Monday, March 29, 2010

Spanish ≠ Portuguese

Many people hold fast to the myth that Spanish and Portuguese are similar enough to be mutually intelligible. They are both Romance languages (based on Latin) and share many grammatical structures and vocabulary. They are indeed closer to one another than English is to its closest brethren, Scots and Frisian. But let me debunk the idea right now that Portuguese is just Spanish with a bunch of Z-sounds; they are two distinct languages. You might be able to get by for a couple weeks of vacation in Rio or Salvador with some Spanish, but living in Brazil means coming to terms with false cognates, misunderstandings, and lots of asking people to repeat themselves slowly—mais devagado in Portuguese, versus the Spanish más despacio. Ou seja, espanhol e português não são iguais.

See, not only is the Portuguese lexicon full of words that are similar but mean different things than their Spanish counterparts, words that exist in both languages but are used more in one than the other, and thousands of contractions versus the two in Spanish (al, del), the Portuguese sound system is a monster on its own. Word-initial R and double-R (rio, carro) get pronounced as an English H, unlike the trill that gives Spanish its snapcracklepop (ergo, HEE-oo, KA-hoo). Oh, and the O at the end of words is pronounced like the Spanish U (see previous example). And there's lots more, minha vida.

Note: My Spanish was developed first in the Dominican Republic, honed and fine-tuned on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and peppered with that Floridian-Cubano seasoning of Miami, so 'scuse me if i'm not thpeaking de Cathtellano of Ethpaña. Like the various Englishes that exist, the many Spanish dialects all have varied vocab and pronunciation. And I'm talking about Brazilian Portuguese. Deal.

These words are pretty easy to recognize and mostly mean the same thing.

street-calle-rua (think ruta)
to leave-salir-sair
to write-escribir-escrever
to listen-escuchar-escutar
to arrive-llegar-chegar
yes-sí-sim (silent M, nasalized I)

These require a little more brain power.

to speak-hablar-falar
to dance-bailar-dançar
to need-necesitar-precisar
to save (money, time)-ahorrar-economizar

No way in hell you can guess these words as a non-native Spanish speaker.

to close-cerrar-fechar
to forget-olvidar-esquecer
to turn on-prender-ligar
to look-mirar-olhar (mirar is used in Portuguese poetry, as in mira lua)
to happen-pasar-acontecer
is there water?-hay agua?-tem agua?
we go-vamos-a gente vai (huh?)

I could go all day.

Fly Brother welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment and/or click.


Roni Faida said...

Hey there,
I'm a fluent Spanish speaker (I learned my Spanish while living in Barthelona) and when I went to Portugal I was able to speak Spanish to people while they spoke Portuguese to me and we understood each other. Is the Portuguese in Brazil different? I've never been there so I have no idea.

Kairee said...

Living in Paraguay, I am always mistaken for a Rapai, or Brasilero...often towns, am addressed on the street as such. So, my next language endeavor is to study Portuges....since I just dont really think that I will be getting the hang of Guarani before I get out of Paraguay.

kwerekwere said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kwerekwere said...

hm. something linguistic. i think this comment might be long.

before i talk about the content of your post, ernesto, i'll first answer roni's question.

[i can converse, fairly fluently, in most of the romance languages; catalan, romanian, and romansh are a bit rough on me, though.]

generally speaking, iberian spanish and iberian portuguese are still fairly mutually intelligible. the spanish spoken in extremadura even more so, and what they speak in galicia is essentially considered portuguese anyway.

[something that always amused me that when a spaniard talks about a gallego meaning "someone kind of dumb" it literally means someone from galicia. in the americas the same word, in the same context, means anyone from spain, much like the aussie/kiwi use of the word "pom" meaning someone english.]

brazilian portuguese is pronounced a lot differently than iberian portuguese. in lusophone africa, they teach iberian portuguese in school, which makes angolans in rio, for example, easy targets for bandits because brazilian portuguese has many, many differences than iberian portuguese; even more than the differences between iberian and caribbean spanish and british and american english.

in the americas, they teach brazilian portuguese when it's offered. in europe and africa, you get iberian portuguese.

to me, the thing that jumps out to me about brazilian portuguese the most is the total lack of the tuteo -- you learn it in school, but you almost never, ever use it. nearly everything is "você" and extremely rarely "tu".

wow, that was long.

now, ernesto, the two caveats that you made -- that you learned spanish in the rep dom [which people at maria moliner refuse to acknowledge as good spanish] and you're referencing brazilian portuguese -- are really unfair and you know it. but that's okay.

for that list that you gave, depending on where you are in iberia, you will hear almost all the hitherto deemed "spanish" words on both sides of the mountains. [see, those mountains are the reason that portuguese is even a separate language in the first place].

but some of the things that you chose trip me out.

boligrafo? come on? do you really say that in your own personal speech? i've seen it in textbooks, yes, but in speech, a pen was always, always, always "una pluma" -- and when i said "procuro uma pluma" in brazil, one always seemed to appear as well.

haver and ter are used more interchangeably than you imply, also.

mas/pero -- both of those mean "but" and "however" in both languages, depending on context. in spanish, you'll rarely hear mas meaning "but" unless is it's in a literature context, however.

note that this mas is not to be confused with más [mais in portuguese] meaning "more".

but brazilian vocab and inflection are often much, much, much different than in iberia. it's a major how one can spot angolans and mozambicans in rio. with my angolan tenant, it was far easier for me to just speak to him in spanish, than to speak in my cabo/carioca mix of portuguese.

i could go on all day, too. but i'll stop now. it's been ten days since i've made my own blog post, i think i should do one now. lol.

