Posted in English

A TARDIS Full Of Braz

Brasil / Brazil

Following on from yesterday’s whingeing about South Americans behaving like North Americans, here’s an interesting linguistic side note from the same Instagram account. Sorry, I’ll get back to european portuguese soon, I promise!

My first assumption was that maybe this was some sort of racist graffiti in Portugal – after all, the hashtags talk refer to xenofobia and “brasileiro em Portugal”. So, I asked around, but it turns out to be something else entirely. They’re all in Brazil and the different spelling is down to the difference between people’s perception of Brasil and the reality for average Brazilians. Brasil is a very unequal society with a lot of poverty and a lot of social problems, but also with an amazingly wide variety of plants and animals, as well as indigenous cultures. Brazil is the international spelling used by the United Nations, so in this context it has come to represent some other version of the country. Some people in the discussion said it was a stand-in for “the international elites”, whereas others see it as representing outsiders’ view of Brazil: tourism, beaches and a big statue of Christ the redeemer. In BraZil all the men are sexy helicopter pilots and all the women are beautiful, tanned and interestingly waxed. So, spelled with a Z, it represents either the rich who are ruining the country or the fantasy that is eclipsing the reality. Either way, there’s a dichotomy between the real Brasil and this fake Brazil that doesn’t understand it, is killing it, and doesn’t deserve it.

The specific phrases come from a song by Elis Regina called “Querelas do Brasil”. Querela can be a libel, an indictment, a dispute or a sad song. I’ll let you make your mind up about what, specifically, she’s going for here. It certainly doesn’t sound like she’s railing against the one percent: it sounds very upbeat, but Brazil has its own rhythms so that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not serious. She spends a lot of time listing things she likes about the country. I must admit, I didn’t recognise half the words but there are a lot of wild animals in there, an indigenous hero, some places… So I get the idea that at least some of it has to do with Brazil the state not deserving Brasil the paradise on earth, but I’m sure there are layers to it I’m missing.

Posted in English

TFW you’re being Microaggressioned

As a result of a recent conversation about racism (following on from a book I read – there’ll be a review here in a day or two) a Brazilian guy on reddit pointed me to an account on Instagram called brasileirasNaoSeCalam. It’s basically one of these accounts that seeks to ginger people up for a particular cause by telling you how absolutely terrible everything is. In this case, quite a lot of the posts are just quotations from Brazilians in other countries recounting times they were victims of racism. The vast majority of them are in Portugal.

It’s quite interesting from a sociological point of view because of course there are racists in every country and knowing what kinds of stereotypes people have about each other tells you something interesting about the country. There is definitely racism against Brazilians in Portugal. I’ve seen videos and I have spoken to people who have some really unpleasant views about them all being thieves and whores, but I’m a bit unclear about the extent of that racism and I’m curious to know more.

But just as there is racism in every country, microaggressions (ie perceived slights which are held to be evidence of a deep seated hostility) are everywhere too, mainly thanks to the steady creep of absolutely terrible ideas from the USA. And my sense is that a lot of these posts fall under that heading. And in a way, that’s interesting in itself because learning what people see as a microaggression can tell you something about the shape of paranoia in a particular demographic. Take this for example:

(I’m doing an online course and my teacher always turns up with two video options for us to watch: one in Brazilian and one in English “for anyone who doesn’t like Brazilian”

From the comments, the reason for the complaint is that some people find the use of “brasileiro” in place of “português de Brasil” to be evidence of hatred, and the fact that she thinks some people might prefer to hear a foreign language rather than a São Paulo accent just adds insult to injury. This seems a little over-sensitive, but more importantly, I think it’s pretty obvious that there are plenty of alternative explanations for why English is being offered alongside Brazilian. For example, Portugal has a pretty good record of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Venezuela and Ukraine, among others. It must be a hard transition for those people to make given how much harder it is to learn portuguese than English. Of course it’s not practical to have videos in every language, but English is practically a universal esperanto these days, and it seems very likely that someone who is still struggling to learn portuguese might find it easier to follow an English language video than one that is in a strong, unfamiliar accent.

