Brazilian Portuguese

General Overview

Portuguese has undergone many transformations, both in the mother country and in its former colony, since the language was first introduced into Brazil in the 16th century. Although the two countries have, from time to time, standardized their spelling so that the written word remains mutually intelligible, pronunciations, vocabularies, and the meanings of words have diverged so widely that, it has been said, it is easier for some Brazilians to understand films in Spanish from other Latin-American countries than those from Portugal. New words and expressions in Brazilian Portuguese have been introduced by Italians, Germans, Japanese, and other immigrants and from across the borders with Spanish-speaking countries. One notable example is the universal use in Brazil of tchau, for farewell, adopted from the Italian ciao. Other words have entered through contact with foreign products and technologies.

Some authorities, however, suggest that the greatest divergence of the Brazilian language from the Portuguese goes back to contact with the Indians. The principal language spoken by the tropical forest peoples of Brazil, Tupian, or Tupí-Guaraní, became the lingua franca between the natives and the Portuguese traders, missionaries, adventurers, and administrators; it continued to be used similarly in the Amazon and western Brazil until the 19th century. The Tupian influence in Brazilian place-names is overwhelming, and it is estimated that thousands of indigenous words and expressions have entered the Brazilian Portuguese language. More generally, as a result of the Tupian influence Brazilian Portuguese became more nasal than that of the homeland, and Brazilians generally speak more slowly, pronouncing all the vowels.

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© Zdravko Batzarov