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An Irreverent Guide to the Portuguese Language

A Foreigner's Irreverent Guide


Brasilian Portuguese

revised May 1-2, 2013

Great Affricative Consonant Shift

at the start of syllables when followed by an “i” or “e” sound

“t” → “tsh” / “ch”

“d” → “dge” / “j”

em frente [in front] → “aym frenchy” [trill/roll the “r”]

Batman → “bahtch-i-mahn”

ótimo [excellent] → “ohtchimo”

cara de pau [chutzpah] → “kada gee pow”

disponível [available] → “jis-pon-Ivəw”


Rhotic Devoicing

at the start of syllables

“r” → “h” or even “ch”, like you're hocking up a lugie (l'chaim!)

Rio de Janeiro → “Hio geejenero”

Ronaldinho → "Honaw-geeñ-yo"


Liquid Liquidization

especially at the end of word

“l” → “w”

Bill → “beeəw”

Abril [April] → “a-brəw”


M & N Equality

there is no effective difference between “m” and “n” at the end of syllables

I used to go to a video rental place in Brasil that was called “Cartoom Video”
The drinks card at bars will tell you they serve "gim"


Equality of Vowels

long and short vowels are the same in the eyes of the language

“ee” and “ih” → no difference

“ooh” and “uh” → no difference

This is not so important in understanding spoken Portuguese, where you can feel free to hear long or short vowels however you please, but in understanding that when Portuguese speakers use English, they won't hear, and thus randomly produce, any difference between “Luke” and “look”, “ship” and “sheep”, and, notably, “beach” and “bitch”. (To say nothing of “sheet” and...)


The Law of Conservation of Elision

the last syllable of a word tends to be swallowed, especially colloquially

“taxi” becomes “tax”

“Pepsi” becomes “Peps”

these lost syllables are then added onto lonely, abruptly ending words

“pop” becomes “poppi” (unshifting your American vowels, so it's not “paaahp”)

“quick” becomes “quicki” (as in Nestlé Kwik)


“S” Cannot Start a Word or Syllable Cluster

imagine what this does to the structure of the portuguese dictionary...

“S”s automatically become “Es”; think “specially” → “especially”


The Portuguese Alphabet Had No “K”, “W”, or “Y”

and so “Karla”, “Wagner”, and “Kelly” are immensely popular names...(really!)

So now, as of the last Portuguese Spelling Reform (2009), "k", "w", and "y" are back in...


Talk Through Your Nose

in general, but especially where there is an accent tilde “~” in a word

Even without the diacritic, words like muito [much, a lot, very] and bem [good, well] detour through the nasal cavity, coming out sounding like “moohñtoh” and "bayñ"
With the diacritic, the indicated vowel cluster should be projected straight through the proboscis: São Paulo, João, pão de queijo

You should feel a deep resonance in you sinus when you say these words – Lily Tomlin as the Ma Bell operator.

An “h” following an “n” also indicates a rhinal exodus – canhoto [left-hander] apanhar [to fetch]; in fact, it is the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish “ñ” – manhã [morning], diminutive inha or inho.
And since we're there, an “h” following an “l” is the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish “ll”, ie, it becomes a diphthong “y” sound: trabalho [work], batalha [battle], alho [garlic], navalha [razor].


Accents Matter

unlike French, accent marks are not mere decoration

guaraná → gwad-a-NA

açaí → (a two-fer): a-sigh-EE

maracujá → mada-ku-ZSA

coco → ko-ko or KO-ko (the old spelling had it as “côco”)

cocô → ko-KO

The first one means “coconut”, the second one means “ka-ka”

avó / vovó [grandmother / gramma] → ah-VUH, vo-VUH

avô / vovô [grandfather / grampa] → ah-VOH, vo-VOH

They claim there's a difference between these two, just like we try to convince the Japanese there's a difference between “right” and “light”...


Do the Carioca

Rio only

“s” at the end of a syllable becomes “sh”

1, 2, 3 → “oon, doish, traysh” (vs. “oon, dois, treys”)

Mas Que Nada → "maish ke nada" (vs. "mais ke nada")


Putting It All Together

My [German] father's name was “Timm”, which was rendered “Cheem” by all his Brasilian in-laws.

