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About Portuguese (Brazil) Language

Brazilian Portuguese (Portuguese: português brasileiro or português do Brasil) is a group of Portuguese dialects written and spoken by virtually all the almost 200 million inhabitants (2009) of Brazil and by a few million Brazilian emigrants, mainly in the United States, United Kingdom, Portugal, Canada, Japan and Paraguay.

Roughly speaking, the differences between European Portuguese and standard Brazilian Portuguese are comparable to the ones found between British and American English. As with many languages, the differences between standard Brazilian Portuguese and its informal vernacular are quite significant, though lexicon and most of the grammar rules remain the same. Nonetheless, there are still scientific debates about the status of that variant due to those differences, especially whether or not it would be a case of diglossia.

Nevertheless, the comparatively recent development of Brazilian Portuguese (and its use by people of various linguistic backgrounds), the cultural prestige and strong government support accorded to the written standard has maintained the unity of the language over the whole of Brazil and ensured that all regional varieties remain fully intelligible. Starting in the 1960s, the nationwide dominance of TV networks based in the southeast (Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo) has made the dialects of that region into an unofficial spoken standard for the means of communication, as well.

Portuguese legacy

The existence of Portuguese in Brazil is a legacy of Portuguese colonization of the Americas. The first wave of Portuguese-speaking immigrants settled in Brazil in the 16th century, yet the language was not widely used then. For a time Portuguese coexisted with Língua Geral, a lingua franca based on Amerindian languages that was used by the Jesuit missionaries; as well as with various African languages spoken by the hundreds of thousands of slaves brought to the country between the 16th and 19th centuries.

By the end of the 18th century, however, Portuguese had affirmed itself as the national language. Some of the main contributions to that swift change were the expansion of colonization to the Brazilian inlands, and the huge immigration of Portuguese during that time, who brought their language and became a much more important ethnic group in Brazil. Besides, they brought millions of slaves, who were in general more likely to learn Portuguese, since the Africans would speak lots of different languages that were mutually unintelligible between them and had more contact (even if forcedly) with the Portuguese speakers.

Since the early 1700s, Portugal's government had made many efforts to expand the use of Portuguese in all the colony, particularly because its consolidation in Brazil would help guarantee to them the lands in dispute with Spain (according to various treaties signed in the 18th century, those lands would be ceded to the people who effectively occupied them). Under the Marquis of Pombal administration (1750–1777), Brazil started to use only Portuguese, for he expelled the Jesuit missionares - who taught the Língua Geral - and prohibited the use of Nhengatu, or Lingua Franca.

The aborted colonization attempts by the French in Rio de Janeiro in the 16th century and the Dutch in the Northeast in the 17th century had negligible effect on Portuguese. Even the substantial non-Portuguese-speaking immigration waves of the late 19th and early 20th century (mostly from Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Japan and Lebanon) were linguistically integrated into the Portuguese-speaking majority within very few generations, except for some areas of the three southern states (in the case of Germans, Italians and Slavs) and rural corners of São Paulo (Italians and Japanese).

Nowadays the overwhelming majority of Brazilians speak Portuguese as their mother tongue, with the exception of small communities of descendants of European and Japanese immigrants - mostly in the South and Southeast - and Amerindian villages, who make up for an extremely minor part of the population. However, even in those cases, the populations use Portuguese frequently as a means of communication with other people and to understand TV and radio programs, for example.

Influences from other languages

The evolution of Brazilian Portuguese has certainly been influenced by the languages it supplanted: first the Amerindian tongues of the natives, then the various African languages brought by the slaves, and finally the ones of European and Asian immigrants. The influence is clearly detected in the Brazilian lexicon, which today has hundreds of words of Tupi-Guarani and Yoruba origin, among others. However, the vocabulary is still overwhelmingly Portuguese, since the contributions of other languages were restricted to a few subjects or areas of knowledge.

From South America, words deriving from the Tupi-Guarani language family are particularly prevalent in place names (Itaquaquecetuba, Pindamonhangaba, Caruaru, Ipanema). The native languages also contributed for the names of most of the plants and animals found in Brazil, such as arara ("macaw"), jacaré ("South American alligator"), tucano ("toucan"), mandioca ("manioc"), abacaxi ("pineapple"), and many more. However, it should be noted that many Tupi-Guarani toponyms didn't derive directly from Amerindian expressions, but were in fact coined by European settlers and Jesuit missionaries, who used the Língua Geral extensively in the first centuries of colonization. Many of the Amerindian words entered the Brazilian Portuguese lexicon as early as in the 16th century, and some of them were eventually borrowed by European Portuguese and later even into other European languages.