Fly Brother said...

Roni: Kwere answered much of what I was going to say regarding Brazilian vs. Iberian Portuguese. One of the major distinctions that he didn't mention was linguistic stress. Iberian Portuguese is stress-timed, like English, meaning that there are a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables. Brazilian Portuguese is syllable-timed, like Spanish and French, meaning that vir-tu-al-ly e-ve-ry syl-la-ble is enunciated. My problem isn't being's understanding what's being said to me. I'm also trying to do more than just get by; I'm trying to get be fluent. How long were you in Bartha?

Kwere: I never once used pluma in four years living in Colombia. There, it means quill. The common terms were boligrafo or esfero, both referring to, literally, ballpoints. That's the reason I gave the geographic caveat - because of the lexical differences that one encounters when comparing languages spoken by hundreds of millions of people across several continents. There were many differences between Barranquilla and Santo Domingo alone, despite sharing an affinity for the merengue "Tamarindo Seco": nevera for refrigerador, gaseosa for refresco, etc. It's not so much that the words don't exist or aren't recognized in various dialects or between the languages, it's the contexts and environments in which they're used. Re: haver/ter...they might be used interchangeably, but if you ask "Hay agua?" at a snack stand at the Osasco train station outside of Sampa, they're going to look at you funny. This is from personal experience. I had to come up with "Tem agua?" on my own. Quit picking apart my posts and write your own. :-)

AmanZman said...

Learning Portuguese on my own has been rough in Mozambique b/c I already know Spanish.
A) the confusion you mentioned
B) No one really bothers to correct you b/c they kind of understand your Portu-nol
C) You dont get the rush of learning a bunch of new words....have I only learned falar, fazer, and pluma in the last 3 months?!

I think spelling in Portuguese is gonna be a nightmare!

In other news I am kind of addicted to your blog now...great expats the minority's minority.

Holla from Maputo!

kwerekwere said...

ernesto --

ek het reeds 'n blog-pos geskryf waaneer jy my beantwoord het.

[i'd already written a blog post when you answered me.]

amanzman --

spelling in portuguese isn't that difficult if you already know the vowel/consonant shifts. there are far fewer false friends between portuguese and spanish and say, dutch and german or english and french.

one thing you might notice is when people whose the shona, xitsonga, or zulu word for something. but it'll grow on you. how long are you going to be there for?

Matinee Maven said...

Great post! I spent my middle and high school years learning Spanish, yet Brazil was the first country in South America that I had the opportunity of visiting. There were several confusing moments during my three months there. I mixed up the necesito and preciso....too many times. I came in contact with very few Spanish-speaking Brazilians period.

I would agree that although there are similaries (that Romance connection!) there are enough differences for you to do your homework before visiting so that you can be better prepared to communicate!

Fly Brother said...

AmanZman: Thanks for getting hooked! Definitely appreciate being able to keep my brethren and sistren out in the field intrigued with my own piddly insights.

Kwere: Don't be postin that funny tawk on my blog! ;-[

Matinee: Thank you for seconding my motion! And that's not even counting all the colloquial odds and ends in Brazilian Portuguese. These fools speak more Jive than the dudes on Airplane!

brian said...

All interesting stuff.

Brazil is a large nation of 200 million on a continent where everyone else speaks Spanish. You would assume folks would know some Spanish but we shouldn't. The large size and population of Brazil means they don't have to interact with the other countries, just like Americans can travel far without leaving the country.

Ali la Loca said...

Interesting post.

I look at Portuguese and Spanish as very distinct languages because I fully appreciate how hard it is to be truly fluent in both. It took me a LONG time to recover my fluent-from-childhood Spanish after living in Brazil.

@Kwere - an intersting fact is that "tu" is, in fact, used in Brazil but it depends on the city. In Rio it's pretty common, though not conjugated properly (e.g. "Tu vai pra festa?") The use of "tu" is quite common in the South (Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul) where it tends to be properly conjugated.

And finally, a PS for Fly Brother - it's "mais devagar" in Portuguese, not "mais devagado". ;)

Fly Brother said...

Brian: I've found that most societies in the Western Hemisphere are pretty much monolingual. You've got a few exceptions (Canada, for instance), but most people, excluding immigrants, only speak the one language in which they received their education. Spanish is indeed gaining ground as a popular second language to learn here in Brazil, but I hear Brazilians bitching about how hard it is to learn, LOL.

Ali: I know, I know...mais devagar. Well, now I know, anyway.

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