American, American or North American?  The disputes over the use of the term for USborn

American, American or North American? The disputes over the use of the term for USborn

  • Vitor Tavares
  • From BBC News Brazil in Sao Paulo

6 hours ago

Woman holds USA flag

Credit, Getty Images

Think quickly: what term do you use in Portuguese for people who were born in the United States of America?

American? North American? American?

Regardless of your answer, according to Portuguese language manuals and dictionaries, it is correct. But your choices can, in a way, reflect how you think…

The Houaiss dictionary, one of the most respected in Portuguese, equates the terms: “American = relative to the United States of America (United States of America) or what its native or inhabitant is; American, North American, Yankee.”

Portuguese language teacher and consultant Thais Nicoleti also clarifies that the use of each is optional although the dispute over this is not new.

“It is worth noting that the name of the country is ‘United States of America’ and that the full name of Brazil, which used to be ‘United States of Brazil’, is ‘Federal Republic of Brazil’. ,United States’. or ‘Federal Republic’ refer to the type of country. The name actually comes after that: America and Brazil.”

Rules and standards aside, the use of “American” has often been questioned by news readers and social media commentators.

Because: If there is a continent “America”, how can “American” designate only one country? This discussion dates back to the emergence of the United States as a nation.

The origin of “America”, country and continent



Waldseemüller’s map represented the “New World” for the first time.

The first record of the appearance of the word “America” ​​is a map by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller from 1507. The most accepted theory is that the “baptism” was a tribute to the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci (Amerigo Vespucci), who was the first to identify the landmass of the socalled “New World” as a continent separated from the others by oceans.

The first mention of “America” ​​as part of the country name United States is attributed to the 1776 draft Declaration of Independence. Previously known as the Thirteen Colonies and later the United Colonies, the region was the first independent country in the Americas.

Canadian Sean Purdy, Professor of US History at the University of São Paulo (USP), points to other names proposed at the time: Imperial America, Greater Republic and Greater United States.

According to the professor, the adjective “American” (as in “American Music”) and the noun “American” (“he’s an American”) were used soon after the founding of the republic and coexisted with regional or state names. such as Southerner (Southern), New Yorker (New Yorker) or ancestry such as Scottish (Scottish) and Irish (Irish).

“But consistent use took time because the founders knew the new republic didn’t encompass all of America. For decades, many rulers used ‘United States’, ‘Republic’, ‘Union’ and ‘Columbia’ for the country. ‘ says Purdy.

The term “America” did not come into common usage until the USA took power at the end of the 19th century through external interventions in Latin America.

“Presidents and other rulers of the republic rarely referred to the country as America until the late 19th century. After the 1898 SpanishAmerican War against Spain, when the US conquered Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, came presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and everyone else since then started using ‘America’ as their country. It therefore reflects how language is constructed in contexts of power and social relationships,” Purdy reflects.

Why do we assume “American” in Brazil?

Although Brazilians rarely use the name “America” ​​to refer to the United States, “Americano” remains the most common Gentile in the country.

In other languages, such as the Spanish spoken in Latin America or the French spoken in Canada, the equivalent of “American” is most commonly used.

“I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that Spanish speakers in America identify more with the term America and with other Latin American countries (especially where they speak Spanish) than Brazilians. They identify so much with the rest of America,” says Sean Purdy.

Adviser Thais Nicoleti points out that “American” has been spelled this way in Brazil since the works of writers Machado de Assis and Lima Barreto, “confirming that it was a common form in the late 19th and early 20th centuries”. In Memórias do Cárcere by Graciliano Ramos, a book from the 1930s, “American” and “North American” appear with the same meaning.

Credit, Thinkstock


Proponents of using “American” say that America and American should be used to just talk about the entire continent

ideological dispute?

A dislike of US “imperialism” (a policy of expansion and territorial and cultural domination) would be the main reason for the effort to use the term “American”, according to the two experts interviewed.

“Many researchers want to differentiate the USA from the rest of America. This has to do with an antiimperialist policy towards the USA and also to strengthen the connections and identities between Brazil and other Latin American countries,” says Sean Purdy about the Academy.

Thaís Nicoletti, on the other hand, associates the use of “American” or even “North American” with leftwing publications as an attempt “to prevent a single country, not coincidentally the imperialist power of America, from usurping the gentile of the entire continent”.

To them, this argument “seems to have no basis” since the context would not allow us to confuse the “American” referring to the country with its homonym referring to the continent”.

“In my view, while these usages can translate a political position, they have an almost insignificant effect on their own as a form of resistance. Coming from the ‘giant of the north,'” he says.

But can that change?

The Portuguese teacher explains that “rule” in the language is “regularity”, that is, what is often repeated.

Among nonJews, while there are some suffixes that are more common (e.g. ês in English, French, or Senegalese), there is a wide variety of forms.

Nicoleti explains the Fluminense case, which until the early 20th century referred to both those born in the state of Rio de Janeiro and those born in the city of Rio de Janeiro. was adopted by the population of the capital in the following years.

“All these discussions about which term is legitimate. But eventual majority adoption of the American term, for example, will depend on whether there are significant changes in social relations, power relations between countries, and closer identification with other Latin American countries. “I don’t see that in the near future,” says Professor Sean Purdy .

“In language, everything is not reduced to ‘right/wrong’, but everything can always be deepened,” adds Nicoleti.

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