The irony is I think the teacher is being unfairly accused of racism just because they are making the course more accessible for all immigrants, and not exclusively catering to the needs of oversensitive Brazilians. Quite a lot of the quotes on the site are in the same vein: they’re minor or open to more charitable interpretation or just frankly unlikely-sounding.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some real racist incidents on there, but I get the impression it’s one of those accounts where all the followers want to tell their victimhood story and the net effect is that it becomes a huge echo chamber and everyone inside is in a state of constant fear and rage, way out of proportion to the real situation. I’d love to find some good journalism on the subject though. When I say good journalism I mean (a) uses data competently and thoughtfully and (b) doesn’t pepper their narrative with the word ‘privilege’.

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

Posted in English


Interested to see this meme pop up on a Brazilian Monty Python fan account.

What’s so surprising? Well, bravo is a false friend. It doesn’t mean corajoso, it means raivoso: angry in other words. Or rude and uncouth.

I asked around and found out that bravo means either “brave” or “angry” in Brazil. And of course they chose the word in this meme because they were dovetailing it with the English words of the song. It actually can mean brave in Portugal too but its very, very unusual, as you can probably imagine – it must be confusing as hell to have one adjective that can mean two different things and could plausibly mean either of them in a lot of everyday contexts. It’s the eighth meaning given in the dictionary, so it’s worth knowing, but probably best avoided in everyday speech.

Even weirder, there is a regional word, brabo, which means angry and is a synonym (but not a mis-spelling, apparently!) or bravo and means angry (but definitely not brave!) it’s the first I’ve heard of it and only one (brazilian) guy mentioned it, so although it is in Priberam, this seems obscure enough that you can probably ignore it.

Update: a few more replies have come in and reminded me that, of course, bravo can also mean “well done”, just as it does in English.

I mentioned “rude or um uncouth” as possible meanings but maybe I should have gone for something like “rough” or “uncultured” since it can be used in relation to food to mean something like “wild” – espargos bravos =wild asparagus, carne brava= grass fed beef, etc. A sea can be bravo of it is rough and stormy, and there’s a type of apple called Maçã Bravo de Esmolfe. Yes, bravo, not Brava, even though maçã is feminine.

Posted in English

Divided by a Common Language: the Aftermath

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I had been incorrectly corrected by a Brazilian tutor who had taken exception to my use of the word “ficámos”. History seems to have vindicated my position: I was right and managed to get this across without offending the fella who had incorrected me. The following day, I used a different verb in the same tense – declarámos – and was corrected by a different Brazilian guy. Bless ’em. I guess they’re new teachers, maybe being helpful as a new years resolution and I’m sure they’ll be a big help once they figure out how to differentiate between the European and Brazilian learners.

Posted in English

Divided by a Common Language

I wrote something the other day that included the word “ficámos” as a past tense of ficar, meaning “we stayed”, and a Brazilian guy has told me it should be ‘ficamos”. I’ve told him that I am pretty sure this is one of those differnces between PT-PT and PT-BR: Portugal uses an -ámos ending in the past perfect, but in Brazil -amos is used for both present and perfect (lol, no scope for confusion there!) but he’s insisting that no, his way is correct. I feel a little arrogant contradicting someone whose native language is portuguese but I’m pretty sure I’m right on this one so I’m just ignoring the bloke and carrying on regardless.

