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About Portuguese Language

Portuguese (português) is a Romance language spoken predominantly in the former Portuguese colonies of East Timor, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Angola, and Brazil as well as in the Portuguese motherland. Portuguese is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world with more than 200 million native speakers. The Portuguese language spread around the globe during the 15th and 16th centuries as Portugal initiated the world's first and the longest living modern colonial and commercial empire which spanned from Macau in China to Angola and Mozambique in Africa and to Brazil in the Americas. Today there are also several Creole languages rooted in Portuguese. Portuguese is also an important language for minorities located in Namibia, Luxembourg, and Andorra. There are sizeable Portuguese speaking immigrant populations around the world residing in such cities as Paris, Boston, New Bedford, and even Newark, New Jersey. English words with an Iberian Portuguese origin include fandango, lingo, albino, and molasses.

Portuguese is one of the five principal Romance languages (together with Spanish, French, Italian and Romanian). It is spoken natively in Portugal by 10 million people, and also in former colonies of Portugal, notably Brazil, where it is spoken by 170 million, and in Lusophone Africa (including Angola, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé e Principe) where another 100,000 or so are speakers. In Asia, Portuguese is still spoken by many inhabitants of its former colony, Macau, as well as in the Indian state of Goa, and in East Timor. The worldwide total number of native speakers of a dialect of Portuguese is estimated at about 180 million, making it the sixth most widely-spoken native language in the world.

Spoken Portuguese

Unlike French and Spanish, which converted certain stressed vowels in Latin to diphthongs ("e" to "ie" and "o" to "ue"), Portuguese retained the open vowel. For example, "puedo" in Spanish ("I can") remained "posso" in Portuguese, like its Latin ancestor. The word for stone "petra" in Latin, became "pedra" in Portuguese and "piedra" in Spanish. Portuguese also lost a few intervocalic consonants such as the "n" in tenere and the "l" in salire. They became "ter" and "sair." Likewise, nouns lost their intervocalic "n" as well: "pleno" became "cheio" (substituting the soft "sh" sound for the plosive "pl" as well), and "chain," which was "catena" in Latin and which became "cadena" in Spanish, became abbreviated to "cadeia", which not only means "chain" but also "jail" in Brazil.

Other pronunciation evolutions involve the "-anem" and "-tione" endings of Latin words and their similars (like "-enum" and "-onem").. The "n" tended to be nasalized and disappear (i.e., no tongue touching of the teeth or alveolar ridge). For example, "canem" (dog) became "cão," "pane" (bread) became "pão," and "mano" (hand) became "mão." "Non" and "Nonne" (no) became "não." They are all pronounced to rhyme with "now" in English, but with the "ow" part up in the nose. Third person plural endings of verbs, like "estar," which had ended in Latin with endings similar to these nouns, also became nasalized, for example, "-ão" as in "são" and "estão" (they are). "São" is interesting, as it is not only the third person plural of "ser" but also the resulting word from the simplification and nasalization of the word for "saint" ("sancto" in Latin and "santo" in Spanish). It became simply "são" in Portuguese, as in the name of the city of São Paulo. The same kind of transformation took place with "vão" - a word meaning "they go" (third person plural of "ir") and also "vain" (from "vano"). This last word also illustrates how Portuguese has dropped the intervocalic "n" - not only in the adjective, but in the noun form as well. "Vanitate" in Latin became "vanidad" in Spanish, but "vaidade" in Portuguese.

Any noun ending in "-tione" in Latin (or -ción" in Spanish) became "-ção" (pronounced like "sow" in English with the "ow" resonating in the nasal cavity). Another category is the intervocalic "t" as in "mater" and "pater" in Latin. In Spanish the /t/ was replaced by a "dr" combination, as in "madre" and "padre." In Portuguese, the /t/ just dropped out, and then the remaining vowels were diphthongized and nasalized, yielding "mãe" for mother, and "pãe" for father.

Once the sound ascended into the nose, it was hard to retrieve it for the same word. Thus, the word "entonces" in Spanish (meaning thus or therefore) became "então" in Portuguese because the final "ces" was hard to make reappear after the "ão" syllable.

The plural of nouns ending in "-ción" in Spanish (and normally their Latin equivalents) is "-ciones" in Spanish and "-tiones" in Latin. In Portuguese, the "-ciones" sound was nasalized to "-ções" so that "function" ("función" in Spanish, pluralized to "funciones") in Portuguese is "função" and pluralized to "funções." "Mother" in the plural became "mães" and "bread" in the plural became "pães."

