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THE PORTUGUESE LANGUAGE

You don't fala portugues? Here's what you should know.

ORIGINS AND INFLUENCES

Portuguese is one of the major languages of the world (the sixth most spoken language worldwide), spoken by about 200 million people on four continents. It belongs to a group of languages called "Romance" or "Neo-Latin" that evolved from Latin, the language of Latium in Ancient Italy, or more specifically, the city of Rome.

After the Roman invasion, Latin gradually became established in the Iberian peninsula and finally replaced the native languages. When the country of Portugal was founded, it adopted its own particular Romance, which was essentially Portuguese, as the national language. Further to the north, the region of Galicia (Spain) where the same Romance was spoken, remained politically subjugated to the kingdom of Leon and Castile, and even today Galician remains a regional dialect, under the official hegemony of Spanish.

There was always great regional variation in Latin vocabulary, depending on each region's position with respect to Rome. The Iberian provinces were somewhat on the sidelines, and did not receive many of the lexical changes that were constantly created in Rome by the urban masses' need for expression. Portuguese and Spanish maintain, for example, the traditional Latin verb comedere (comer in both Portuguese and Spanish), meaning "to eat", while Italy and France adopted the new term manducare, which became mangiare and manger.

Another example is the Latin word for "cheese" (caseus), from which developed the Portuguese queijo and Spanish queso. In France and Italy however, caseus was replaced by formaticus, derived from forma, which was connected with a new process of making cheese. From this term evolved the French fromage, and Italian fromaggio. Factors like these explain why Portuguese and Castilian (Spanish) are the most similar of all the Romance languages.

The other groups that settled in what is now Portugal over the centuries had little effect on the language, although there is still a small number of words that go back to Celtic times (such as ontem, meaning "yesterday" which has the same origin as the Scottish Gaelic an d, and esquecer, meaning "to forget"), a few words of Germanic origin (such as roubar, meaning "to steal," and guerrear, meaning "to wage war"), and about five hundred words introduced in Moorish times, especially those starting with the "al" prefix, such as almofada ("pillow").

During the Age of Discovery, when Portugal established an overseas empire, the Portuguese language was heard in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Under regional influences, it absorbed a small number of words like jangada ("raft") of Malay origin, and chá ("tea"), of Chinese origin. The Portuguese discoveries also had the opposite effect, and there are numerous Portuguese words in other languages, including in Japanese (see the list below on the right; FYI: although some believe that the word for "thank you" in Japanese -- "arigato" -- comes from the Portuguese "obrigado," linguists have refuted that to be untrue).

Other languages that have influenced Portuguese include French, due to the infiltration of French manners and customs in Portugal during the tenth and eleventh centuries, when Frenchmen went to Portugal as pilgrims, courtiers, statesmen, scholars, and soldiers of fortune to help fight the Moors. There were also influences of Provençal, a language from the south of France, with words such as rua ("street"), similar to the French rue.

In Lisbon, Porto, most of Algarve, and other main tourist destinations, English is spoken fairly widely. Still, learning just a few simple Portuguese words certainly enhances a visit to Portugal. The Portuguese are proud of their language and do not take kindly to being addressed in Spanish by foreigners, so visitors should take a little time to become familiar with some basic Portuguese vocabulary.

PRONUNCIATION AND UNDERSTANDING PORTUGUESE

NOTE: The rules given below refer to Portuguese as spoken in Portugal. Some of them don't apply to Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation.

At first the Portuguese language can seem difficult to understand, since as one of the Romance languages derived from Latin, one expects it to be close to the resonant rattle of Spanish or the Romantic cadences of Italian. Instead, its closed vowels and shushing consonants sound closer to an Eastern European language. But knowledge of Spanish, Italian, or French does help to decipher the written word.

Having an idea of French pronunciation helps to pronounce nasalized vowels, which are indicated by a tilde (~) over them or are followed by "m" or "n." The Portuguese word for wool, , therefore sounds roughly like the French word lin. Also helpful is knowing that the suffix "-ção" is the equivalent of the English "-tion," so informação is "information," and nação is "nation," for example. These words form their plural by changing the suffix to "-ções" (so nação becomes nações).

The cedilla under the "c" serves exactly the same purpose as in French -- to transform the "c" into a "ss" sound in front of the vowels "a," "o," and "u" (Açores, Graça, etc.).

The accent usually falls on the next-to-last syllable (Fado, azulejos, etc.), except when there's an acute accent to indicate the proper pronunciation (sábado, república, está, etc.).

