So long, cedillas? Ta-ta, tildes? No, says Portugal. Brazilian's proposal to `reform' Portuguese sparks bilateral row

Portugal and Brazil are wrestling over grammatical reforms, which, if adopted, would transform the face of the world's fifth most-spoken language. Portuguese probably has more pronunciation frills per inch than any other language in the Latin family. The reform, proposed by a Brazilian philologist, would sweep aside accents, circumflexes, tildes, cedillas, silent consonants, hyphenates, and other peculiarities.

This might have been brushed aside as another comic interlude from a country whose cultural marks on Portugal reside principally in the popularity of pulsating sambas and Brazilian soap operas. But some commentators say the wrangling is developing political overtones and marring otherwise excellent relations.

There are also concerns that it may cast a shadow on Portuguese President M'ario Soares's grandiose visit to Brazil. He and some 200 businessmen, academics, writers, and artists - including the entire national ballet company - are scheduled to descend on Brazil today for a week. The trip is designed to cement bilateral links and add weight to Portugal's claim to being a European bridge to Latin America.

A presidential spokesman hastened to assert that the spelling row was not on the official agenda. But he admits it could well crop up informally.

The reform's critics smell a rat. Its originator and sponsor, Antonio Houaiss, publishes dictionaries. He broached his revision idea early last year in conjunction with a disclosure that he had prepared a 300,000-word orthographically purified Portuguese dictionary that would be released once both countries formally agreed on the reforms.

The leader of a 15,000-strong movement against the spelling reform, Geraldo Salles Lane, suggests Mr. Houaiss's primary aim is Brazil's lucrative dictionary market. That market is currently dominated by the best-selling 5-million-copy standard work by Aurelio Buarque de Holanda Ferreira.

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