Language Matters: Brazil – Portuguese or Brazilian? | Lingo Languages

Language Matters: Brazil – Portuguese or Brazilian?

August 5, 2016


The 2016 Summer Olympics brings to television screens the yellow and green colours of Brazil as well as the phenomenally beautiful landscapes of the country. These images of Brazil reminded a child about Rio, the children’s movie, and its colourful hustle and bustle. And then there was a follow-up question: what language do they speak in Rio, Brazilian? Well, that depends on how you look at it.

The language of Brazil – Portuguese, of course

A total of 200 million people in the world speak Portuguese and it’s the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. The language found its way to Brazil as a result of the European conquerors and the colonial times. Even Rio de Janeiro’s name derives from Europe: those who arrived on the continent mistook the bay for the mouth of a river so they named the area Rio de Janeiro, the river of January. Brazilian Portuguese resembles Portuguese but its pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar deviate from Portuguese.

Generally speaking, these two language variants have more in common than not, but there are also differences. In Brazil, pronunciation is somewhat different compared to the Portuguese spoken in Portugal. For example, vowels are more open. People from Portugal may find it difficult to understand Brazilians’ way of speaking because vowels may sound similar to other vowels – if they are even pronounced. Portuguese people, on the other hand, may close their mouths more when talking. Also, Brazilians may find it difficult to understand Portuguese people because they don’t usually hear the type of Portuguese spoken on the old continent. Then again, an extensive number of Brazilian people live in Portugal and there are plenty of Brazilian soap operas on TV.

In terms of vocabulary, the differences are evident in the different names used for different things. For example, a cell phone is called telemóvel in Portugal and celular in Brazil, whereas a bus is called ônibus in Brazil and autocarro in Portugal. Words that look similar may also have different meanings, such as bárbara, which in Brazil is a compliment – something absolutely fantastic – whereas in Portugal, the meaning of the word is more literal: barbaric.

Brazilians do not usually speak in a very formal way compared to the Portuguese. It is more common in Brazil to use the informal, first-name approach than in Portugal. In Brazil, the informal word for “you” is você, with which the verb is used in the third person singular. The same third person is also evident in the way other people are addressed; friendly but politely by mentioning their name: A Ana quer mais café? (Would Ana like more coffee?) It pays off to be awake at mealtimes!

Brasil flag

Take trips and do business in the local language

So, which language should one use in Rio, one of the most beautiful cities in the world? Only Portuguese is commonly spoken in Brazil and you can’t take for granted that the locals know how to speak English. Spanish skills may help to an extent. As always when travelling around the world, it pays off to learn a few words in the local language. It will give Brazilians, too, a pleasant surprise! Below, our Portuguese translator Suvi gives tips on language use in Brazil.

These will give you a good start:

Hello! – Olá!

How are you? – Tudo bem? (Everything okay?)
For this, you can give the same answer, tudo bem, or only tá tudo [está tudo]. You can also ask how people are doing: is everything [okay]? – tá tudo [bem]?

Good afternoon! – Boa tarde!

Bye bye! – Chau!
Or only beijo or its diminutive, beijinho. This means a kiss.

Thank you! – Obrigado (when the speaker is male), obrigada (when the speaker is female).

Nossa (Senhora)! – When you are horrified by something or when you admire something. You hear this a lot in Brazil. Literally, the expression means “our lady”, which refers to Virgin Mary. In spoken language, only nossa, the possessive pronoun, is often used.

Wonderful! – Beleza!
This literally means beauty. In spoken language, this often carries a positive tone, but it can also be used in a laconic manner.

Great! – Legal!
You hear this a lot as well. This is a typical Brazilian word when something is being admired.

These three expressions can also be combined, such as Nossa, que legal! or Nossa, que beleza!

Jeitinho (diminutive of the word jeito) means a knack in any situation that Brazilians are really clever at coming up with. The phenomenon is known by the name jeitinho brasileiro and even Brazilians themselves are amused by how easily it comes to them. A typical expression is dar um jeitinho, or ”to fix the matter”.

What kind of experiences do you have of Brazil? We would love to hear your story, please leave a comment below.

Language Matters is a collection of topical language issues published in Lingo’s blog.

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This article can also be read in Finnish by clicking here.


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