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“why does Portuguese sound different from the other Romance languages?”

asked 2018-04-13 16:49:57 -0400

Denise gravatar image

Question asked by the character Amy Adams, a professor of linguistics, at the beginning of film "Arrival". Thank you.

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answered 2018-05-11 21:12:23 -0400

rsmizzle gravatar image

I don't think anyone can answer that question. Portuguese sounds different from the other Romance languages just does. Languages change and that's just the way that language developed. It might have had something to do with the people who lived in that part of the Iberian peninsula when the Romans went there long ago. They might've spoken a strange language that gave them a strange accent in Latin. I'm not saying that's true, but I believe it's a possibility.

Also keep in mind that Portuguese is spoken with a lot of pretty distinct accents. I don't speak Portuguese but I can almost immediately tell if someone speaking Portuguese is from Brazil or Portugal. I can't even distinguish Spanish accents that well even though I had 5 years of Spanish in school and 0 years of Portuguese. When people talk about how weird and "Slavic" Portuguese sounds, they're probably thinking of Potuguese from Portugal. Brazilian Portuguese doesn't sound quite as distinct from Spanish as European Portuguese.

Some pronunciation differences between Spanish and Portuguese:

  1. Portuguese has nasal vowels in words like "sim" ("yes"), "bon" ("good"), "são" ("saint" in place names)

  2. People from Portugal pronounce many s's as "sh" sounds. This happens after vowels, but not between 2 vowels within a word. So "lagos" ("lakes") is pronounced "LAH-goosh." I think a lot of people associate that sound with Slavic languages for some reason.

  3. The r at the beginning of a word and rr (as in "rato" or "terra") aren't usually pronounced as rolled alveolar r sound like in Spanish. They are usually pronounced in a guttural way, like the r at the beginning of a word in French or German. In Brazil, they are often pronounced as an h.
  4. Unstressed vowels are pronounced differently in Portuguese than in Spanish. In Spanish, "rata" is pronounced "RAH-tah", with the stress on the 1st syllable and both syllables having the same sound. In Portuguese, the unstressed vowel in the 2nd syllable is pronounced "uh", as unstressed a's often are in English. The 2nd vowel of "sete" ("seven") is "ee" in Brazil and something close to the vowel of "good" in Portugal. The 2nd vowel of "rato" is "oo" (as in "soon") in both Brazil and Portugal.
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answered 2018-05-19 14:59:43 -0400

Gerard Cheshire gravatar image

It seems that Portuguese is closer to the ancestral language proto-Romance than the other Romance languages. There is a proto-Romance manuscript that originates from the island of Ischia, near Naples, Italy, which was within the Crown of Aragon at the time of writing, c. 1444. Both languages have similarities, so it seems that Portuguese has remained truer to its origin form, while the other Romance languages have evolved in different ways.

Proto-Romance came into being as the result of intense human activity in the Mediterranean during the Medieval, when it was the hub of the Occidental world. Spoken Latin was the vestige of the Roman Empire, but outsiders frequently visited the Mediterranean for reasons of trade, slavery, political conquest, royal marriage, migration and exchange of ideas. Consequently, spoken Latin became mixed with new words from other languages, so proto-Romance was a 'lingua franca' in order that people from many places were able to communicate in a common tongue.

As Portugal is isolated geographically from the Mediterranean it makes sense that linguistic memetic flow continued more readily among the other proto-Romance speaking countries during the Renaissance, leaving Portuguese to evolve more-or-less on its own. Thus, it sounds different from the other Romance languages.

For those interested, there are draft papers concerning the aforementioned manuscript freely available from the preprint website LingBuzz. &

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Asked: 2018-04-13 16:49:57 -0400

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Last updated: May 11