The situation in Brazil

Brazilian society has been described as being extremely polarized socioliguistically (Lucchesi, 2017) since there exists a correlation between language variety, social success and wealth, and, for some, this correlation is considered to be an inherent and deterministic one: the rich are socially and economically more successful and have more opportunities due to their enhanced mental abilities and rationality. Their way of speaking reflects these aspects and is contrasted with the irrational, spontaneous, illogical, albeit creative underclass and their speech, which is often characterized as being a polluted, debased and denigrated form of the language. Such views are not only scientifically incorrect but damaging for society since these attitudes have negative effects on well-being, self-esteem and perceptions of self-worth of the individual and can be the source of linguistic discrimination against them.

It is not surprising, therefore, that some sections of the population do not fully engage with the establishment and the education system. Language can be an intrinsic and important marker of individual and group identity. Linguistic prejudice can place speakers in situations in which they feel inherently inferior and incompetent, or whereby acquiring education can imply renouncing their way of speaking and the concomitant affiliations with their social group. Contrastively, not acquiring the standard can make speakers feel condemned to a life of poverty and disenfranchised from society. Knowledge to write and speak formally is vital for social and economic advancement; the education system should therefore teach this skill but at the same time not discriminate against non-standard varieties. This has been termed the ‘eternal contradiction’ of the Brazilian education system (Massini-Cagliari, 2004).

According to UNESCO ( diversity/), the most pressing problem in Brazil is social inequality. This social inequality, correlated with parental income, is particularly salient within the educational system. Education is crucial to sustained development and poverty reduction. When combined with sound economic policies, education is considered a key factor in promoting social well-being and economic growth because it can have a positive impact on national productivity and, a transformative effect on life styles and the ability of nations to compete in the global economy. However, the World Economic Forum has noted that in Brazil ‘the educational system is failing children from less wealthy families’. Therefore, a fundamental developmental challenge for Brazil is to minimize the extent to which, within the education system, having less wealth can lead to being less valued and having fewer opportunities when leaving education. In response to this challenge UNESCO notes how cultural differences can be correlated with differences of income and how a positive awareness and a favourable appreciation of cultural diversity can lead to economic and social change. The variable which correlates most strongly with differences in income, however, is language variety. UNESCO emphasizes the benefits of positive attitudes towards linguistic diversity in the context of indigenous languages and the role of these languages in education. However, the prejudices towards non-standard varieties of a language have largely been absent from discussions at an international level.

This is not the case at the national level, since, in Brazil, national language policies have attempted to address language prejudices and to introduce measures to foster a non-discriminative educational approach by highlighting the differences between the spoken and written language. The Brazilian Ministry of Education and even financed and produced a language text-book, Por uma vida melhor, (Ramos (2011) which addressed the topic of linguistic prejudice and attempted to make the point that non-standard pronunciations are not wrong or debased variants of the language but simply different; and different variants are appropriate in different contexts. These attempts, however, have largely failed because linguistic prejudices and ideologies are so ingrained that the scientifically sound facts of linguists were interpreted as opinions from the far-left. Indeed, the aforementioned text book was a source of great polemic and attracted substantial media attention, since many people, including some influential figures of the Brazilian political elite, considered that the Ministry of Education was endorsing the use of bad Portuguese and its authors were described as enemies of good Portuguese, murderers of the language, a circle of false intellectuals, academic and linguistic Talibans, and the book was deemed to be the enshrinement of ignorance, and academic trash dressed up as cultural avant guard (for a full discussion see Leiser Baronas & Pagliarini Cox 2013).

What underlies these opinions and the particular words used is that the standard, and the education system which enforces it, is seen as the domain of the enlightened and civilized, in opposition to the barbaric and ignorant masses, who are either in need of enlightenment or to be socially excluded.

Linguistic prejudice is not only harmful to individuals but it is also detrimental to the social and economic development of Brazil.