Portuguese Language

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Portuguese Language

In Brazil, as in other American countries, the European settlements were created by people from all parts of the mother country. The varieties of speech that existed, and still exist, in Portugal were mixed and combined into a more or less general speech in the colony. There was, of course, in the early colonial period, a speech characteristic of a limited class, which was, or tried to be, similar to that of the Portuguese court. But the speech of the ordinary folk of each region of the colony became more or less uniform. Certain differences developed among the various regions; these still persist to some extent, although within the last generation there has been a strong tendency toward uniformity.

After Brazil became independent, the influence of formal education and the continuance of the class system for a long time perpetuated a considerable difference between the speech of the upper levels of society and that of the lower ones. But during the twentieth century a new middle class arose in considerable numbers and brought with it its own manner of speaking, so that the special language of the former upper classes generally disappeared.

The area in which this speech is largely based is the city of Rio de Janeiro. Like that of all other regions, the speech here is characterized principally by certain features of pronunciation, such as palatalization of t and d before e and i (tf and df), some of them peculiar to the city itself, others common to the entire area. The region may be defined roughly as consisting of the states of Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo, and most of Minas Gerais. The southwestern part of Minas, roughly the part known as the Zona Sul, shows great similarity of speech to the state of São Paulo. The slang of Rio de Janeiro, extraordinarily rich and varied, is universal in the speech of the area, to the extent that the boundaries between slang and more formal language have been practically obliterated. Some slang has long penetrated even serious literature, the lectures of university professors, and even the pulpit. As elsewhere, some types are specialized—used by students, the military, certain professions, or the underworld. Slang does not often affect the structure of the language but is confined largely to unusual use of words, or to phrases that have special meanings in the context in which they are used.

One of the most notable developments in the speech of Brazil in the last quarter of the twentieth century was the rapid expansion of the typical speech of Rio de Janeiro through a large part of the country. There are several reasons for this. The city's cultural prestige and the influence of radio and television played considerable roles. Many network programs originate in Rio, and well-known personalities of radio and television often have ties to the city and its local speech. In addition, the educational system of the country has adopted the speech of Rio as the standard of language for the schools. While this fact undoubtedly enhances the prestige of carioca speech, the influence of other factors is probably much greater. The most important factor in the spread of the speech of Rio is probably the mystique of the "Marvelous City" itself. However, as the financial center of Latin America, São Paulo's influence cannot be underestimated. In the interior of the state of São Paulo there are cities in which the caipira dialect has been handed down from early colonial times. Northeastern residents likewise have distinctive accents.

In the twenty-first century, Portuguese is spoken throughout the world, and the Lusophone nations of Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia continue to develop diplomatic, cultural, and linguistic ties. After an intense period of decolonialization during the 1970s, these nations include Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, Angola, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and East Timor, as well as a small region each in China (Macau) and India (Goa). The Lusophone nations that are independent are bound together by the Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries.

See alsoPortugal; Rio de Janeiro (City).


Earl W. Thomas, A Grammar of Spoken Brazilian Portuguese (1974).

Additional Bibliography

Castro, Yeda Pessoa de. Falares africanos na Bahia: Um vocabulário afro-brasileiro. Rio de Janeiro: Academia Brasileira de Letras, Topbooks, 2001.

Cristóvão, Fernando Alves; Maria de Lourdes A. Ferraz; and Alberto Carvalho. Nacionalismo e regionalismo nas literaturas lusófonas. Lisbon: Edições Cosmos, 1997.

Dietrich, Wolf, and Volker Noll. O português do Brasil: Perspectivas da pesquisa atual. Madrid: Iberoamericana; Frankfurt am Main: Vevuert, 2004.

Louceiro, Clenir; Emília Ferreira; and Elizabeth Ceita Vera Cruz. 7 vozes: Léxico coloquial do português luso-afro-brasileiro: Aproximações. Lisbon: LIDEL, 1997.

Machado Filho, Américo Venâncio Lopes, and Sônia Bastos Borba Costa. Do português arcaico ao português Brasileiro. Salvador, Bahia, Brazil: EDUFBA, 2004.

Megenney, William W. A Bahian Heritage: An Ethnolinguistic Study of African Influences on Bahian Portuguese. Chapel Hill: UNC Department of Romance Languages, University of North Carolina Press, 1978.

Pessoa, Marlos de Barros. Formação de uma variedade urbana e semi-oralidade: O caso do Recife, Brasil. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 2003.

Rodríguez-Seda de Laguna, Asela. Global Impact of the Portuguese Language. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2001.

Roncarati, Cláudia, and Jussara Abraçado. Português brasileiro: Contato lingüístico, heterogeneidade e história. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 7 Letras, 2003.

                                     Richard A. Mazzara

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Portuguese Language

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