The African languages provided hundreds of words too, especially in the following subjects: food (e.g. quitute, quindim, acarajé, moqueca), religious concepts (mandinga, macumba, orixá, axé), African-Brazilian music (samba, lundu, maxixe, berimbau), body-related parts and diseases (banguela, bunda, capenga, caxumba), places (cacimba, quilombo, senzala, mocambo), objects (miçanga, abadá, tanga) and household concepts, such as cafuné ("caress on the head"), curinga ("joker card"), caçula ("youngest child"), and moleque ("brat, spoiled child"). Though the African slaves had various ethnic origins, the Bantu and Guinean-Sudanese groups contributed by far to most of the borrowings, above all the Kimbundu (from Angola), Kikongo (from Angola, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Yoruba/Nagô (from Nigeria), and Jeje/Ewe language (from Benin).

There are also many borrowings from other European languages such as English (especially words connected to technology, modern science and finance, like layout, briefing, designer, slideshow, mouse (computing), forward, commodities, commercial terms like kingsize, fast food, delivery service, self service, drive-thru, telemarketing, franchise, merchandise, but also cultural aspects such as okay, junk food, hot dog, pet, nerd, geek, noob, punk, hooligan, cool, vibe, hype, overdose, junkie, cowboy, mullet, sex appeal, drag queen, bro, gospel, praise, bullying, stalking), French (food, furniture, luxurious fabrics and abstract concepts). Scholars affirm that even now, French remains as the largest foreign influence in Portuguese due the fact that French borrowings were adopted by a strong cultural affinity. Brazilian Portuguese tends to adopt French suffixes as in aterrissagem, differently from European Portuguese. Brazilian Pt. also tends to adopt culture-bound concepts from French, but when it comes to technology, the major influence is the English, while European Pt. tends to adopt technological terms from French. That is the difference between estação and gare. An evident example of the dichotomy between English and French influences is the use of the expressions know-how, used in a technical context, and savoir-faire, in literal Portuguese saber-fazer, proficiência-da-feitura, saber-como), German and Italian (mostly food, music, arts and architecture), and, to a lesser extent, Asian languages such as Japanese. The latter borrowings are also mostly related to food and drinks or culture-bound concepts, such as quimono, from Japanese kimono. Besides strudel, pretzel, bratwurst, sauerkraut, Oktoberfest, biergarten, there are also abstract terms from German like encrenca or blitz. A significant number of beer brands in Brazil are named after German culture-bound concepts due the fact that the brewing process was brought by German immigrants. Besides, there were many Italian loan words and expressions which aren't related to food or music: (italianisms) like tchau, imbróglio, bisonho, panetone, è vero, cicerone, male male, terra roxa, capisce, mezzo, va bene, ecco, ecco fatto, ecco qui, caspita, cavolo, incavolarsi, engrouvinhado, andiamo via. Due to its large Italian diaspora, parts of the Southern and Southeast states have an Italian influence over the prosody, the vocal patterns of the language, with an Italian sounding stress.

The influence of these languages in the phonology and grammar of Brazilian Portuguese have been very minor.[citation needed] Some authors claim the loss of initial es in the verb estar - now widespread in Brazil - is an influence from African slaves' speech, and it is also claimed that some common factors of BP - such as the virtual disappearance of certain verb inflections and the marked preference for compound tenses - recall the grammatical simplification typical of pidgins. However, the same or similar processes can be verified in the European variant, and such theories haven't still been proved.[5] Regardless of these borrowings and changes, it must be kept in mind that Brazilian Portuguese is not a Portuguese creole, since it can be traced as a direct evolution from XVI century European Portuguese.

Written and spoken languages

The written language taught in Brazilian schools has historically been based on the standard of Portugal, and Portuguese writers have often been regarded as models by Brazilian authors and teachers. Nonetheless, this closeness and aspiration to unity was in the 20th century severely weakened by nationalist movements in literature and the arts, which awakened in many Brazilians the desire of a true national writing uninfluenced by standards in Portugal. Later on, agreements were made as to preserve at least the orthographical unity throughout the Portuguese-speaking world, including the African and Asian variants of the language (which are typically more similar to EP, due to a Portuguese presence lasting into the end of the 20th century).

