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Portugal is a nation of one language, but not everybody speaks it the same way…

Portugal is a nation of one language, but not everybody speaks it the same way… Really, Portuguese is the official language of nations on 4 continents, and spoken by more than 270,000,000 speakers… Wow.

According to Wikipedia: Portuguese is official language of PortugalBrazilCape VerdeGuinea-BissauMozambiqueAngola, and São Tomé and Príncipe. It also has co-official language status in East TimorEquatorial Guinea and Macau in China. Portuguese creoles speakers are also found in GoaDaman and Diu in India; in Batticaloa on the east coast of Sri Lanka; in the Indonesian island of Flores; in the Malacca state of Malaysia; and the ABC islands in the Caribbean where Papiamento is spoken, and Cape Verdean Creole is the most widely spoken Portuguese-based Creole.

So, with all that Portuguese being spoken you would think that Portugal’s 10 million native speakers would all sound the same? Think again….


Pronunciation changes from North to South – and there are distinct regional ways of speaking. In the Algarve, native speakers tend to run words together, with flat diphthongs and vowels. To the north of the Algarve, there is the sing-sing nature of speaking in the Alentejo – with flat vowels drawn out. These two regions were home to the Moors for the longest period of time, and that last section to be taken in the Reconquista.

And, there are many Arabic sourced word in Portuguese. Pretty much any (but not all) words that start with AL. As in Algarve, Alfama, Almofada… (Al is the in Arabic). And you see more AL place names in the south for that reason.

Lisboetas have their own sophisticated, if not rapid, way of speaking - clipping of some consonants along the way. To their Northeast, the nasal tones of a Ribatejo accent are unmistakable. Is always seems that at least one sportscaster hails from the Ribatejo on TV. And more than one when doing the play-by-play for bullfights.

Moving into the Beiras, now called Centro de Portugal –you find a crisp pronunciation in cities such as Leiria and Coimbra (people often call the Coimbra pronunciation as classic Portuguese, as it is home to nation’s oldest university).

But in the country, the way of speaking gets twangier. B’s start to turn to v’s and sh fills in for s.

Now, if you speak Portuguese, and you meet some one from Porto – recognition is instantiations once they open their mouths.

Lots of twang b-like vs, and wide pronounced diphthongs. Ok, and popular lore is that they tend to swear more and have their own words. But, hey, who is judging?

Within each of the northern areas, more variations lurk, especially in pronunciation. But the spice of words is clearly Northern.

And then we go to Portugal’s islands: The Azores and Madeira. Here the way of speaking is quite distinct, and can vary not only from island to island – but within the boundary of north coast to south coast. Eastern Azorean almost sounds like French, and the rest have a distinct island tonality, but also sound a bit like Southern Portuguese – many of their settlers came from the Algarve and Alentejo. A few were Flemish. Madeira has a twangy, bouncy island accent, also southern in origin but distinct.

And then you have different words. A coffee is a bica in Lisbon but a cimbolino in Portugal. Add milk and it is a meia de leite, unless you are on Madeira where it becomes a chinesa. An umbrella is a guarda chuva in Lisbon, but a chapeu de chuva in Coimbra.

And on top of all that – you have two unique languages in remote boarder towns.

In the Alentejo town of Barrancos (splat the border between Spain and Portugal), a dialect called  barranquenho mixes Portuguese and Spanish. In fact, the bustling but isolated market town is bi-lingual. And the cured ham is quite good, too.

In the far north-east there are pockets of the Mirandes language – this is an Astur-Leonese language that is sparsely spoken in the towns such as Miranda do DouroMogadouro and Vimioso. It is, by law, Portugal’s second language, as it has a unique phonologymorphology and syntax.

So, last question? How does Portuguese relate to Spanish? Well, what some call Spanish is really Castilian – one of a handful of languages spoken on the Iberian Peninsula. All but one are based in Common of Vulgar Latin. They arrived as one tongue under the Romans, and then evolved after Roman rule crumbled in the 3rd century. By the way, the one language that has nothing to do with Latin is Basque. And Portuguese finds its roots in Luso-Galaico, the same root of the distinct language of Galicia in Northwestern Spain.

So, back to Portugal’s 10 million people. They gather to cheer on the nation team. They love bread, wine and a good cheese. Argument is a form of sport. And they represent the nation with the oldest standing boarders in Europe. Yes there are a dozen ways of speaking. And they are all …. Portuguese.


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