offended users of other languages for more than a century.’ He explains how some governments (in France and Slovenia, for example) have adopted measures to prevent the use of loanwords from English. This issue of whether or not the incorporation of loanwords is offensive to the borrowing language became a topic of much debate in Brazil after Projected Law #1676/1999, which aims to limit the use of foreign words (mainly from English) in Brazilian Portuguese (hereafter, BP). As Rajagopalan (2005) explains, many popular movements, politicians, and traditional grammarians have expressed concern that BP is ‘under an imminent threat from English’ (101).

Several linguists (e.g. Faraco, 2001) have opposed the proposition, based on issues such as linguistic prejudice and the lack of language expertise of the proponents and supporters of the projected law. Still, the proposition was approved by the Brazilian Senate in 2003. It now awaits further approval by the Chamber of Deputies before a final decision is made. One possible way of investigating whether loanwords are offensive to BP is to approach it from a linguistic perspective. Hence, in the present study, I explore the issue of borrowing by BP speakers through a linguistic analysis of loanwords from English that are currently used as slang in Brazil. The definition of slang used here is that proposed by Eble (1996: 11): ‘an ever changing set of colloquial words and phrases that speakers use to establish or reinforce social identity or cohesiveness within a group or with a trend or fashion in society at large.’

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English Today
  • ISSN: 0266-0784
  • EISSN: 1474-0567
  • URL: /core/journals/english-today
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