Priberam (portuguese) on the left vs conjugaçã (brazilian) on the right

As I mentioned a few months ago in my comparison of the two types of Portuguese, Brazil has a larger media and a more powerful cultural impact in the world so they don’t always notice the smaller group of people speaking the European variant across the atlantic. The same is true of the US media hegemony co-opting English. There’s no use complaining (*pauses to wipe away bitter British tears*), it just is what it is. So if you’re asking someone for advice or corrections, it’s best to say what variant you’re learning to avoid misunderstandings, but if someone tries to help and gets it wrong (like this bloke is doing, I think) you have to be sensitive in how you reply. Anyone who honestly tries to help someone online is a good person. If they get it wrong from time to time, that doesn’t make them bad: a gentle reminder should sort things out with no hurt feelings. I used to have a portuguese friend who would absolutely lay into Brazilian teachers who corrected European portuguese learners but I think she was being unreasonable and I’d always try to calm her down because it made me cringe to think that someone had tried to help me and was getting a verbal battering for their troubles. I definitely don’t want to do that, but I’m going to politely suggest that I think he’s mistaken!

Posted in English


Beto (Lauro Corona)
Beto (Lauro Corona)

I’ve heard the word “Beto” or its diminutive, “Betinho”, being used a few times as a sort of derrogatory word for a rich, posh person – someone the kids today would call privileged. I think I first came across it in 1986 A Série but didn’t really wonder where it came from. Apparently it’s from the early eighties when a Brazilian Telenovela called Dancing Days first aired on portuguese TV. There was a character in that called Beto, who was the son of well-off parents. He was played by Lauro Corona. The series aired in the late seventies and made its way to Portugal in the early eighties, so it still would have been quite a new word in 1986 when Nuno Markl puts it into the mouths of his protagonists.

Anyway, here’s a clip from the original series. It has strong eighties vibes to me, but I guess these trends don’t fit precisely into decades, do they?

Posted in English

Don’t Risk it for the Biscate

Episode 8963 of the series “words that mean wildly different things on different sides of the Atlantic”

Biscate seems like a useful word to have in your back pocket, but use it with care. In Portugal it refers to a side job, side huddle, or short term job. In the world of the gig economy, it seems like a good one to know.

Olha, aquele é mecânico nos estaleiros, mas faz uns “biscates” de electricidade por fora!

When this came up in online discussion, some Brazilian contributors found this funny because that’s not what it means in Brazil at all. Over there it refers to a woman who has lots of sexual partners – so equivalent to slut or slag or other derogatory terms.

A menina que ficava com todos garotos do colégio era chamada de biscate.

Navigating slang is more complicated in Portuguese than in English because there seem to be quite a lot of examples of differences like this.

Posted in English, Portuguese

Brazilian Portuguese

César from the Homo Causticus blog gave me a challenge a few days ago, to write about Brazilian Portuguese. Since this is a blog about European Portuguese, I thought the best way to do that would be to compare the two flavours. I’ve written it in English and then translated each paragraph into Portuguese as I go, just for the challenge. Thanks to dani_morgenstern and butt_roidholds for the corrections, but it’s quite long so if I have missed any errors, that’s all on me.

I quite often see people online asking what is the difference between Brazilian and European Portuguese and sometimes people will reply “there’s no difference, it’s just the accent”. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. The accents certainly are different, but there’s a lot more to it than that. If you’re starting out on your Portuguese journey, you should definitely stick to just one version at first, at least until you have a good grounding in the language, because in addition to the accent you’ll find Brazilian Portuguese has quite a lot of differences in vocabulary, slightly different grammar, differences in spelling, even after the Acordo Ortográfico. They even have different ways of saying “you”. Brazil is a larger country with a more powerful media industry so I think Brazilians are probably less aware of the differences than Portuguese people are because they are less likely to be exposed to TV or movies in the other dialect.

Muitas vezes, vejo pessoas online a perguntar qual é a diferença entre Português brasileiro e Português europeu, e às vezes a resposta é “não há diferença, só há sotaques diferentes. Hum… Até certo ponto, Senhor Cobre*. Os sotaques são mesmo diferentes mas há mais do que isso. Se estiveres no início da tua “viagem” portuguesa, recomendo que permaneces com um único dialeto do idioma até ficares mais confiante porque, além do sotaque, irás achar que o português brasileiro tem diferenças de vocabulário, uma gramática ligeiramente alterada, algumas variações de ortografia (apesar do AO) e até uma outra maneira de usar o pronome da segunda pessoa singular. Brasil é um país maior com uma mídia mais ativa, portanto acho que os habitantes estão menos conscientes da distância entre os dois, porque estão menos expostos aos meios de comunicação do outro lado do Atlântico.

