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Portuguese dialects

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Portuguese dialects

Portuguese dialects are mutually intelligible variations of the Portuguese language over Portuguese-speaking countries and other areas holding some degree of cultural bound with the language. Portuguese has two standard forms of writing and numerous regional spoken variations (with often large phonological and lexical differences).

The standard written form of Portuguese used in Brazil is regulated by the Brazilian Academy of Letters and is sometimes called Brazilian Portuguese (although the term primarily means all dialects spoken in Brazil as a whole). In Portugal, the language is regulated by the Sciences Academy of Lisbon, Class of Letters, which shapes the standard spelling set of norms associated with European Portuguese. This written variation is the one preferred by Portuguese African and Asian ex-colonies, including Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Angola, Timor-Leste, Macau and Goa.

Differences between Brazilian and European written forms of Portuguese occur in a similar way (and are often compared to) those of American and British English, though spelling divergencies are generally believed to occur with a little greater frequency in the two Portuguese written dialects. Differences in syntaxis and word construction, not directly related with spelling, are also observed. Furthermore, attempts have been made to unify the two written variations, the most recent of them being the Orthographic Agreement of 1990, which took effect in 2009 and has still implications today. These reforms also face criticism by people who say they are unnecessary, inefficient or even that they create more differences instead of reducing or eliminating them.

The differences between the various spoken Portuguese dialects are mostly in phonology, in the frequency of usage of certain grammatical forms, and especially in the distance between the formal and informal levels of speech.

Lexical differences are numerous but largely confined to "peripheral" words such as plants, animals, and other local items, with little impact in the core lexicon. Dialectal deviations from the official grammar are relatively few. As a consequence, all Portuguese dialects are mutually intelligible; although for some of the most extremely divergent pairs the phonological changes may make it difficult for speakers to understand rapid speech.


  • Main subdivisions 1
    • Portugal 1.1
      • Barranquenho 1.1.1
    • Brazil 1.2
    • Africa, Asia and Oceania 1.3
  • Notable features of some dialects 2
    • Conservative 2.1
    • Innovative 2.2
    • Homophones in dialects 2.3
      • Mau and mal 2.3.1
      • Júri and jure 2.3.2
      • Comprimento and cumprimento 2.3.3
      • Asa and haja 2.3.4
      • Boa and voa 2.3.5
      • Más and mais 2.3.6
      • and chá 2.3.7
  • Mixed languages 3
  • Closely related languages 4
  • List of dialects 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Main subdivisions


The dialects of Portugal can be divided into two major groups:

  • The southern and central dialects are broadly characterized by preserving the distinction between /b/ and /v/, and by the tendency to monophthongize ei and ou to [e] and [o]. They include the dialect of the capital, Lisbon, which however has some peculiarities of its own. Although the dialects of the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira have unique characteristics, as well, they can also be grouped with the southern dialects.
  • The northern dialects are characterized by preserving the pronunciation of ei and ou as diphthongs [ei̯], [ou̯], and by somewhat having merged /v/ with /b/ (like in Spanish), although a variable aspect. This includes the dialect of Porto, Portugal's second largest city.

Within each of these regions, however, there is further variation, especially in pronunciation. For example, in Lisbon and its vicinity the diphthong ei is centralized to [ɐi̯], instead of being monophthongized as in the south.

It is usually believed that the dialects of Brazil, Africa and Asia derived mostly from those of central and southern Portugal.


In the Portuguese town of Barrancos (in the border between Extremadura, Andalucia and Portugal), a dialect of Portuguese heavily influenced by Southern Spanish dialects is spoken, known as barranquenho.


Brazilian dialects are divided into northern and southern groups, where the northern dialects tend to slightly more open pre-stressed vowels. Due to the economic and cultural dominance of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, their dialects end up having some influence on the rest of the country. However, thanks to the migration from the Northern states to the Southern states, this influence can be seen as a two-way phenomenon. Cultural issues also play their roles and speakers of the Gaúcho accent, for example, usually have strong feelings about their own way of speaking and are largely uninfluenced by the other accents. Also, people of inner cities of the three southern states usually speak with a very notable German, Italian or Polish accent, while among the inhabitants of the Santa Catarina island predominates the Azorean Portuguese dialect in its local variant.

Between Brazilian Portuguese, particularly in its most informal varieties, and European Portuguese, there can be considerable differences in grammar, aside from the differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. The most prominent ones concern the placement of clitic pronouns, and the use of subject pronouns as objects in the third person. Non-standard inflections are also common in colloquial Brazilian Portuguese.

