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 syntax and word construction, not directly related with spelling, are also observed. Furthermore, there were attempts to unify the two written variations, the most recent of them being the Orthographic Agreement of 1990, which only began to take effect in the 2000s and is still under implementation in some countries. This and previous reforms faced criticism by people who say they are unnecessary or 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


Main article: European Portuguese

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

Within each of these regions, however, 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.


Main article: Brazilian Portuguese

Brazilian dialects are divided into northern and southern groups, the northern dialects tending to slightly more open pre-stressed vowels. The economic and cultural dominance of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil made their dialects end up having some influence on the rest of the country. However, migration from the Northern states to the Southern states cause the influence to be a two-way phenomenon. Cultural issues also play their roles. 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, and among the inhabitants of the Santa Catarina, the Azorean Portuguese dialect, in its local variant, predominates.

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, but 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 and so are 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, and here are some of the more prominent:



Homophones in dialects

Mau and mal

Both mean bad, but mau is an adjective, mal an adverb. In most parts of Brazil, the 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, "may he/she swear". In different contexts, unstressed /e/ often became a close front unrounded vowel, but in some Southern Brazilian dialects, the Hispanic influence, made /e/ never go through the change.

Comprimento and cumprimento

Comprimento means "length", and cumprimento means "greeting". The same thing that happened with /e/ in the example of júri/jure happened to the letter /o/, such becomes a close back rounded vowel in some cases, Hispanic influence makes it never represent that sound in some Southern Brazilian.

Asa and haja

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

Boa and voa

Boa means "good" (feminine) 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 the distinction used to be absent in the dialects of the northern half of Portugal, and in some dialects spoken in the border of Brazil or Portugal and Spanish-speaking countries. Both are realized indistinctly as a voiced bilabial plosive or a voiced bilabial fricative, like in Spanish.

Más, mas and mais

Más means "bad ones" (feminine), mas means "but" and mais means "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. The feature is very distinguishable since this combination appears in the plural forms.

and chá

means "shah", and chá means tea. At the beginning of words, <x> and <ch> are usually voiceless palato-alveolar fricatives, but <ch> is a voiceless palato-alveolar affricate in northern Portugal. The sound happens in other cases in Southeastern Brazil but 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).

Main articles: Galician language and Fala language

This section does not cover Galician, which is treated as a separate language from Portuguese by Galician official institutions, or Fala. 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.

The 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.

Mutual comprehension

The different dialects and accents do not block cross-understanding among the educated. Meanwhile, the basilects have diverged more. The unity of the language is reflected in the fact that early imported sound films were dubbed into one version for the entire Portuguese-speaking market. Currently, films not originally in Portuguese (usually Hollywood productions) are dubbed separately into two accents: one for Portugal and one for Brazilian (using without regionalisms). When dubbing an African character in cartoons and TV and film productions, Portuguese people usually mimic an Angolan accent, as it is also commonly seen as the African accent of Portuguese. The popularity of telenovelas and music familiarizes the speakers with other accents of Portuguese.

Prescription and a common cultural and literary tradition, among other factors, have contributed to the formation of a Standard Portuguese, which is the preferred form in formal settings, and is considered indispensable in academic and literary writing, the media, etc. This standard tends to disregard local grammatical, phonetic and lexical peculiarities, and draws certain extra features from the commonly acknowledged canon, preserving (for example) certain verb tenses considered "bookish" or archaic in most other dialects. Portuguese has two official written standards, (i) Brazilian Portuguese (used chiefly in Brazil) and (ii) European Portuguese (used in Portugal and Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe). The written standards slightly differ in spelling and vocabulary, and are legally regulated. Unlike the written language, however, there is no spoken-Portuguese official standard, but the European Portuguese reference pronunciation is the educated speech of Lisbon.

List of dialects

Europe South America Africa Asia
European Portuguese Close WIL Brazilian Portuguese Contact dialects
  • Central-Southern
    • Alentejano
    • Algarvio
    • Baixo-Beirão, Alto-Alentejano
    • Estremenho
  • Northern
    • Alto-Minhoto
    • Beirão
    • Transmontano
  • Insular
    • Açoriano
    • Madeirense

See also


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