*=This is what sparked this blog post from a few days ago

Accent /Sotaque

Of course, both countries have a range of accents, but in very general terms, Brazilians tend to be a lot easier to understand. They pronounce a lot of things in really surprising ways, but once you tune into it, it’s at least pretty clear. They don’t swallow as many letters, and you don’t find yourself struggling to pick out four or five words that have all been run together. The main thing that sounds weird to European ears is the way Ds and Ts sound when they appear before an E or an I. The D in a word like Divertir, say, sounds like a hard J, or like the DG sound in the English word “edge”. Meanwhile, the T in the same word sounds like the CH sound in a word like “Chips” . Check this page for an example. Brazilians also tend to hit vowels with a bit more emphasis, including the last syllable in a word ending in e. A word like “verdade” for example would be a two syllable word in Portuguese because the final E practically disappears and the D has a pleasing breathy quality to it (I really like it!). The same word in Brazilian has three syllables and sounds like “verDADgee”. There are examples of both on this page for you to compare. The effect is that Brazilian Portuguese has a “bouncier” rhythm to it.

Claro que ambos os países têm um leque de sotaques, portanto não faz sentido falar de “sotaque português” e “sotaque brasileiro” mas, regra geral, os brasileiros são mais fáceis de entender. O seu modo de falar tem aspetos muito estranhos (aos nossos ouvidos anglófilos), mas uma vez que nos acustomamos aos sons e aos ritmos, é bastante claro. Não engolem tantas letras e não deixam as palavras aglomerarem-se umas com as outras, dizendo “quéq tázafazer” em vez de “O que é que estás a fazer”. O que mais marca um aluno europeu é a sua maneira de pronunciar os Ds e os Ts que vêm antes dum É ou dum I. O “D”, numa palavra como “Divertir”, soa como um J duro ou o DG de “edge” em inglês. Os brasileiros também pronunciam os vogais com mais stresse, inclusive a última sílaba duma palavra que termine com E. Uma palavra como “verdade”, por exemplo, tem duas sílabas em português de Portugal. O “E” final quase desaparece e o “D” soa suave e ofegante (adoro!). No Brasil, a mesma palavra tem três sílabas distintas porque o “E” é mais forte. Além disso o “D” antes do “É” muda para DG como já disse: verDADgee. Isso significa que o português brasileiro tem um ritmo mais…hum… saltitante, digamos assim…?*

*Throughout this paragraph I originally used feminine articles for the names of letters “a D” and so on, because the word letra itself is feminine, but apparently when you use the name of the letter in its own you’re really indicating symbol /sign so you use male articles “o D”. I was referred to a Ciberdúvidas article on the subject.

You /Tu

There are lots of different ways of addressing someone in the second person. In European Portuguese it’s usually Tu for informal situations but there are gradations of formality that require “você” ou “o senhor” or whatever, and the verbs all get conjugated in the third person. There’s also this weird pronoun “vós” that most textbooks just ignore. Let’s try not to even think about that one. In Brazil, on the other hand, it’s just você across the board, and you only really need to learn first and third person verb endings. These people learning Brazilian Portuguese have it easy eh?

Há muitos métodos de falar com alguém na segunda pessoa em português. Em Portugal, é geralmente “tu” no dia-a-dia, mas em situações mais formais, usa-se você ou “o senhor” ou algo do género, que exige um verbo na terceira pessoa. Ainda por cima existe o pronome vós que se usa em determinados contextos (embora a maioria dos livros sobre gramática portuguesa para estrangeiros o ignorem) mas nem pensemos nisso. No Brasil, pelo contrário, usa-se sempre você. Aquelas pessoas que aprendem português brasileiro têm uma vida fácil, né?