Africa, Asia and Oceania

For historical reasons, the dialects of Africa are generally closer to those of Portugal than the Brazilian dialects, although in some aspects of their phonology, especially the pronunciation of unstressed vowels, they resemble Brazilian Portuguese more than European Portuguese. They have not been studied as exhaustively as European and Brazilian Portuguese.

Asian Portuguese dialects are similar to the African ones, thus generally close to those of Portugal. In Macau, the syllable onset rhotic /ʁ/ is pronounced as a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] or uvular trill [ʀ].

Notable features of some dialects

Many dialects have special characteristics. Most of the differences are seen in phonetics and phonology. Below are some of the more prominent:


  • In some regions of northern Portugal and Brazil, the digraph ou still denotes a falling diphthong [ou̯], although it has been monophthongized to [o] by most speakers of Portuguese.
  • In the dialects of Alto-Minho and Trás-os-Montes (northern Portugal), the digraph ch still denotes the affricate /tʃ/, as in Galicia, although for most speakers it has merged with /ʃ/.
  • Some dialects of northern Portugal still contrast the predorsodental sibilants c/ç /s/ and z /z/ with apicoalveolar sibilants s(s) /s̺/ and s /z̺/, with minimal pairs such as passo /pas̺u/ "step" and paço /pasu/ "palace" or coser /kuz̺eɾ/ "to sew" and cozer /kuzeɾ/ "to cook", which are homophones in most dialects. In the other dialects of northern Portugal that have lost this distinction, one finds the apicoalveolar sibilants instead of the predorsodental fricatives that are found in all southern dialects of Portugal as well as in Brazil. In these dialects, they also appear in syllable codas, instead of the [ʃ] realizations that can be observed in all southern dialects.
  • In northern Portugal, the pronoun vós and its associated verb forms are still in use.
  • In Alentejo and parts of the Algarve (southern Portugal), one finds word-final [i] where standard EP has [ɨ], a feature shared with BP.
  • Also in Brazil and Alentejo and Algarve, progressive constructions are formed with the gerund form of verbs, instead of a followed by the infinitive that one finds in most dialects of Portugal: está chovendo vs. está a chover ("it's raining").
  • In Brazil, original voiced intervocalic stops are still pronounced as such, e.g. [vidɐ], [kabu] instead of the normal Portugal pronunciation [viðɐ], [kaβu].
  • In Brazil, all five vowels [a e i o u] are usually pronounced clearly in unstressed pretonic syllables, the same as in stressed syllables, while in Portugal they are generally reduced to [ɐ ɨ i u u]. That being said, some words in some Brazilian accents (esp. in Rio) have pretonic [e o] raised to [i u].


