Portuguese dialects are mutually intelligible variations of the Portuguese language over Portuguese-speaking countries and other areas holding some degree of cultural bound with the language. Portuguese has two standard forms of writing and numerous regional spoken variations (with often large phonological and lexical differences).
The standard written form of Portuguese used in Brazil is regulated by the Brazilian Academy of Letters and is sometimes called Brazilian Portuguese (although the term primarily means all dialects spoken in Brazil as a whole). In Portugal, the language is regulated by the Sciences Academy of Lisbon, Class of Letters, which shapes the standard spelling set of norms associated with European Portuguese. This written variation is the one preferred by Portuguese African and Asian ex-colonies, including Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Angola, Timor-Leste, Macau and Goa.
Differences between Brazilian and European written forms of Portuguese occur in a similar way (and are often compared to) those of American and British English, though spelling divergencies are generally believed to occur with a little greater frequency in the two Portuguese written dialects. Differences in syntax and word construction, not directly related with spelling, are also observed. Furthermore, there were attempts to unify the two written variations, the most recent of them being the Orthographic Agreement of 1990, which only began to take effect in the 2000s and is still under implementation in some countries. This and previous reforms faced criticism by people who say they are unnecessary or inefficient or even that they create more differences instead of reducing or eliminating them.
The differences between the various spoken Portuguese dialects are mostly in phonology, in the frequency of usage of certain grammatical forms, and especially in the distance between the formal and informal levels of speech. Lexical differences are numerous but largely confined to "peripheral" words, such as plants, animals, and other local items, with little impact in the core lexicon.
Dialectal deviations from the official grammar are relatively few. As a consequence, all Portuguese dialects are mutually intelligible although for some of the most extremely divergent pairs, the phonological changes may make it difficult for speakers to understand rapid speech.
The dialects of Portugal can be divided into two major groups:
- The southern and central dialects are broadly characterized by preserving the distinction between /b/ and /v/, and by the tendency to monophthongize ei and ou to [e] and [o] (While ei and ou are monophthongized to [e] and [o], [e] is transitional between the vowel of bate (for most English dialects) and the vowel of bet; /o/ is transitional between the vowel of boat (for most English dialects) and the vowel of raw). They include the dialect of the capital, Lisbon, but it has some peculiarities of its own. Although the dialects of the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira have unique characteristics, as well, they can also be grouped with the southern dialects.
- The northern dialects are characterized by preserving the pronunciation of ei and ou as diphthongs [ei̯], [ou̯], and by somewhat having sometimes merged /v/ with /b/ (like in Spanish). They include the dialect of Porto, Portugal's second largest city.
Within each of these regions, however, is further variation, especially in pronunciation. For example, in Lisbon and its vicinity, the diphthong ei is centralized to [ɐi̯] instead of being monophthongized, as in the south.
In the Portuguese town of Barrancos (in the border between Extremadura, Andalucia and Portugal), a dialect of Portuguese heavily influenced by Southern Spanish dialects is spoken, known as barranquenho.
Brazilian dialects are divided into northern and southern groups, the northern dialects tending to slightly more open pre-stressed vowels. The economic and cultural dominance of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil made their dialects end up having some influence on the rest of the country. However, migration from the Northern states to the Southern states cause the influence to be a two-way phenomenon. Cultural issues also play their roles. Speakers of the Gaúcho accent, for example, usually have strong feelings about their own way of speaking and are largely uninfluenced by the other accents. Also, people of inner cities of the three southern states usually speak with a very notable German, Italian or Polish accent, and among the inhabitants of the Santa Catarina, the Azorean Portuguese dialect, in its local variant, predominates.
Between Brazilian Portuguese, particularly in its most informal varieties, and European Portuguese, there can be considerable differences in grammar, aside from the differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. The most prominent ones concern the placement of clitic pronouns, and the use of subject pronouns as objects in the third person. Non-standard inflections are also common in colloquial Brazilian Portuguese.