Vocabulary /Vocabulário

Like US English, Brazilian portuguese has evolved slightly differently and diverged from its European cousin. In some cases, it has retained aspects of the language that the Portuguese have dropped (sorry, I’m not going to give any examples of this because I’d be out of my depth but I’ve been told it’s true). In other cases, they have developed new words over the course of years, based on preference, contact with other languages and just the sheer passage of time. Of course, this is going to be most obvious in slang. My favourite example of diverging vocabulary is the translation of “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins. In Portugal it’s called “A Rapariga No Comboio” but nobody in Brazil says Comboio, even though it’s a legitimate word in Brazilian Portuguese, they say Trem instead, and although Rapariga does exist it’s… Not a nice word. So the book is called A Garota No Trem instead.

Assim como o inglês americano, o português do brasil evoluiu diferentemente e afastou-se do seu primo europeu. Em determinados casos, retém aspetos antigos da língua, que já desapareceram do português europeu (desculpa, não tenho exemplos mas ouvi falar disto). Noutros casos, desenvolvem-se novas palavras e expressões ao longo dos anos, por causa de preferências regionais, do contacto com outras idiomas e da passagem de anos. Claro, este fenómeno é mais óbvio no calão. O meu exemplo preferido de divergência de vocabulário é a tradução do “The Girl on the Train” de Paula Hawkins. Em Portugal, o título do livro é “A Rapariga no Comboio” mas no Brasil ninguém diz “comboio”, mesmo que a palavra exista, antes dizem “trem”. E rapariga existe também mas no Brasil, é uma palavra feia. Portanto o livro foi intitulado “A Garota No Trem”

Grammar /Gramática

There are only a couple of differences in the actual grammatical structure, so far as I’m aware, but feel free to shout out any others in the comments. Firstly, in Brazilian Portuguese, the object pronoun basically always comes before the noun, so it’s more consistent. So “I bought it” = “o comprei” in Brazil and “I didn’t buy it” is “não o comprei”, whereas in Portugal it would vary according to context: “comprei-o in most cases, but it flips in negative sentences (“não o comprei”) or a few other contexts (more detail here if this is not familiar).

The other big one is the use of the gerund. Again, I’m afraid this is another area where Brazilian is probably easier than European Portuguese, at least for English speakers. In European Portuguese if you want to say “I’m talking” you say “estou a falar”, which is fine, but falar is an infinitive so if you translate it literally you get “I am to speak”. Brazilians just say “estou falando”. Falando is a gerund, so it is really equivalent to “talking”, in English, so in short, it’s much more like English grammar.

Tanto quanto sei, há apenas duas diferenças de gramática. O primeiro tem a ver com a próclise e a ênclise. A próclise aplicar-se quase sempre em português brasileiro – ou seja, o complemento vem sempre antes do verbo (O comprei /Não o comprei) . Em Portugal, por outro lado, a posição depende do contexto (Comprei-o /Não o comprei)

A segunda diferença é o uso do gerúndio em tempos verbais do presente contínuo. Este é mais um exemplo dum aspecto da língua no qual o português brasileiro é mais fácil (para nós anglófonos) do que o europeu. O brasileiro “estou falando” soa mais parecido com o inglês “I’m talking” ao contrário ao português europeu, no qual se usa o infinitivo, tipo “estou a falar” que soa estranho aos nossos ouvidos.

Spelling / Ortografia

And so finally we reach spelling. Well, that’s easy, the AO has sorted it all, right? Sadly, no, there are still a few spelling variations around. Brazilians seem to like circumflexes (^) more than the Portuguese do but there are far fewer than there once were.

Finalmente chegamos à ortografia. Foi tudo resolvido pelo AO, certo? Infelizmente não, porque ainda existem várias diferenças de ortografia. Acho que os brasileiros gostam mais do acento circunflexo, mas, hoje em dia, não há assim tantas diferenças entre os dois dialectos.