As in other Romance languages, things are either masculine or feminine, with most masculine nouns ending in "o" and most feminine ones ending in "a."
  • Ã is much like the French "-an" ending
  • ÃO sounds like a nasal "ow"
  • C has an "s" sound before "e" and "i"
  • Ç functions as in French, pronounced as an "s"
  • CH is soft: chá (tea) sounds like sha
  • E at the end of a word is silent, unless it has an accent: it is silent in doze (twelve), pronounced doz, but stressed in (foot)
  • EI sounds like the "a" in "table"
  • J is pronounced as in French (like the "s" in "pleasure"), so don't pronounce "José" as in Spanish.
  • G is also pronounced like the "s" in "pleasure" before "e" and "i," but hard before "a," "o," or "u"
  • H is silent
  • LH is pronounced like the Italian "gl"
  • NH is pronounced like the Spanish "ñ" (similar to the "ni" in "onion")
  • M takes on a nasal tone at the end of words, as in sim (yes)
  • Õ is much like the French "-on" ending
  • OU is pronounced similar to the "o" in "over"
  • QU is pronounced as a "k" before "e" or "i" but as the "qu" in "quadruplets" before "a" or "o"
  • R at the beginning of a word (or "rr" in the middle) is a harsh, guttural sound similar to French (in some areas of Portugal this "r" is not guttural, but strongly rolled)
  • R in the middle or at the end of a word is a rolled sound, close to but stronger than the English "r"
  • S is soft except when occurring between two vowels, when it is pronounced like a "z" (e.g. casa, meaning "house")
  • S at the end of a word or syllable (before another consonant) is "sh," (inglês, meaning "English" is pronounced "inglesh," and escola, meaning "school," is "eshcola"), otherwise it sounds like the "s" in "sun"
  • Z at the end of a word is pronounced "sh"

................................................................

For further study, please check out our General Dictionary and also our specialized Portuguese Food Dictionary.

Or click here for information about learning Portuguese in Lisbon, Brazil or the UK.

Finally, for a marvellously complete resource for studying the language, see Russell Walker's Learning Portuguese website.

Useful Portuguese Words and Phrases

English - Portuguese
Yes - sim
No - não
Thank You - obrigado
Good Bye - adeus or chao
Good Morning - bom dia
Good Afternoon - boa tarde
Good Night - boa noite
Welcome - bem-vindo
Excuse Me - com licença
I'm Sorry - desculpe
See You Later - até logo
Can I? - posso?
How much? - quanto?
Here - aqui
There - ali
Near - perto
Far - longe
Hot - quente
Cold - frio
New - novo
Old - velho
Yesterday - ontem
Today - hoje
Tomorrow - amanhã
I need help. - Preciso de ajuda
Where's __ Street? - Onde é a rua __
Do you know...? - Você sabe...?
Good - bom
Bad - mau
Open - aberto
Closed - fechado
Mother - mãe
Father - pai
Son - filho
Daughter - filha
Breakfast - pequeno-almoço
Lunch - almoço
Snack - lanche
Dinner - jantar
Sandwish - sandes
Ice Cream - gelado
Dessert - sobremesa
Coffee - café
Tea - chá
Juice - sumo
Olives - azeitonas
French Fries - batatas fritas
Vegetables - legumes
Butter - manteiga
Eggs - ovos
Bread - pão
Salad - salada
Cheese - queijo
Spoon - colher
Fork - garfo
Knife - faca
Glass/Cup - copo
Bottle - garrafa
Wine - vinho
Beer - cerveja
Sunday - domingo
Monday - segunda-feira
Tuesday - terça-feira
Wednesday - quarta-feira
Thursday - quinta-feira
Friday - sexta-feira
Saturday - sábado
January - janeiro
February - fevereiro
March - março
April - abril
May - maio
June - junho
July - julho
August - agosto
September - setembro
October - outubro
November - novembro
December - dezembro
Vacation - férias
Money - dinheiro
Bus - autocarro
Train - comboio
Airplane - avião
Taxi - taxi
Keys - chaves
Soap - sabão or sabonete
Bathroom - quarto de banho
Newspaper - jornal
Magazine - revista
Letter - carta
Postcard - postal
Envelope - envelope
Stamp - selo
Post Office - correios
Sick - doente
Pain - dor
Hospital - hospital
Doctor - doutor
Prescription - receita

Click here for information about learning Portuguese in Portugal, Brazil or the UK.

Top 10 Most Spoken Languages in the World

(In parenthesis is the primary or original region where that language is spoken)
1. Mandarin (China)
2. Spanish (Spain)
3. English (United Kingdom)
4. Bengali (Bangladesh)
5. Hindi (India)
6. PORTUGUESE (Portugal)
7. Russian (Russia)
8. Japanese (Japan)
9. German (Germany)
10. Chinese (China)

Curious Facts

Examples of Japanese words with Portuguese origins

Japanese
`arukooru'
`biidoro'
`biroodo'
`botan'
`karuta'
`kirishitan'
`pan'
`rozario'
`shabon'

Portuguese
alcool
vidro
veludo
botão
carta
cristão
pão
rosario
sabão

English
alcohol
glass
velvet
button
card
christian
bread
rosary
soap


Did You Know?

  • The Portuguese alphabet does not have a "k", "w" or "y." These letters are only used in "foreign" words such as whisky.
  • English is the second language taught at most Portuguese schools, followed by French.
  • There are about 2.5 million Portuguese speakers in North America, about 170 million in South America (Brazil), close to 12 million in Europe (in Portugal and elsewhere), about 16.5 million in Africa, close to 400,000 in Asia, and close to 70,000 in Australia.
  • Portuguese and Galician (spoken in north-west Spain) have the same root and, together with Sardinian, are unique amongst the Romance languages in their use of the "personal infinitive", which doesn't exist for example in either English or Spanish.




LEARNING PORTUGUESE

About the Portuguese Language
Courses in Lisbon
Courses in Faro
Courses in Portimão
Portuguese-English Dictionary
Food Glossary

MULTIMEDIA COURSES:
Portuguese Before You Know It
Say It In Portuguese (European Portuguese pronunciation)
Learn Portuguese Now (Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation)
Translation Dictionary
Learn Portuguese



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