Africa, Asia and Oceania
For historical reasons, the dialects of Africa are generally closer to those of Portugal than the Brazilian dialects, but in some aspects of their phonology, especially the pronunciation of unstressed vowels, they resemble Brazilian Portuguese more than European Portuguese. They have not been studied as exhaustively as European and Brazilian Portuguese.
Asian Portuguese dialects are similar to the African ones and so are generally close to those of Portugal. In Macau, the syllable onset rhotic /ʁ/ is pronounced as a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] or uvular trill [ʀ].
Notable features of some dialects
Many dialects have special characteristics. Most of the differences are seen in phonetics and phonology, and here are some of the more prominent:
- In some regions of northern Portugal and Brazil, the digraph ou still denotes a falling diphthong [ou̯], but it has been monophthongized to [o] by most speakers of Portuguese.
- In the dialects of Alto-Minho and Trás-os-Montes (northern Portugal), the digraph ch still denotes the affricate /tʃ/, as in Galicia, but for most speakers, it has merged with /ʃ/.
- Some dialects of northern Portugal still contrast the predorsodental sibilants c/ç /s/ and z /z/ with apicoalveolar sibilants s(s) /s̺/ and s /z̺/, with minimal pairs such as passo /pas̺u/ "step" and paço /pasu/ "palace" or coser /kuz̺eɾ/ "to sew" and cozer /kuzeɾ/ "to cook", which are homophones in most dialects. The other dialects of northern Portugal that have lost this distinction have apicoalveolar sibilants instead of the predorsodental fricatives, found in all southern dialects of Portugal as well as in Brazil. In those dialects, they also appear in syllable codas instead of the [ʃ] realizations that can be observed in all southern dialects.
- In northern Portugal, the pronoun vós and its associated verb forms are still in use.
- In Alentejo and parts of the Algarve (southern Portugal), one finds word-final [i] where standard EP has [ɨ], a feature shared with BP.
- Also in Brazil, Alentejo and Algarve, progressive constructions are formed with the gerund form of verbs instead of a followed by the infinitive that one finds in most dialects of Portugal: está chovendo vs. está a chover ("it's raining").
- In Brazil, original voiced intervocalic stops are still pronounced as such, [vidɐ], [kabu] instead of the normal Portugal pronunciation [viðɐ], [kaβu].
- In Brazil, all five vowels [a e i o u] are usually pronounced clearly in unstressed pretonic syllables like in stressed syllables, while in Portugal they are generally reduced to [ɐ ɨ i u u]. However, some words in some Brazilian accents (esp. in Rio) have pretonic [e o] raised to [i u].
- In central and southern Portugal (except the city of Lisbon and its vicinity), the diphthong /ei̯/ is monophthongized to [e]. The nasal diphthong /ẽi̯/ is often monophthongized to [ẽ] as well.
- In and near Lisbon, /ei̯/ and /ẽi̯/ are pronounced [ɐi̯] and [ɐ̃i̯], respectively. Furthermore, stressed /e/ is pronounced [ɐ] or [ɐi̯] before a palato-alveolar or a palatal consonant followed by another vowel.
- In the dialect of the Beiras (Beira Interior Norte, Cova da Beira and Beira Interior Sul) in central Portugal, the sibilant /ʒ/ occurs at the end of words, before another word which starts with a vowel, instead of /z/.
- In northern Portugal, the phoneme /m/ has a velar allophone [ŋ] at the end of words.
- In the dialects of Portalegre, Castelo Branco, Algarve (Barlavento area) and São Miguel Island (Azores), the near-front rounded vowel [ʏ] replaces /u/, in a process similar to the one that originated the French u. The dialect of São Miguel has also the front rounded vowel [ø] replacing /o/, as in outra or boi.
