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JOHN D. GODINHO
was about to be declared; it was the natural consequence of the emigration
process. Little did the enemies know, however, that the conflict
wouldn’t last. In no time,
they would become allies, even close friends, in a common effort to assure
the survival of the territory in dispute.
When peace came, they joined forces definitely for the growth and
general welfare of all concerned. The
parties to the conflict: the Portuguese and English languages.
The territory: the mind of a child.
John/João, life as an emigrant came early.
(Some observers say that wanderlust runs in the blood of the
Portuguese. Perhaps.) Still a child, he emigrates to the United States
with his family: his father, João, a fisherman from Cascais, already a
naturalized American citizen; his mother, Domingas, from Setúbal; four
sons. Arriving in New York,
they proceed to a little town in New England, Gloucester, in the state of
Massachusetts, 30 miles northeast of Boston.
Everything is very different from the old neighborhood around 22
Travessa da Paz, in Santos-ó-Velho parish, in Lisbon.
threats were immediate, but they came in the form of sporadic guerrilla
warfare. The Portuguese language, customs and traditions managed to
stay in control for a while. Then
there was an onslaught of things American. The result was easily predictable
– a child’s mind is fertile ground for planting and John’s is no
different. The English language
grows rapidly, as American customs and traditions move in.
His mother tongue reacts, fighting tooth and nail against the
invaders. All to no avail.
The result is inevitable: at home, Portuguese predominates, together
with the fado and the traditional
charcoal-broiled sardines; outside, the English language becomes a passport
to new and different worlds. Finally, there is a cease-fire that leads to mutual tolerance
that becomes friendship that ends up as an indivisible union.
They strike an agreement: whenever demanded by the circumstances, one
of them will assume control to preserve and protect the general welfare of
the three. In the meantime, the
other will refrain from feeling any resentment, no matter how slight. And so
it has been ever since.
finishes grammar school and high school in Gloucester.
Then comes the military service, the U.S. Air Force, at Langley Air
Force Base, in Virginia. Away
from home, the Portuguese language finds itself stowed in the outer limits
of the territory previously in dispute, resigned to the situation, feeling
slighted, but holding no grudges. It decides to be ready to step into the
spotlight at any moment to embody and give voice to the thoughts of its
master. Suddenly, as in a Hollywood B movie, its big break pops up. A
certain Colonel Harold W. Smith hears about an airman of Portuguese descent
who speaks the language reasonably well.
He calls him to his office. The
Air Force needs someone with that skill.
“How about it?” There
follows a series of interviews and a long trip.
Destination: Lajes Air
Base on Terceira Island, in the Azores, where John will be translator and
interpreter for the American armed forces. The positions are now
unceremoniously inverted: at home, that is, in the barracks and around the
base, English predominates, together with Coca-Cola and hamburgers; outside
the base, Portuguese becomes a passport back to the origins and a key to
worlds not accessible to other American airmen.
years later, back in the States, John begins his college life.
Now, the English language takes center stage as its “rival”
reluctantly exits to the wings and silently withdraws to the dressing room.
But it won’t stay there for long. There’s
a supporting role in the offing. While
pursuing his studies, John also becomes a teacher of Portuguese at the
Berlitz School of Languages in Boston.
gets his B.A. degree in Political Science from the College of Liberal Arts,
at Boston University. Three
years later, he graduates from the University’s School of Law with a Juris
Doctor degree. His
post-graduate work is done in Comparative Law at Columbia University, in New
York. At long last, he is ready
to start his career. He joins a
law firm in Newark, New Jersey and, at the same time, acts as Assistant
Corporation Counsel for the City. But
that is not exactly was he is after. Eventually,
he accepts a position in the International Law Department of U.S. Steel
Corporation, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In the future he will go to Caracas, Venezuela, where he will be in
charge of the law department of a U.S.Steel subsidiary.
During John’s stay at USS headquarters, the Portuguese language
becomes almost mute to the point where it has difficulty in expressing
itself in the rare moments it is called upon to speak.
unexpected has a funny way of repeating itself, unexpectedly.
John is summoned to a meeting with the head of the law department who
tells him: “The company has
just discovered what is probably the biggest iron ore deposit in the world. I think you’re the right person to be the legal director of
the subsidiary that discovered the deposit.
How about it?” (John has heard that question before in somewhat
similar circumstances.) The answer is immediate:
“Of course!” There is at least one strong reason for it: even
though the deposit is in the middle of the Amazon jungle, at Serra dos Carajás,
the subsidiary is located in Rio de Janeiro.
And so comes to an end the Pittsburgh torpor of the Portuguese
language, which will bask once again in the limelight, more lively than ever.
is difficult to leave Rio. The
natives call it the “Cidade Maravilhosa” (The Marvellous City).
It is. For years, John acts as Director and Secretary of the Carajás
Project as well as of several U.S.Steel subsidiaries in Brazil.
When the company withdraws from the project, John decides to remain
in Rio. Because of his
experience in legal and business affairs and his command of the English and
Portuguese languages, John was frequently consulted by Brazilian and foreign
executives. It is natural for
him to become a consultant and teacher of Business English for senior
executives. His activities lead
him to write O Inglês, in which
he tells the story of the English language, beginning with Julius Caesar’s
arrival in the British Islands in 55 B.C.
The book describes how the language was born, grew up and spread
throughout the world as an imperial language and how it became americanized
and assumed its role as a truly international language.
Ironically, the book is written in Portuguese.
It looks as if there is a mutual admiration society between the former enemies. And if John writes about English, in Portuguese, it seems fair to them that he should write about the Portuguese, in English. Perhaps that explains why they have exerted their influence and convinced John to collaborate with LIVES OF THE PORTUGUESE-SPEAKING WORLD, as translator.
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