Portugese Dialects

Within Portugal, a number of regional accents can be distinguished, though none wanders so far from the mainstream standard as to be a separate dialect. The same is also true in Brazil, though accent diversity between the extreme south and the far north often results in difficulties of mutual understanding.

The difference between Continental Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, however, is stark. They are mutually intelligible only with some difficulty, and are distinguished by numerous differences in pronunciation, grammar and word choices. The difference is considerably more pronounced than, say, British English and that spoken in Canada, the United States or Australia.

African and Asian versions of Portuguese seem closer to the Continental manner of speaking than to Brazilian Portuguese, and they can be divided further into many regional sub-dialects, as lack of mobility and mass media communications tend to make regionalisms more pronounced.

Portuguese Accents

Though a relatively small country, Portugal has traditionally divided itself among several different regions according to the accent of the people. The main urban dialect is Estremenho, which comprehends Lisbon and Coimbra. In the very far north is Alto.Minhoto and just below it Nortenho (Braga and Porto) and Transmontano (upper Douro) to the east, towards Spain. In the central regions are Beirão and, south of it, .Baixo-Beirão. These are eastern-central areas, the western part being part of the Lisbon-Coimbra area. Then, south of them is Alto-Alentejano, then Alentejano farther south, and at the bottom, Algarvio. Madeirense (from Madeira Island) and Açoriano (from the Azores) are distinct accents as well.

Brazilian Accents

Within Brazil a number of accent areas can be identified, some of which border on being a separate dialect. But before touching on regional differences, one special case must be considered. That is the city of São Paulo. In a metropolitan area now home to well over 20 million people, almost every possible accent of Portuguese can be heard. São Paulo and its surrounding agricultural area (coffee, sugar and oranges) has become home for the greatest variety of peoples and races, each speaking Brazilian Portuguese in his or her own distinct way. Many immigrants from Italy and Japan (at different times) have influenced the rhythm and pronunciation of local speech. São Paulo also received many other refugees from Europe (particularly Jews escaping persecution in Europe at the time of Hitler and Egypt when Suez was returned by the British) Armenians and Lebanese Christians also fled to Brazil in large numbers to escape the ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman Turks. São Paulo has also been the destination for many economic refugees from Brazil's impoverished northeast, at the rate of nearly 1,000 newcomers every day.

In the countryside, a "country" accent called "caipira" is very pronounced. And because it tends to muddle "r" and "l", can be hard for the city folk to comprehend. The residents of Rio de Janeiro to the north (called "cariocas" or "fluminenses") likewise have a strongly identifiable regional accent, characterized by prolonged diphthongs and more nasalization than in the south. Yet further to the north, the State of Bahia demonstrates considerable influence from African tongues, as most of the slave trade passed through its main port city, Salvador. Going south from São Paulo one encounters areas strongly influenced by German and Italian migrations from the end of the 19th century, with distinct speech patterns typical of those languages and cultures. In the far south, the "Gaucho" accent is notable by its lilt and relatively clipped pronunciation (somewhat more like Spanish than Portuguese in the prolongation of vowels) and by its (correct) use of the "tu" form, and by its substantial local vocabulary, unknown to most outsiders.

Towards the interior, the accent in traditional areas of Minas Gerais is easily distinguished, as well as the accents of the plains people of Mato Grosso and Goiás. The northeastern accents of states like Pernambuco is also immediately recognizable, as is yet another variation in the far north, by Fortaleza.

In spite of the wide dissemination of television, with its homogenizing effect on speech, the regional accents in Brazil continue to thrive.

The most prominent differences in pronunciation between Continental and Brazilian Portuguese are in the final "e" and "a" sounds. In Portugal, the final "e" is almost a schwa, and in Brazil it is almost an /i/. The word "que," for example, would be pronounced [kǝ] or [kɐ] in Portugal, so it almost rhymes with "the" as "the tongue". In Brazil, it would be [ki] and sound like the English word "key" without any extra vowel sounds. Brazilian Portuguese palatizes /t/ and /d/ before the /i/ sound (the letters "e" and "i"), making them "chi" and "dgi." Thus, the word for "people," which is "gente," is pronounced in Brazil with a final sound of "chi" and in Portugal with a final sound more like "tuh."

Pronunciation differences are summarized below in terms of the IPA. Additional differences include a considerable amount of vocabulary, the speed of elocution and rhythm.

Neighboring and Derived Languages

Galician is the nearest cousin to Portuguese, which is spoken in the autonomous region of Galicia in northwestern Spain. Once the same idiom, they drifter apart after the early 16th century separation of the Kingdom of Portugal from the Kingdom of Spain. It is mutually intelligible to a high degree with the northern accents of Portuguese. Central and Southern Portuguese have more difficulty with it. Another, somewhat obscure language is "Fala" (meaning "speak"), which is restricted to a few older citizens in the towns of Valverdi and Freznu in Extremadura, the westernmost Spanish province that borders Portugal in the southeast. A descendant of Galhego-Português, it also is mutually intelligible with Portuguese as spoken in the central and southern regions of the country.

Portuguese, by being a European language of conquest in Africa, Asia and the Americas, has given rise to a number of local mixtures of indigenous language with Portuguese. These are known as Portuguese Pidgins or more broadly, Portuguese Creoles. (The word "Creole" is itself a Creole derivation from the Portuguese word "crioulo," a person "raised" in a colony, often with a European parent. It has come to mean generally any racial or ethnic mixture, particularly when describing music, food or other popular culture. In Brazil, it has come to mean simply of African origin.) These languages are not Portuguese, but have various degrees of Portuguese influence. Caboverdiano, spoken in Cabo Verde, is a Creole that is highly intelligible to Portuguese speakers. In nearby Angola, the language is really Portuguese, not a Creole, but it has many regionalisms and pronunciation shifts, so that a Portuguese-speaker from Brazil or Portugal may have trouble understanding it well.

Papiamento, spoken in the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, is less so. It is a blend of Portuguese with elements of Dutch, English and Spanish.