  • In central and southern Portugal (except the city of Lisbon and its vicinity), the diphthong /ei̯/ is monophthongized to [e]. The nasal diphthong /ẽi̯/ is often monophthongized to [ẽ] in this region as well.
  • In Lisbon and its surroundings, /ei̯/ and /ẽi̯/ are pronounced [ɐi̯] and [ɐ̃i̯], respectively. Furthermore, in this region stressed /e/ is pronounced [ɐ] or [ɐi̯] before a palato-alveolar or a palatal consonant followed by another vowel.
  • In northern Portugal, the phoneme /m/ has a velar allophone [ŋ] at the end of words.
  • In the dialects of Portalegre, Castelo Branco, Algarve (Barlavento area) and São Miguel Island (Azores), the near-front rounded vowel [ʏ] replaces /u/, in a process similar to the one which originated the French u. The dialect of São Miguel has also the front rounded vowel [ø] replacing /o/, as in outra or boi.
  • In northern Portugal, the close vowels /o/ and /e/ may be pronounced as diphthongs, such as in "Porto", pronounced [ˈpwoɾtu], "quê": [kje], "hoje": [ˈwoi̯ʒɨ] or [ˈwoʒɨ] or even [ˈwoi̯ʒɨ]
  • Some dialects of southern Portugal have gerund forms that inflect for person and number: em chegandos (when you arrive), em chegândemos (when we arrive), em chegandem (when you/they arrive). These are not used in writing.
  • There are some dialectal differences in how word final [u] is realized. In BP, it is always pronounced. In Portugal, it is usually most audible when at the end of an utterance. In other contexts, it may be not realized, or realized as mere labialization of the preceding consonant. The northern dialects tend to maintain it in most contexts. For instance, a sentence like o meu irmão comprou um carro novo ("my brother bought a new car") would be pronounced as [u ˈmew iɾˈmɐ̃w̃ kõˈpɾow u~ ˈkaʁu ˈnovu] or [u ˈmew iɾˈmɐ̃w̃ kõˈpɾow ũ ˈkaʁʷ ˈnovu] in these dialects. In the dialect spoken in Lisbon, the two last words would instead be pronounced [ˈkaʁʷ ˈnovu], [ˈkaʁʷ ˈnovʷ], [ˈkaʁ ˈnovu] or [ˈkaʁ ˈnovʷ]. In southern Portugal, word final [w] and [w̃] are also affected, so in Alentejo the same sentence would sound [u ˈme iɾˈmɐ̃ kõˈpɾo ũ ˈkaʁ ˈnovu] (in this dialect, utterance final vowels are also noticeably very prolonged, so a more accurate transcription might be [ˈnovuː] for this example). And in the southernmost region of the country, the Algarve, the vowel is completely lost: [u ˈme iɾˈmɐ̃ kõˈpɾo ũ ˈkaʁ ˈnov].
  • In most of Brazil, syllable-final /l/ is vocalized to /w/. This causes mau "bad" and mal "badly" to become homophones (although Brazil tends to use ruim in place of mau). Similarly, degrau "step" and jornal "journal" rhyme, which results in false plurals such as degrais "steps" (vs. correct degraus), by analogy with correct plural jornais. In the caipira dialect, and in parts of Goiás and Minas Gerais, syllable-final /l/ is instead merged with /ɾ/, pronounced as an alveolar approximant [ɹ] in the Caipira way.
  • The pronunciation of syllable-initial and syllable-final r varies considerably with dialect. See Guttural R in Portuguese, for details. In summary, syllable-initial ⟨r⟩ and doubled ⟨rr⟩ are pronounced as a guttural [ʁ] in most cities in Portugal, but as a traditional trill [r] in rural Portugal. In Brazil, this sound is normally pronounced as an unvoiced guttural ([x], [χ] or [h]), which is also used for ⟨r⟩ at the end of syllables (except in the caipira dialect, which uses an alveolar approximant [ɹ]). ⟨r⟩ at the ends of words in Brazil is normally silent or barely pronounced. In Macau (where Portuguese is spoken mostly as a second language), initial and intervocalic "r" is sometimes replaced with a diphthong, and ⟨r⟩ at the end of words (esp. when final-stressed) is sometimes silent.
  • The pronunciation of syllable-final s/x/z also varies with dialect. See Portuguese phonology for details. In summary, Portugal and Rio de Janeiro favor [ʃ], both before a consonant and finally. Most other parts of Brazil favor [s], although in the Northeast [ʃ] is often heard before consonants, especially /t/ (but not finally).
  • In the Northeast of Brazil and to an increasing extent in Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere, [j] is inserted before final /s/ in a final-stressed word. This makes mas "but" and mais "more" homonyms, both pronounced [majs] or [majʃ]. Other affected examples are faz "he does", dez "ten", nós "we", voz "voice", luz "light", Jesús "Jesus", etc. Related forms like fazem, vozes, nosso are unaffected, since /s/ is no longer final.
  • In most of Brazil, /t/, /d/ are palatalized to [tʃ], [dʒ] when followed by /i/. Common sources of /i/ are the unstressed ending -e, as in gente "people" [ˈʒẽtʃi] and de "of" [dʒi], and the epenthetic /i/ in words such as advogado "lawyer" [adʒivoˈɡadu]. The prefixes de-, des- and dez- (e.g. dezoito "eighteen") vary from word to word and speaker to speaker between [de], [des]/[dez]/etc. and [dʒi], [dʒis]/[dʒiz]/etc..
  • Informal Brazilian Portuguese makes major changes in its use of pronouns:
    • Informal tu is dropped entirely in most regions, along with all second-person singular verbal inflections. When tu survives, it is used with third-person inflections.
    • But clitic te [tʃi] survives as the normal clitic object pronoun corresponding to você.
    • Clitic pronouns almost always precede the verb. Post-verbal clitics are seen only in formal contexts, and mesoclisis (amar-te-ei "I will love you") is practically incomprehensible to most Brazilians.
    • Possessives seu, sua virtually always mean "your". To say "his, her", constructions like o carro dele "his car" or o carro dela "her car" are used.
    • Third-person clitics o, a, os, as and combined clitics like mo, no-lo are virtually never heard in speech. Instead, the clitics are simply omitted, especially when referring to objects; or a subject pronoun is placed after the verb: Eu levo "I'll get it"; Vi ele "I saw him".
    • nós "we" is often replaced by a gente, conjugated with a third-person singular verb.
  • Other Brazilian Portuguese grammatical changes:
    • Preposition a is normally replaced by para in speech. (Note: para a /pra/, para o /pro/.)
    • The future tense is rarely used except for certain verbs with monosyllabic infinitives; otherwise periphrasis, e.g. vou falar "I will speak", is used. (But note that future perfect, future subjunctive and future perfect subjunctive all occur with regularity.)
    • The conditional tense is likewise used rarely. When a true conditional meaning is intended, the imperfect is substituted. When a prospective-in-past meaning is intended, a periphrasis is often substituted, e.g. disse que ia falar comigo "He said he would speak with me".

