Is exactly the sort of thing I love. The writer is Ricardo Araújo Pereira, comedian, columnist and all round good guy (well, as far as I know) Anyway, in the passage above, he’s describing a song I don’t know and saying that if a foreigner were to hear it, although they would rightly spot that it sounds lovely, they probably wouldn’t understand it and certainly wouldn’t notice that the last word of every line is “proparoxítona”* and nor would they understand that the word “proparoxítono” itself is proparoxítona**. And he’s right: it is a lovely song and when I read this in bed last night I had no clue what Proparoxítono meant but I knew I had to find out as soon as I woke up.
First of all, let’s hear the song
Oh my god, that is the good stuff alright. I know it’s Brazilian Portuguese, not Portuguese Portuguese but Jesus Christ it’s good. Inject it directly into my veins! There is something slightly strange about the rhythm of the verse though isn’t there? And I never would have spotted what it was.
Before I get I to it, let’s lay a bit of groundwork by thinking about where the stress falls in a Portuguese word.
The vast majority of words in Portuguese put the stress on either the final syllable (if the last letter is r, l, z, m, u, i or n) or the penultimate one (basically, all other letters). Any exceptions to the rule need an accent to be added as a hint to the reader. So for example there are a lot of words that end in – ável or – ível that are pronounced with the stress on the a and the i respectively. If the accent wasn’t there you’d have to say incrivEL and confortavEL. But it’s pretty easy and you get used to it, and before you know it, you’re just used to the rhythm of Portuguese speech without even being conscious of it.
Proparoxítono means that the stress falls on the antepenultimate (last-but-two) syllable. These always have to have an accent because they break the normal rules, like bêbado (BÊ-ba-do) and mágico (MÁ-gi-co) and sábado (SÁ-ba-do) and última and único and tímido and… Well, and every other word he finishes a line with in the song, which is why you get this effect that’s really unusual in a Portuguese song, where the last two syllables of every line are unstressed.
Oh my god, that’s so satisfying. I love it! It’s the most value I’ve ever got out of a single paragraph, I think: a new word, a new song and a new way of noticing the rhythm of Portuguese music.
Anyway, if you want to know more, this video has some good analysis. It’s in Brazilian Portuguese too, so be warned if you’re trying to avoid the dialect. It’s worth making an exception for though.
*it has an a in the end here, unlike in the title, because its an adjective and palavra is feminine
**Now I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that the stuff Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying think should be used to cure Covid?” Close, but no, it’s not that either.