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Language family: Romance (part of the Indo-European family)
Number of speakers: 265 million
Writing system: Latin
Official language in: 9 countries
HISTORY OF THE LANGUAGE
Portuguese is a Romance language with roots in Vulgar Latin, just like Spanish, French and Italian. It has eventually evolved from the medieval Galician-Portuguese language that was spoken on the Iberian Peninsula. In the 11th century the old language started to develop into two varieties as the two territories (Portugal and Galicia) formed separate countries. With the advent of the new era of Portuguese discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries, the language spread all over the world, in Africa, Asia and the Americas. It became the language of administration of the colonial countries and slowly gained status as a lingua franca in Africa and Asia. Although it’s no longer the language of an empire, it is still widely spoken in the world today and is the official language in 9 countries, including Portugal, Brazil and other Lusophone countries, such as Angola or Mozambique. With so many territories so far from each other, it’s no surprise that there is great regional variation within the language. Even though the variants are generally mutually intelligible, there might be differences in vocabulary and grammar, so it is always important to specify what the target country is when requesting a translation into Portuguese.
My name is… Meu nome é…
Thank you Obrigado (male speaker)/Obrigada (female speaker)
WHAT OUR LINGUISTS SAY…
“Portuguese is a language that developed from the Latin brought by the Romans, and has evolved through the centuries due to colonization and other factors,” explains Isabel, one of our Portuguese translators. “There are no differences between written European Portuguese and the Portuguese written in Angola, Mozambique, Cabo Verde, Guiné-Bissau and S. Tomé e Príncipe, those being the Portuguese speaking countries of Africa, and also the Portuguese written in Timor Leste.”
“Written Brazilian Portuguese is similar to European Portuguese,” Isabel continues, “but with some differences in the use of the tense of the verb, prepositions, and some words. However, it is easily read by someone with knowledge of European Portuguese or vice versa. There are differences in the meaning of identical words (as occurs in American English versus British English), as for example, ‘camisola’ in European Portuguese means sweater and in Brazilian Portuguese means night dress. Apart from these differences the Brazilians are always doing something (using gerundive), while the Portuguese always do something (using infinitive).”
Another aspect in European Portuguese, which is different from other Latin languages, is in relation to the name of people, Isabel says. “We use the article ‘o’ / ‘a’ (‘the’ in English) before the name of a person: o José / a Maria (depending if it is a man’s or a woman’s name).”
In addition to some grammatical differences among the different “Portugueses”, there are some variations in pronunciation, as well. According to Maria, one of our European Portuguese translators, even though it belongs to a different language family, “European Portuguese sounds like Russian or other Balto-Slavic languages. Someone said Portuguese sounds like ‘Russians trying to speak Spanish’!”
“European Portuguese, as spoken in Portugal, is spoken very quickly and swallowing the end of the word mainly if it is a mute vowel,” says Isabel. “Non-Portuguese speakers may be confused by the letter ‘s’ being pronounced ‘sh’ or ‘s’, depending of its position in a word. A good example is the town of Cascais where the letter ‘s’ is pronounced ‘sh’ in both positions, but the town of Sines, the ‘s’ at the beginning is ‘s’ at at the end is ‘sh’.”
As for Brazilian Portuguese, Isabel finds it is like singing, and it is “clearer since they open all the syllables and don’t swallow them.”
To her ears, “Portuguese spoken in African countries seems quite clear and depending on the countries, or regions, quite full of life. The accent is quite different to Brazilian.” Maria Teresa, who grew up in Mozambique, adds she has heard people “say that it has a lot of ‘jjj’ and ‘sh’ sounds and also a lot of vowels, as in ‘poeira’ (dust). With few exceptions, every vowel must be sounded.”
Our Brazilian Translations Manager, Ana Grilo finds it difficult to imagine how a non-speaker of Portuguese would perceive the language and how they would describe it: “I guess it truly does depend on what the listener’s mother tongue is. So for a Latin language speaker such as Spanish or Italian, it might sound like something vaguely familiar. But for someone whose mother tongue language is something completely different, from a language family that is not so close, it could sound like either beautiful music or a screeching sound.”
Whatever you might think of this lovely, melodic language (yes, Ana, no one thinks it’s awful!), as Maria Teresa reminds us, you must always “keep in mind that Portuguese is spoken all over the world and that due to the different regional phonologies, Portuguese speakers do not always understand each other!”
Ana agrees with Maria Teresa: “For me, whenever I hear Portuguese not from Brazil, what strikes me the most is the speed. I can barely keep up fast enough to understand what is being said! I wonder if they think the same about Brazilian Portuguese?”
“European Portuguese sounds are more clipped and people tend to ‘swallow’ some vowels or even syllables, as in ‘consid-ração’ instead of ‘consideração’, ‘concord’ instead of ‘concordo’, “says Maria Teresa. “Brazilians pronounce, drag and stress their vowels (‘consideração). Angolan and Mozambican Portuguese are sort of in-between and are also heavily influenced by various African dialects and languages. Of course these are gross generalisations because we are talking about very large countries with hundreds of local languages and dialects!”
As for Brazilian Portuguese, according to Maria, it “is perceived as being more musical and lively, some call it ‘Portuguese with sugar’, with the words more distinctly articulated. European Portuguese words sound more muted and interconnected, and initially harder to distinguish individually. Official African Portuguese (as there are various local dialects) is European Portuguese with local accent and, naturally, some local terminology. There are African terms which became part of slang in Portugal, such as ‘bazar’ (to go away) and ‘bué’ (many).”
With all the borrowed words, it is no surprise that Maria Teresa’s favourite Portuguese word is also of foreign origins: “I love the word ‘oxalá’ /ɔ.ʃɐ.ˈla/. It derives from the Arabic ‘Inshallah’ and it means basically the same (God willing, hopefully, etc.).”
Isabel mentions “saudade”, a bitter-sweet word when asked about her favourite expression: It means “longing for something that you can’t have any longer or for someone that you lost”.
Maria’s most beloved word is just as beautiful as Maria Teresa’s and Isabel’s and not only because of its pleasant pronunciation and lovely meaning. She has personal reasons. She likes the word “estrela” which means star in English and it is her late father’s surname (her maiden name) and has a lot of nice associations.
Ana’s choice of word is “inconstitucionalissimamente” which she likes to randomly weave into her conversations. It is the longest (non-technical) Portuguese word and means “against the legal constitution”.
If you have any questions about Portuguese or translations in general, or have a translation request, don’t hesitate to get in touch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 01223 356 733.