Walking around Lisbon, Portugal before the start of the International Translation Conference yesterday morning, I noticed how little English there is on the signs on stores, ads on bus stops, etc. In Vienna at the ProZ conference last year, there seemed to be a lot more ads overall, and it seemed that every other one included at least some English or pseudo-English word or phrase. By contrast, Lisbon (at least outside the tourist areas) seems to have few ads beyond those on bus station shelters and shop windows. Most of the ads I saw were entirely in Portuguese, without any attempt at appearing "hip" or "global" by incorporating English or pseudo-English phrases. Even the "take away" signs so ubiquitous in Vienna food establishments are usually rendered in Portuguese.
So far I've also only come across two U.S. fast food chain restaurants and even these don't seem to display the gaudy visual clutter common in the windows of U.S. fast food restaurants. U.S. culture and commerce has certainly intruded in Portugal as well, including hamburgers sold in some otherwise Portuguese eateries. Refreshingly, though, that U.S. cultural influence seems much more restrained than in other European capitals, including Hamburg and Vienna.
Why is this so?
- Are there laws or local ordinances regulating the use of language in public settings, similar to the Academie Française?
- Does the Portuguese public resist the introduction of foreign phrases more than other cultures? If so, how is such resistance determined?
- Is English taught less frequently in Portuguese schools and advertisers therefore cannot assume that English phrases will be understood by the general public?
- Is the Portuguese market simply too small for many non-Portuguese companies to bother advertising here?
As best as I can tell, English is commonly taught as a foreign language here and the Portuguese-speaking market includes Brazil, which is certainly large enough to warrant advertisers' attention.
It would be interesting to find out:
- Whether my impression of relatively mono-lingual advertising is, in fact, correct
- If so, what forces are at work to inhibit the intrusion of English -- or other languages, in fact
- Whether some of these forces could be replicated to stem the tide of English or pseudo-English encroaching on other languages.