Posted in English

Divided by a Common Language: the plot thickens…

English, espanhol, português

I’ve mentioned a couple of times (here and here) now that I have had long, rambling discussions with Brazilians about whether the third person singular (the “we” form) in the past perfect tense is identical to the present tense. It is in Brazilian but not – or at least not normally – in european portuguese.

I actually ran into a portuguese guy from Beira Alta who says that, where he lives, they say the two words the same way (not surprising) and spell them the same way too (more surprising). We had a bit of a chat about it back and forth and he agreed that the accent in the written form was helpful (I agree 100%) but he wasn’t going to change the way he spoke (also agree 100%) and like a lot of Portuguese people, he felt like the Acordo Ortográfico was an annoying imposition from on high that he didn’t really buy into.

I feel like this was quite a useful conversation for both of us. For me because it’s good to learn about different accents and ways of speaking and I hope also for him because most people in most countries don’t really reflect on their own language until they hit something unexpected, and I like to think that by having this conversation he enjoyed thinking about his own language as much as I do. For example, I mentioned that the two versions (falamos and falámos, say) would both have the stress on the second syllable and he said no, they don’t stress the word anywhere. I guarantee you, there is no portuguese word that is spoken in a flat, robotic monotone. I made a joke about how most words in portuguese are either oxitono (stressed on the last syllable) or paroxitnono (penultimate syllable) and a few are proparoxítono (antepenultinate) but maybe there needed to be a new word “nenhuresitono” for words that are stressed nowhere.

I have learned a lot about my own language from talking to foreigners who were trying to learn it and I really hope his encounter with this confused British chap was helpful for him in the same way.

* I talked a lot about proparoxítono during my brief obsession with Chico Buarque’s excellent song Construção. If you haven’t heard it, I strongly recommend it because it is educational but more importantly its effing brilliant. Yes, I know it’s in Brazilian portuguese, but it’s worth making an exception for! My original post about it, complete with the video, is here and I’ve continued to bang on about it here and here


Just a data nerd

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