(L)a Fronte(i)ra: Language on the Uruguay/Brazil Border

Language contact zones of Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America don’t have the same political stigma to intelligibility as those in Europe, or even the Indian Subcontinent. In Jaguarão and Livramento, patois is easy to come by. Portuñol is fun and lends itself nicely to mockery. People on both sides of the border are versed in both languages and both cultures. The rivalry is mostly in jest. Any kind of actual antagonism and fighting that happened is so far removed from present generations. But try using German in Szczecin, or Ukrainian in Donetsk, and you’ve hit a border that’s more than physical. The Uruguay/Brazil border carries very little baggage. It’s not about oppression, but about exchange, and it doesn’t take a European Union to have to manufacture this reality. Neither language is more prestigious than the other. It’s uniquely lateral without either language becoming an acrolect. Brazil is seen as the more commercial country, but the language of commerce takes on a distinctly Portuñol flavor. There are four times as many people in Rio Grande do Sul than in Uruguay. But if you look in a broader context, the Southern Cone (in its various definitions), and the whole South American continent are fairly evenly split between Portuguese and Spanish speakers. The Uruguay/Brasil border has always been one about connecting rather than dividing. As far as language politics, people just aren’t picky. In Rivera, the signs are in Spanish. In Livramento they are in Portuguese. People on both sides understand both. The Fronte(i)ra is a multilingual comedy film that doesn’t need subtitles thank you very much. No one is making a fuss that signs need to be bilingual. Compare this to Canada, where the whole damn country needs to have bilingual signs, even if you are hundreds of miles from a community that speaks the other national language (or from any kind of humans for that matter), and laws need to be adopted regularly. Even our own U.S.-Mexico could learn a few things from Uruguay and Rio Grande do Sul. More thoughts on the economics, and built environment of the borderlands later.

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