of the Portuguese language in Brazil
Bruno Oliveira Maroneze
The Portuguese language became the
official language of the Portuguese Empire, which, by the year 1600, included
large territorial areas in South America and Africa. Due to historical
and linguistic factors, the language spoken in the portuguese territories
in South America (Brazil) differentiated from the European Portuguese,
in all linguistic aspects: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, etc.,
to the point of some linguists saying that Brazilians are already speaking
This small text tries to describe
the differences between Brazilian Portuguese (BP) and European Portuguese
(EP) phonetics and phonology.
Lusitanization of Brazilian territory
The occupation of Brazil started
at 1532, with the distribution of the fifteen first hereditary capitanies.
Although historical documents point to an equilibrium between the geographic
precedence of the settlers (from North and South of Portugal), linguistic
factors point to a predominance of settlers from the South of Portugal:
the Brazilian pronunciation of [s] is pre-dorso-dental, like that of Meridional
EP; in the North, [s] is apico-alveolar; and BP distinguishes between [b]
and [v], unlike Northern EP. But this can be explained by the fact that
both Brazil and South of Portugal are areas of colonisation (South of Portugal
was colonised after the Reconquista).
Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese
Brazilian Portuguese conserves some
phonetic traits that European Portuguese changed, and vice versa.
aspects of Brazilian Portuguese
aspects of Brazilian Portuguese
In EP, the implosive [s] and [z] are
pronounced as palatal 
is pronounced ['vita],
is pronounced ['memu].
This is an innovation of EP that occurred at the 18th century.
In BP, these words are pronounced ['vista] and ['mezmu]. In Rio de Janeiro
and in some other zones of Brazilian coast, the EP pronunciation may be
found; this is probably due to the relusitanisation occurred at 1808, with
the coming of the Portuguese Royal Family.
The non-stressed final vowels which
are spelled e and o are pronounced in EP 
and [u], but in BP they are pronounced [i] and [u]. For example, passe
is pronounced ['pas]
in EP, but ['pasi] in BP. This is clearly a trait conserved by BP, because
Luís Antônio Verney, in Verdadeiro Método de Estudar
(1746) tells that the Portuguese pronounce ("incorrectly", he says) e
and o like [i] and [u]. This also occurs with the non-stressed final
it is pronounced 
in EP, but [a] in BP, although shorter than the stressed a. For
example: passa is pronounced ['pasa] in BP, but ['pas]
The non-stressed non-final vowels [e]
and [o] are pronounced 
and [u] in EP, and [e] and [o] in BP (see also item 6). For example, meter
and morar are pronounced [m'te]
in EP, but [me'te] and [mo'ra] in BP. (1)
The same occurs with a: it is pronounced 
in EP, and [a] in BP (cadeira is pronounced [k'dj]
in EP and [ka'dea]
in BP). In BP, there are also some words that can be pronounced either
with [u] or [o], either with [e] or [i]: [me'ninu] or [mi'ninu] (for menino),
[ku'stumi] or [ko'stumi] for costume.
The diphthong spelled ei is pronounced
in EP, but [ej] in BP. This also occurs when the diphthong is nasal (tem
is pronounced [tj]
in EP and [tj]
in BP). But even in EP, this pronunciation is geographically marked, and
is a very recent innovation. In both variants of the language there is
sometimes a reduction of [ej] to [e]: (2)
is pronounced [bazi'leu]
in BP. But there are words that don't suffer this reduction: peito
and lei, for example, are pronounced [pejtu] and [lej] in BP. Nowadays,
this phenomenon is receiving more attention.
BP neutralised the oppositions between
[e] and ,
[o] and 
and [a] and 
before nasal consonants. In BP, pena and vênia are
pronounced with a stressed [e], but in EP vénia (written
with é to mark this difference) is pronounced with a stressed
while pena has an [e]. In EP, the fist-conjugation verbs have an
important distinction unknown in BP: in BP, the first person plural is
identical in the present and in the perfect tenses (cantamos, with
a stressed nasal ),
while EP differentiates between them (cantamos with 
is the present tense, while cantámos with [a] is the perfect
EP makes distinctions between non-stressed,
non-initial mid-open and mid-close a, e and o. For
example, cadeira is pronounced [k'dj]
and padeira is pronounced [pa'dj];
("to nail") is pronounced [p'ga]
(originally with [e], but see item 3), while pregar (to preach)
is pronounced [pE'ga];
is pronounced [mu'a]
(originally with [o], but see item 3) and corar is pronounced [k'a].
These distinctions have etymological explanations, but BP neutralised them.
This is important because EP distinguishes phonologically the feminine
article a 
from the contraction "preposition a + article a" [a], spelled
For example, in EP a mesa ("the table") is pronounced ['mez],
while à mesa ("to the table", "at the table") is pronounced
BP pronounces both the same form, [a'meza].
In BP, the group stressed vowel + [s]
or [z] (or 
in Rio de Janeiro) is sometimes pronounced stressed vowel + [js] or [jz]:
is pronounced [a'trajs], luz is pronounced [lujs]. Some linguists
believe that this is due to the palatal pronunciation of [s] (in Rio de
Janeiro), but this also occurs in zones in which the palatal pronunciation
In BP, the lateral palatal ,
spelled lh (the same sound spelled ll in Spanish) is pronounced
[j] in some dialects and by some non-scholarised speakers: filho
is pronounced ['fiju].
In EP, the syllable-final [l] is pronounced
like a velar :
is pronounced [b'zi],
is pronounced ['atu].
But in BP, this sound is pronounced [w]: [ba'ziw],
['awtu]. As such, there is no distinction between mau "bad" and
"badly". In some dialects, the word-final l is completely eliminated
(general is pronounced [gene'a].
There is also the dialectal phenomenon of rhotacism [l] => :
In these dialects, the opposition between mau and mal, for
example, is conserved.
In the groups [ti] and [di], the plosives
[t] and [d] are palatalised in BP (in most, but not all dialects): tio
pronounced ['tjiu], or even ['tiu];
is pronounced ['djitu], or even [ditu].
In BP, some consonant clusters in erudite
words are eliminated by an epenthetic vowel ([i], sometimes [e]): ritmo
is pronounced ['xitjimu], advogado is pronounced [adjivo'gadu]
In EP, the syllable-final r is
as when occurs between vowels: the r in arma is identical
to the r in paro; the rr and the initial r
are pronounced as [x] or as .
In BP, this consonant is sometimes eliminated word-finally (specially in
verbs): doutor is pronounced [do'to], fazer is pronounced
[fa'ze]. When it occurs syllable-finally, but not word-finally, it may
be pronounced as 
or as [x], depending mainly on the dialect. Sometimes the initial r,
the middle-vowel rr and the syllable-final r are pronounced
as [h]. (3)
1. Here I must add that there is an important dialectal variation
that has to do with non-stressed non-final vowels: Northern Brazilian dialects
pronounce them open-mid (
while Southern ones pronounce them close-mid ([e] and [o]). This is the
main phonetic trait that distinguishes between these two dialectal groups.
2. In EP, in the areas that pronounce ei as [j],
this reduction cannot take place, obviously. =>
3. There may be other pronunciations, dialectally. The pronunciation
of this consonant is one of the most complicated chapters of BP phonetics.
Castilho, Ataliba de. O Português
do Brasil. In: ILARI, Rodolfo (1999). Lingüística Românica.
3 ed. São Paulo: Ática.
Teyssier, Paul (1997). História
da Língua Portuguesa. Trad. Celso Cunha. São Paulo: Martins
© 2001 Written for Orbis
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