Homophones in dialects

Mau and mal

Both mean bad, but while mau is an adjective, mal is an adverb. In most parts of Brazil, the letter l before consonants and ending words, which represents a velarized alveolar lateral approximant in differing dialects, became a labio-velar approximant, making both words homophones.

Júri and jure

While júri means jury, jure is the imperative and second subjunctive third singular form of jurar, which means "to swear". In different contexts, many unstressed /e/ became a close front unrounded vowel, but, in some Southern Brazilian dialects, due to the Hispanic influence, the letter /e/ will never go through this change.

Comprimento and cumprimento

Comprimento means "length", while cumprimento means "greeting". The same thing that happened with /e/ in the example of júri/jure happened to the letter /o/, that becomes a close back rounded vowel in some cases, but, due to the Hispanic influence, never represents that sounds in some Southern Brazilian.

Asa and haja

Asa means "wing" and haja is the imperative and second subjunctive third singular form of haver, which means "to exist". Those words are usually distinguished, but in Alto Trás-os-Montes and for some East Timorese Portuguese speakers, they are homophones, they're both voiced palato-alveolar sibilants.

Boa and voa

Boa means "good" and voa, "he/she/it flies". Unlike most of the West Iberian languages, Portuguese usually differs between the voiced bilabial plosive and the voiced labiodental fricative, but this distinction historically never appeared in the dialects of the northern half of Portugal, and it disappeared due to Hispanic influences in Southern Brazil and in some dialects spoken in the border of Brazil or Portugal and Spanish-speaking countries. Both will be realized indistinctly as a voiced bilabial plosive or a voiced bilabial fricative, like in Spanish.

Más and mais

Más means "cruel ones" and mais, "more" or "most". In Northeastern Brazil and the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, the vowels followed by coronal fricatives in the same syllable have a palatal approximant pronounced between both. This feature is very distinguishable, since this combination appears in the plural forms.

and chá

means "shah" and chá means tea. /X/ starting words and /ch/ are usually voiced palato-alveolar sibilants, but /ch/ is a voiceless palato-alveolar affricate in northern Portugal. This sound happens in other cases in Southeastern Brazil and disappeared in the rest of the Portuguese-speaking world.

Mixed languages

Portunhol/Portuñol. In regions where Spanish and Portuguese coexist, various types of language contact have occurred, ranging from improvised code-switching between monolingual speakers of each language to more or less stable mixed languages. They are often designated by the common term portunhol (portuñol).

Closely related languages

This section does not cover Galician, which is treated as a separate language from Portuguese by Galician official institutions, nor the Fala language. For a discussion of the controversy regarding the status of Galician with respect to Portuguese, see Reintegrationism.

Portunhol Riverense is spoken in the region between Uruguay and Brazil, particularly in the twin cities of Rivera and Santana do Livramento. This language must not be confused with Portuñol, since it is not a mixing of Spanish and Portuguese, but a variety of Portuguese language developed in Uruguay back in the time of its first settlers. It has since suffered influence from Uruguayan Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

In academic circles, the Portuguese used by the northern population of Uruguay received the name "Dialectos Portugueses del Uruguay" (Uruguayan Portuguese Dialects). There's still no consensus if the language(s) is (are) a dialect or a creole, although the name given by linguists uses the term "dialect". There is also no consensus on how many varieties it has, with some studies indicating that there are at least two varieties, an urban one and a rural one, while others say there are six varieties, of which Riverense Portuñol is one.[1] This Portuguese spoken in Uruguay is also referred by its speakers, depending on the region that they live, as Bayano, Riverense, Fronterizo, Brasilero or simply Portuñol.

List of dialects

See also


  1. ^ Variation and diffusion of Uruguayan Portuguese in a bilingual border townCARVALHO, Ana Maria. , by Ana Maria Carvalho, University of California at Berkeley USA. (PDF)

External links

  • Dialects of Portuguese at the Instituto Camões
  • Audio samples of the dialects of Portugal
  • Audio samples of the dialects from outside Europe
  • Audio samples of Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, and Galician
  • A Pronúncia do Português Europeu at the website of the Instituto Camões
  • Isoglosses of the main dialects in Portugal at the website of the Instituto Camões
  • Lindley Cintra, Luís F. Nova Proposta de Classificação dos Dialectos Galego-Portugueses Boletim de Filologia, Lisboa, Centro de Estudos Filológicos, 1971. (PDF)
  • Portugués del Uruguay y educación bilingüe
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