- In northern Portugal, the close vowels /o/ and /e/ may be pronounced as diphthongs, such as in "Porto", pronounced [ˈpwoɾtu], "quê": [kje], "hoje": [ˈwoi̯ʒɨ] or [ˈwoʒɨ] or even [ˈwoi̯ʒɨ]
- Some dialects of southern Portugal have gerund forms that inflect for person and number: em chegandos (when you arrive), em chegândemos (when we arrive), em chegandem (when you/they arrive). They are not used in writing.
- There are some dialectal differences in how word final [u] is realized. In Brazilian Portuguese, it is always pronounced. In Portugal, it is usually most audible when at the end of an utterance. In other contexts, it may be realized not at all or as mere labialization of the preceding consonant. The northern dialects tend to maintain it in most contexts. For instance, a sentence like o meu irmão comprou um carro novo ("my brother bought a new car") would be pronounced as [u ˈmew iɾˈmɐ̃w̃ kõˈpɾow u~ ˈkaʁu ˈnovu] or [u ˈmew iɾˈmɐ̃w̃ kõˈpɾow ũ ˈkaʁʷ ˈnovu] in those dialects. In the Lisbon dialect the last two words would instead be pronounced [ˈkaʁʷ ˈnovu], [ˈkaʁʷ ˈnovʷ], [ˈkaʁ ˈnovu] or [ˈkaʁ ˈnovʷ]. In southern Portugal, word final [w] and [w̃] are also affected so in Alentejo, the same sentence would sound [u ˈme iɾˈmɐ̃ kõˈpɾo ũ ˈkaʁ ˈnovu] (in that dialect, utterance final vowels are also noticeably very prolonged so a more accurate transcription might be [ˈnovuː] for this example). In the southernmost region of the country, the Algarve, the vowel is completely lost: [u ˈme iɾˈmɐ̃ kõˈpɾo ũ ˈkaʁ ˈnov].
- In most of Brazil, syllable-final /l/ is vocalized to /w/, which causes mau "bad" and mal "badly" to become homophones (although Brazil tends to use ruim in place of mau). Similarly, degrau "step" and jornal "journal" rhyme, which results in false plurals such as degrais "steps" (vs. correct degraus), by analogy with correct plural jornais. In the caipira dialect, and in parts of Goiás and Minas Gerais, syllable-final /l/ is instead merged with /ɾ/, pronounced as an alveolar approximant [ɹ] in the Caipira way.
- The pronunciation of syllable-initial and syllable-final r varies considerably with dialect. See Guttural R in Portuguese, for details. Syllable-initial ⟨r⟩ and doubled ⟨rr⟩ are pronounced as a guttural [ʁ] in most cities in Portugal, but as a traditional trill [r] in rural Portugal. In Brazil, the sound is normally pronounced as an unvoiced guttural ([x], [χ] or [h]), which is also used for ⟨r⟩ at the end of syllables (except in the caipira dialect, which uses an alveolar approximant [ɹ], and the gaúcho dialect, which uses an alveolar flap [ɾ] or trill [r]). ⟨r⟩ at the end of words, in Brazil, is normally silent or barely pronounced. In Macau, where Portuguese is spoken mostly as a second language, initial and intervocalic "r" is sometimes replaced with a diphthong, and ⟨r⟩ at the end of words (esp. when final-stressed) is sometimes silent.
- The pronunciation of syllable-final s/x/z also varies with dialect. See Portuguese phonology for details. Portugal and Rio de Janeiro favor [ʃ], both before a consonant and finally. Most other parts of Brazil favor [s], but in the Northeast, [ʃ] is often heard before consonants, especially /t/ (but not at the end of words).
- In the Northeast of Brazil and, to an increasing extent, in Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere, [j] is inserted before final /s/ in a final-stressed word, which makes mas "but" and mais "more" homonyms, both pronounced [majs] or [majʃ]. Other affected examples are faz "he does", dez "ten", nós "we", voz "voice", luz "light", Jesus "Jesus", etc. Related forms like fazem, vozes, nosso are unaffected since /s/ is no longer final.
