Banker appeals for Portuguese language in government meetings


Fernando Ulrich, president and CEO of BPI
It seems quite odd and it appears really strange, but recently Fernando Ulrich, president and CEO of one of the biggest private Portuguese banks, stated that it is incomprehensible the meetings with the Ministry of Economy personnel being organized and spoken using English language. “To have meetings with Government in English is incomprehensible” Ulrich said. Ulrich made also an appeal for the Portuguese government, to the hiring of more Portuguese consultants and experts on economic issues, when dealing with bank sector personnel.

It is undoubtedly true, that English language nowadays is the language for business and economic debates, for diplomacy throughout the world, for the internet and the computer science sector, for academic researching and for many other issues, including fashion. English language is actually the third most spoken language in the world but it has the major dominance for instance in the internet and on the international affairs. I have a clear opinion why that happens and why I’m clicking this keyboard keys so the words and the grammar will appear in English. The reason is extremely simple for me: the new empire that flourished after the World War II, was the United States which by the way has English as the only official national language. As the hegemony of this new empire was becoming greater and greater, as the economic and financial power of this nation was becoming stronger, English became to be a useful language to master and to deal with. That importance achieved such a major peak nowadays, that no qualified worker, in any part of world will be hired if they don’t speak English. During the Biblical era (New Testament), Greek and Latin were the vehicular languages at the time, so every cultured man either in Rome or Athens should speak these two bridge languages.

As a lover of English literature and poetry, as an interested man I am on the English grammar and rules, I cannot at all, fight against English language or its use amongst many nations. Though, because my mother tongue is an European language different from English, I feel many times humiliated and offended, when English language simple overtake the place where vernacular languages should be. It is quite unbelievable the amount of mega hours of music we can listen in English on the European broadcasting radios network, or the monstrous quantity of songs in English we can listen in European clubs, bars, pubs and discos. What I strongly feel as repulsive is this frivolous way of thinking that speaking in English should be considered as cool and fashionable, and other national languages are connoted as being archaic, monotonous or insipid, mainly from the speakers whose mother tongues are the ones considered as such. I really think it is a consequence of a major factor: the low auto-esteem of many nations considered as a whole people. Portuguese for instance, have still a very pronounced lack of self-love as a people, and the rare exceptions, unfortunately regard football. Portuguese still have a big tradition of fado, a specific music style, which literally means fate. Portuguese evoke systematically the longing and the nostalgia of the great empire they had in the 16th century, and that is clear on the popular anxiety for king Sebastian, which has created the so called sebastianism. Eastern European countries for example, like Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia or Lithuania, came recently from the liberation of the Soviet Union despotic regime. To them, Russian language, despite being one of the most interested languages in the world, spoken by great philosophers, poets and writers, is coined as the language of the old regime, of the elderly and non-cultured people. So, we can easily conclude, that on these cultural and civilizational panoramas of low self-esteem of certain European nations, English appears as the language of freedom, happiness and joy. The language of America, where there are neither rules nor obstacles for happiness, for personal or professional fulfillments. The language used on more than ninety percent of the films we watch, to which we strongly associate the film’s hero or heroine. The language of the night life songs we listen to, to which we markedly associate with joy, happiness, pleasure, delight and jubilance.

I am not at all, against those people who use English as a second language, if I were, I would be against myself. Though I really not tolerate the frivolity of certain basic people who state that English language is wider spoken amongst several people, because it's “easier” and it's “simpler”. That, I guarantee you it is completely false. For example Nordic languages have a grammar much simpler than English, when it concerns verbs and tenses. Latin languages have a much more similarity on what you write and on what you pronounce, English language, though, is much more complex on how you construct and join the syllables, and how you actually spell the words, because often is there a enormous amount of words whose pronunciation is extremely different from the spelling; the word “enough” is a clear example.

The other major fact I extremely repulse; is when certain professional national classes, mainly regarding the financial or the economic sectors, adopt with neither criteria nor any established rules, a tremendous amount of English terms, which on the majority of cases have evident and unambiguous parallels with the vernacular language. I consider these professionals so ridiculous, that they don’t speak correctly neither English, nor the vernacular language. They speak a ridiculous and foolish mix, with no phonetic or grammatical criteria. And other great issue is when governmental offices or departments of non-English language countries, utilize English language as a basis for inner institutional communication. And it was on this panorama, that fortunately, a Portuguese banker, not a minister, not a parliamentarian, not anyone regarding the Portuguese cultural or educational life, not any personality with public emphasis, stated that it is incomprehensible the using of English language in meetings between Portuguese bankers and government personnel.

This influence of one foreign language on the Portuguese daily basis has parallels in Portuguese history. In the ending of nineteenth century, Portugal, at the time was still a monarchy, and England, had a diplomatic dispute. This dispute regarding territories in Africa, which England clearly won, gave the republican opposition at the time a great impulse, and created on the Portuguese society a major aversion with everything which regarded England, including the language. So, it was on this spirit, that the Portuguese national anthem, which is still in use, was composed. The final verse of the anthem lyrics was exactly “against the Britons, march, march!”. Some years later, it was ridiculously changed to “against the cannons, march, march”, as if anyone with good sense would march against cannons. Actually the word “cannons” was fitted there simple because it rhymes with Britons. But at the beginning of the 20th century with this great aversion against England and English language, which actually created the conditions to the implantation of the republican regime, there were many English terms which were transformed into the Portuguese phonetics; “club” was one of them, being transformed to clube. In the sixties was the period of French language. Every cultured Portuguese citizen should be able to speak French. It was the language of literature, of art and fashion. Though, some repulsive movements were created on the society’s popular and intellectual sectors and for instance Amália, a great Portuguese singer at the time sang a very common fado “Lisbon, don’t be French, you’re Portuguese!”

Throughout Portuguese and European history, we’ve received many languages influences, and these influences are normal and many times healthy because they enrich the language. Though, when they start to monopolize the vernacular language, and they create a strange and odd phonetic mix, and even more serious, when vernacular language users start to simple innerly think, that their language is inferior than the adopted language; the monopolistic and unhealthy conditions are created to provoke the humiliation of the vernacular ancestral culture and history. And to that, national reaction is needed!

Long live Ulrich! (Who by the way has a surname really strange to Portuguese phonetics)

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