On the other hand, the spoken language suffered none of the constraints that applied to the written language. Brazilians, when concerned with pronunciation, look up to what is considered the national standard variety, and never the European one. Moreover, Brazilians in general have had very little exposure to European speech, even after the advent of radio, TV, and movies. The language spoken in Brazil has evolved largely independently of that spoken in Portugal.

Formal writing

The written Brazilian standard differs from the European one to about the same extent that written American English differs from written British English. The differences extend to spelling, lexicon, and grammar. Several Brazilian writers were awarded with the highest prize of the Portuguese language. The Camões Prize awarded annually by Portuguese and Brazilians is often regarded as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Literature for works in Portuguese.

João Cabral de Melo Neto, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Rachel de Queiroz, Jorge Amado, Antonio Candido, Autran Dourado, Rubem Fonseca, João Paulo Cuenca, Clarice Lispector, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Lygia Fagundes Telles, Euclides da Cunha and João Guimarães Rosa are Brazilian writers recognized for writing the most outstanding work in the Portuguese language.

Spelling differences

The Brazilian spellings of certain words differ from those used in Portugal and the other Portuguese-speaking countries. Some of these differences are merely orthographic, but others reflect true differences in pronunciation. They are similar to how the English spellings of certain words in the United States differ from the spellings used in other English-speaking countries.

A major subset of the differences relates to words with c and p followed by c, ç, or t. In many cases, the letters c or p have become silent in all varieties of Portuguese, a common phonetic change in Romance languages (cf. Spanish objeto, French objet). Accordingly, they stopped being written down in BP, but are still written in other countries. For example, we have EP acção / BP ação ("action"), EP óptimo / BP ótimo ("optimum"), and so on, where the consonant is silent both in BP and EP, but the words are spelled differently. Only in a small number of words is the consonant silent in Brazil and pronounced elsewhere or vice versa, as in the case of BP fato, but EP facto.

However, BP has retained those silent consonants in a few cases, such as detectar ("to detect"). In particular, BP generally distinguishes in sound and writing between secção ("section" as in anatomy or drafting) and seção ("section" of an organization); whereas EP uses secção for both senses.

Another major set of differences is the BP usage of ô or ê in many words where EP has ó or é, such as BP neurônio / EP neurónio ("neuron") and BP arsênico / EP arsénico ("arsenic"). These spelling differences are due to genuinely different pronunciations. In EP, the vowels e and o may be open (é or ó) or closed (ê or ô) when they are stressed before one of the nasal consonants m, n followed by a vowel, but in BP they are always closed in this environment. The variant spellings are necessary in those cases because the general Portuguese spelling rules mandate a stress diacritic in those words, and the Portuguese diacritics also encode vowel quality.

Another source of variation is the spelling of the [ʒ] sound before e and i. By Portuguese spelling rules, that sound can be written either as j (favored in BP for certain words) or g (favored in EP). Thus, for example, we have BP berinjela / EP beringela ("eggplant").

Topic-prominent language

Modern Linguistics studies have shown that Brazilian Portuguese is a topic-prominent or topic- and subject-prominent language. Sentences with topic are extensively used in Brazilian Portuguese, most often by means of an external comment that could have been included as an element (object or verb) of the sentence (topicalization), thus emphasizing it , e.g. in Esses assuntos eu não conheço bem - literally, "These subjects I don't know [them] well". The anticipation of the verb or object in the beginning of the phrase, repeating them or using the respective pronoun referring to it, is also quite common, e.g. in Essa menina, eu não sei o que fazer com ela" ("This girl, I don't know what to do with her") or "Com essa menina eu não sei o que fazer." (With this girl I don't know what to do).


The cultural influence of Brazilian Portuguese in the rest of the Portuguese-speaking world has greatly increased in the last decades of the 20th century, due to the popularity of Brazilian music and Brazilian soap operas. Since Brazil joined Mercosul, the South American free trade zone, Portuguese has been increasingly studied as a foreign language in Spanish-speaking partner countries.

Many words of Brazilian origin (also used in other Portuguese-speaking countries) have also entered into English: samba, bossa nova, cruzeiro, milreis and capoeira. While originally Angolan, the words "capoeira" and "samba" only became famous worldwide because of their popularity in Brazil.

After independence in 1822, Brazilian idioms with African and Amerindian influences were brought to Portugal by returning Portuguese Brazilians (luso-brasileiros in Portuguese) [and some Amerindian Brazilians (índio-brasileiros in Portuguese), Afro-Brazilians (afro-brasileiros in Portuguese), mulatos, and cafuzos (known as zambos in English-speaking countries)], who brought rich culture mixed with African and Native American elements.


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