- In most of Brazil, /t/, /d/ are palatalized to [tʃ], [dʒ] when they are followed by /i/. Common sources of /i/ are the unstressed ending -e, as in gente "people" [ˈʒẽtʃi] and de "of" [dʒi], and the epenthetic /i/ in words such as advogado "lawyer" [adʒivoˈɡadu]. Pefixes de-, des- and dez- (such as dezoito "eighteen") vary from word to word and from speaker to speaker between [de], [des]/[dez]/etc. and [dʒi], [dʒis]/[dʒiz]/etc..
- Informal Brazilian Portuguese makes major changes in its use of pronouns:
- Informal tu is dropped entirely in most regions along with all second-person singular verbal inflections. When tu survives, it is used with third-person inflections.
- Clitic te [tʃi] survives as the normal clitic object pronoun corresponding to você.
- Clitic pronouns almost always precede the verb. Post-verbal clitics are seen only in formal contexts, and mesoclisis (amar-te-ei "I will love you") is practically incomprehensible to most Brazilians.
- Possessives seu, sua virtually always mean "your". To say "his, her", constructions like o carro dele "his car" or o carro dela "her car" are used.
- Third-person clitics o, a, os, as and combined clitics like mo, no-lo are virtually never heard in speech. Instead, the clitics are simply omitted, especially to refer to objects; or a subject pronoun is placed after the verb: Eu levo "I'll get it"; Vi ele "I saw him".
- Nós "we" is often replaced by a gente, conjugated with a third-person singular verb.
- Other Brazilian Portuguese grammatical changes:
- Preposition a is normally replaced by para in speech. (Note: para a /pra/, para o /pro/.)
- The future tense is rarely used except for certain verbs with monosyllabic infinitives; otherwise periphrasis (vou falar "I will speak") is used. (Future perfect, future subjunctive and future perfect subjunctive all occur regularly.)
- The conditional tense is rarely used. When a true conditional meaning is intended, the imperfect is substituted. When a future-in-the-past meaning is intended, a periphrasis is often substituted: disse que ia falar comigo "He said he would speak with me".
Homophones in dialects
Mau and mal
Both mean bad, but mau is an adjective, mal an adverb. In most parts of Brazil, the l before consonants and ending words, which represents a velarized alveolar lateral approximant in differing dialects, became a labio-velar approximant, making both words homophones.
Júri and jure
While júri means jury, jure is the imperative and second subjunctive third singular form of jurar, "may he/she swear". In different contexts, unstressed /e/ often became a close front unrounded vowel, but in some Southern Brazilian dialects, the Hispanic influence, made /e/ never go through the change.
Comprimento and cumprimento
Comprimento means "length", and cumprimento means "greeting". The same thing that happened with /e/ in the example of júri/jure happened to the letter /o/, such becomes a close back rounded vowel in some cases, Hispanic influence makes it never represent that sound in some Southern Brazilian.
Asa and haja
Asa means "wing", and haja is the imperative and second subjunctive third singular form of haver, "may he/she exist". The words are usually distinguished, but in Alto Trás-os-Montes and for some East Timorese Portuguese speakers, they are homophones, both voiced palato-alveolar sibilants.
Boa and voa
Boa means "good" (feminine) and voa, "he/she/it flies". Unlike most of the West Iberian languages, Portuguese usually differs between the voiced bilabial plosive and the voiced labiodental fricative, but the distinction used to be absent in the dialects of the northern half of Portugal, and in some dialects spoken in the border of Brazil or Portugal and Spanish-speaking countries. Both are realized indistinctly as a voiced bilabial plosive or a voiced bilabial fricative, like in Spanish.
Más, mas and mais
Más means "bad ones" (feminine), mas means "but" and mais means "more" or "most". In Northeastern Brazil and the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, the vowels followed by coronal fricatives in the same syllable have a palatal approximant pronounced between both. The feature is very distinguishable since this combination appears in the plural forms.