Likewise, all augmentatives that in Spanish end in "-ón" are "ão" in Portuguese (such as "camión" in Spanish translating to "camião" n Portuguese.) Other endings similarly became nasalized to end a word, but sometimes inconsistently. "Citizen" in Spanish is "cuidadano" and in Portuguese, "cidadão." "Soledad" in Spanish (loneliness) is "solidão" in Portuguese, but many feminine nouns ending in "-dad" in Spanish have been relatively unchanged in Portuguese, adding just a prosthetic "e" at the end, to avoid ending a syllable with a hard consonant sound. Thus "civitate" became "cuidad" in Spanish and "cidade" in Portuguese.

Other characteristic nasalizations occur with words ending in an accented "-en" in Spanish, such as "Belén" (Bethlehem). In Portuguese, the accented final syllable is nasalized and spelled "-em" as in "Belém" (and the final syllable is similar to an English exaggeration of pronouncing the word "fang").

Some vowel elongation has also occurred systematically in Portuguese from Vulgar Latin. The long "e" in "feria" (Latin for a fair or a feast day), became "feira" in Portuguese, causing the long "e" to be longer still, forming a diphthong with "i." "Quarere" in Latin (to seek after) became "querer" in both Spanish and Portuguese, but the first person singular in Spanish changed to an "ie" diphthong, yielding "quiero" (KIAY-ro). In Portuguese, the opposite happened. The long "e" was prolonged, making the first person singular form of the verb "queiro" (KAY-ro).

Written Portuguese

Portuguese uses a conventional Latin alphabet. Unlike Spanish, there is no double L or double R. There is no "ñ." The double-L sound in Spanish is usually a "ch" in Portuguese and written as such. The initial R and the internal double-R is strongly gutteral, whereas the single internal "r" is a flip of the tongue. (Compare "Rio" and "trio.") The sound of "ñ" in Spanish is written "nh" in Portuguese, and the sound of double-L in Spanish is written "lh" in Portuguese. Unlike Spanish, there is a double S, which is more sibilant than a single s. The single s is more voiced, and closer to a "z" sound. For example, "coisa" (thing) has a soft, voiced /z/ sound in the middle, and "passar" (happen) has a hard, unvoiced /s/ in the middle. "K" and "W" are in the alphabet to accommodate foreign names and imported words.

Occasionally vowel combinations have come to be pronounced differently from the way they are spelled, particularly in certain accent regions of Portugal and also in Brazil. For example, "ou" is almost always a high, back "o" sound like the "o" in "holy." But in the word "louça" (dishes), it is pronounced "oi" so that it almost rhymes "coisa."

With the exception of these few traps for the unwary, Portuguese is written very much the way it is spoken, once the sounds have been sorted out. (For example, the hear has to hear a "chi" as a "te").

Several diacritical marks are used in Portuguese. Cedillas are used on "c" where "z" or soft "c" would appear in Spanish. Thus "corazón" in Spanish becomes "coração" in Portuguese. The til (not called a tilde) is used over "a" and "e" and "o" to indicate nasalization. The acute accent is employed to show a high or open vowel (such as é, "eh" meaning "is") and the circumflex is used to indicate a closed vowel, such as ê in "você." The native speaker's ear is so attuned to the differences in vowels that he or she may not understand a foreigner who makes a mistake. For example, "séde" means headquarters and "sêde" means thirst. "Almóço" means "I have lunch." The meal I eat is a noun, called "almôço."

A couple of observations should be made: The "ia" vowel combination in Portuguese is not a diphthong. It is always pronounced as two syllables. Thus, "dia" (meaning "day") needs no accent, as it does in Spanish, because it is automatically a two-syllable word. Unlike Spanish, which would need an accent on "sería" (it would be) and none on "seria" (serious), in Portuguese, the accent is on "séria" (serious) and none on "seria" (it would be).

Secondly, in older times, the diacritical marks were always used, so that differences in pronunciation in stressed syllables would always be made plain. After an orthographic reform in Brazil, which simplified the use of diacritical marks, the acute accent and the circumflex are only required when necessary to distinguish one word from another. If you see the word "coxa" for example ("thigh") it has no diacritical mark, so you won't be able to tell from the way that is written whether it has a closed or an open "o."

The orthographical changes in Portugal have been less radical, and the tendency is to retain the traditional use of diacritical marks over "e" and "o," even when there's no risk of confusion with another word.

Brazil and Portugal have different orthographic rules, somewhat akin to the difference between British and U.S. spelling. Often Brazilians put a circumflex where in Europe an open vowel is pronounced (requiring an acute accent). "Anónimo" in Europe has the second syllable sounding like "non" in English. "Anônimo" in Brazil has it sounding more like "known" in English. Brazil tends not to include letters no longer pronounced in certain words, but which still exist in Continental Portuguese more for historical reasons. Examples are "contrato" versus "contracto," "fato" rather than "facto" and "óptimo" rather than "ótimo."


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