(I do not fare much better, “Karl” becoming “Cow”.)

My father always derived great mirth when his in-laws called his wife, their daughter, by her full name, not only because my mother hates her full name – “Vera Lucia” – but because the syllable-swallowing rendered it “Vera Lus”.

Illustrating that long and short vowels are all egal, the word “team” in Portuguese (time) gets rendered the same as my father Timm's name, only for some reason syllable-conservation comes into play so that it is “cheemi”.

When my students in Brasil wanted to know the name of our cat in the States, even though I told them it was “Smoky”, they repeated back to me “Esmoak”.

Syllable-swallowing and syllable-conservation are contrasted nicely by the Brasilian pronunciations of “rock” (as in “rock 'n' roll”) and “hockey” (which, to be fair, has almost never been heard of there); “rock”, thanks to syllable-conservation becomes “hocki”, whereas “hockey” , thanks to syllable swallowing, becomes almost “rock” when they glotalize the “h”, making it sound almost “r”-like – although, really, they're much more likely to just not pronounce anything for the “h”, leaving you with “ock”.

A Smurf in Brasil is “esmuf”. An iPod becomes an “ay-podgee”, a Ford becomes a “fordgee”. Reebok, not orthographically pure to start, becomes “heebocki”. (“Nike” stays “nayki”, though I suspect if they caught on to how we pronounce it, would become “nayk”.)

“Heeboki”s, incidentally, are of a type of footwear called tenis. This is a noun, not an adjective. Similarly, when Brasilians want to hang out at the mall, they go to a shopping.

And just to really confuse you, when you hear them referring to “shoppi”, they are not syllable-conserving the word “shop”, nor are they referring to “ye olde shoppe” – they are instead referring to draft beer, a chopp.

Speaking of which, my friend Ton (yes, Ton; it's almost like he's baiting the Brasilians) tells an anecdote about the request for the "bill" resulting in the delivery of "beer": http://www.tonvanhattum.com.br/comreth.html (scroll down to "Communication and Pronunciation") -- Tirs!
(Actually, Brasilians say tin-tin! ("chiñ-chiñ") (not to be confused with Hergé's intrepid boy-reporter, who is Tintim) – saúde ("sow-OOHgee" or syllable conserved to "sow-OOHj"), a million lists purporting to translate "cheers!" into a million languages notwithstanding, is mostly used after someone sneezes.)


Fun With Names

what name in English were they aiming for? (really!)

Dione → “Gee-on-i” → Johnny

Maicon→ “Mai-cõh” → Michael

Uochintom → “Ooh-ahsh-iñ-ton” → Washington

Raudério (from a movie) → “hau-dair-i-ooh” → “How Dare You?!”


Common, Almost Clichéd, False Cognates to Avoid

English to Portuguese

“push” is not puxe, which, though pronounced the same, is “pull”

“preservatives” are not preservativos, which are contraceptives

“eventually” is not eventualmente, which indicates only a possibility or contingency

“30 degrees” is not 30 degraus, which would be 30 steps (it should be 30 graus)

"receipt" is not receita, which is "recipe"

“to advise” is not avisar, which is to warn

“to assist” is not assistir, which is to watch

“educated” is not educado, which is “polite”

“parents” while of the class parentes [relatives], are pais (not to be confused with país, which is country)

[parente → “pa-rench-i”; pais → “paiys”; país → “pa-ees”]

Portuguese to English

uma privada is not “a private”, it is instead “a toilet”

nervosa is not “nervous”, it is instead “agitated”

pretender is not “to pretend”, it is instead “to intend”

reparar is not “to repair”, it is instead “to notice” or “to watch”

preferência is not [always] “preference”, it is instead akin to patronage

decepção is not “deception”, it is instead “disappointment”

resumo is not “resume” or even “résumé”, it is instead “summary”

lanche is not exactly “lunch”, but instead more of a snack – what you get from the lanchonete, like a x-burger (the letter “x” is “shees”, so a “shees-burger” → cheese-burger)


Watching (listening? OK, assisting) the commentary track of a Brasilian movie, which the Brasilian director heroically did in English, we were amused to hear him direct our attention to the illumination by saying, “Repair the lightning.”



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