Xá and chá
Xá means "shah", and chá means tea. At the beginning of words, <x> and <ch> are usually voiceless palato-alveolar fricatives, but <ch> is a voiceless palato-alveolar affricate in northern Portugal. The sound happens in other cases in Southeastern Brazil but disappeared in the rest of the Portuguese-speaking world.
Portunhol/Portuñol: In regions where Spanish and Portuguese coexist, various types of language contact have occurred, ranging from improvised code-switching between monolingual speakers of each language to more or less stable mixed languages. They are often designated by the common term portunhol (portuñol).
Closely related languages
This section does not cover Galician, which is treated as a separate language from Portuguese by Galician official institutions, or Fala. For a discussion of the controversy regarding the status of Galician with respect to Portuguese, see Reintegrationism.
The language must not be confused with Portuñol, since it is not a mixing of Spanish and Portuguese, but a variety of Portuguese language developed in Uruguay back in the time of its first settlers. It has since suffered influence from Uruguayan Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.
In academic circles, the Portuguese used by the northern population of Uruguay received the name "Dialectos Portugueses del Uruguay" (Uruguayan Portuguese Dialects). There's still no consensus if the language(s) is (are) a dialect or a creole, although the name given by linguists uses the term "dialect". There is also no consensus on how many varieties it has, with some studies indicating that there are at least two varieties, an urban one and a rural one, while others say there are six varieties, of which Riverense Portuñol is one. This Portuguese spoken in Uruguay is also referred by its speakers, depending on the region that they live, as Bayano, Riverense, Fronterizo, Brasilero or simply Portuñol.
The different dialects and accents do not block cross-understanding among the educated. Meanwhile, the basilects have diverged more. The unity of the language is reflected in the fact that early imported sound films were dubbed into one version for the entire Portuguese-speaking market. Currently, films not originally in Portuguese (usually Hollywood productions) are dubbed separately into two accents: one for Portugal and one for Brazilian (using without regionalisms). When dubbing an African character in cartoons and TV and film productions, Portuguese people usually mimic an Angolan accent, as it is also commonly seen as the African accent of Portuguese. The popularity of telenovelas and music familiarizes the speakers with other accents of Portuguese.
Prescription and a common cultural and literary tradition, among other factors, have contributed to the formation of a Standard Portuguese, which is the preferred form in formal settings, and is considered indispensable in academic and literary writing, the media, etc. This standard tends to disregard local grammatical, phonetic and lexical peculiarities, and draws certain extra features from the commonly acknowledged canon, preserving (for example) certain verb tenses considered "bookish" or archaic in most other dialects. Portuguese has two official written standards, (i) Brazilian Portuguese (used chiefly in Brazil) and (ii) European Portuguese (used in Portugal and Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe). The written standards slightly differ in spelling and vocabulary, and are legally regulated. Unlike the written language, however, there is no spoken-Portuguese official standard, but the European Portuguese reference pronunciation is the educated speech of Lisbon.
List of dialects
|European Portuguese||Close WIL||Brazilian Portuguese||Contact dialects|
- CARVALHO, Ana Maria. Variation and diffusion of Uruguayan Portuguese in a bilingual border town, by Ana Maria Carvalho, University of California at Berkeley USA. (PDF)
- Dialects of Portuguese at the Instituto Camões
- Audio samples of the dialects of Portugal
- Audio samples of the dialects from outside Europe
- Audio samples of Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, and Galician
- A Pronúncia do Português Europeu at the website of the Instituto Camões
- Isoglosses of the main dialects in Portugal at the website of the Instituto Camões
- Lindley Cintra, Luís F. Nova Proposta de Classificação dos Dialectos Galego-Portugueses Boletim de Filologia, Lisboa, Centro de Estudos Filológicos, 1971. (PDF)
- Portugués del Uruguay y educación bilingüe