Shouldn't Brazilian Portuguese sound closer to it, as they pronounce more syllables?

  • 3
    I don't know the specifics of Portuguese well, but typically when one descendant of a language is more conservative in one area, it's more innovative in others (and vice versa), so that it's difficult or impossible to say one dialect is more conservative overall. Even commonly-cited counterexamples like Icelandic are pretty innovative in certain areas, e.g. whilst they maintain more syllables from Old Norse, the pronunciation of certain sounds is often much more divergent than in other Scandinavian varieties
    – Tristan
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 13:12
  • What do you think and what research have you done on the topic? In the 16th century "Brazilian" Portuguese would not have yet been a fully formed dialect.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 27, 2023 at 15:22
  • Can you give an example of Brazilians pronouncing more syllables? Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 6:23
  • Like with English, there is huge variation within both countries, maybe more than between the two standards. Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 6:24
  • @AdamBittlingmayer It's not that Brazilians (today) use more syllables. It's the fact that in Iberian Portuguese, some syllables are "shortened". (today). Also, we have no way of knowing about "16th century pronunciation" really.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


As you have mentioned sound, let us restrict the discussion to Portuguese phonology, and simply go through some features by area. Most of this gleaned from bits and pieces across several sources, so I am sure the community will be able to add to it!

Distinction of the 4 sibilants (/s/ vs /s̺/, /z/ vs /z̺/)

In Mediaeval Portuguese, passo /ˈpau/ and paço /ˈpasu/ were distinguished, as were coser /kuˈeɾ/ and cozer /kuˈzeɾ/. Mergers start to take place in the 17th century.

Palatalisation of syllable-end /s/ into /ʃ/

In Mediaeval Portuguese, there is no indication of such a phenomenon in the grammarians of the 16th century.

  • Galician - /s/ retained.
  • 'certain areas of the extreme north and south of Portugal in 1975' - /s/ retained.
  • Standard EP - distinctive and salient palatalisation of syllable-final /s/ into /ʃ/, the s chiado; may also undergo voicing into /ʒ/. This is traced back to the 18th century.
  • Standard BP - /s/ retained.
  • Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) - exhibits palatalisation of /s/ into /ʃ/ post-vocalically, attributed to the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Court in 1808, but there are certainly other factors.
  • Central Northeastern BP (Pernambuco, Rio Grande de Norte etc.) - exhibits palatalisation of /s/ into /ʃ/ before /t/ and /d/.
    • Conclusion: Galician and Standard BP more conservative than EP, Rio and parts of the Central Northeast.

Palatalisation of /t/ and /d/ into /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/

This is an innovation from after the 17th century.

  • Galician: /t/ and /d/ retained as occlusive stops.
  • Standard EP: /t/ and /d/ retained.
  • Standard BP: palatalization of /t/ and /d/ before /i/, the so-called t/d chiado, including the super lexemes de and te.
  • Central Northeastern BP: /t/ and /d/ retained.
    • Galician, standard EP and nordestino-central BP more conservative; standard BP more innovative.

Distinction between /b/ and /v/

There is presumed to have been a robust distinction in their pronunciation in the 16th century.

  • Galician - betacism; [b] and [β̞] are allophones of one phoneme.
  • much of Northern Portugal - betacism too.
  • Standard EP - distinction retained.
  • Standard BP - distinction retained.
  • Central Northeastern BP - distinction retained, although in certain morphemes /v/ debuccalises to... /ɦ/, especially in the verb forms of ver, vir and ir!
    • Conclusion: Both standards are equally conservative; northern Portuguese and Galician are less so.

Intervocalic lenition of /b/, /d/, /g/ into /β/, /ð/, /ɣ/

This 'softening' is not attested in 16th century treatises.

  • Galician - lenition occurs.
  • much of northern and central EP - lenition occurs.
  • Standard EP - lenition is not... standard, but common.
  • Standard BP - no lenition. Again on the non-standard but common vernacular level, /d/ can assimilate into /n/ into -ndo gerund endings.
  • Recife BP - some lenition, not much.
    • Conclusion: Standard BP more conservative than Standard EP, which is more conservative than Northern EP and Galician

Realisation of rr

In Mediaeval Portuguese and into the 16th century, this was a trilled /r/, and its distribution was like Modern Peninsular Spanish rather than Modern Italian, where word-initial r, anywhere spelled rr, and post-consonantal syllable-initial r (as in genro/genrro, honra/onrra) are given the value of a trill /r/, the so-called "strong r"; whilst intervocalic single r (caro), word-final r (mar), the last r of a consonant cluster (such as cravo), and pre-consonantal coda rhotic (as in porto) are all given the value of a tap /ɾ/, the "weak r". Here we focus on the value of the "strong r".

  • Galician: /r/.
  • Northern EP (Transmontano, Minhoto, Beirão): /r/.
  • Standard EP: /ʁ/.
  • Lisbon: /ʀ/.
  • Standard BP: /h~x~χ/. Note the distribution of the "strong r" has expanded to include the coda rhotic of porto and mar here. This is also true for the other Brazilian varieties.
  • Caipira (São Paulo state): /ɹ ~ ɻ/, including coda rhotics.
  • Gaúcho (Rio Grande do Sul): /r/, though can tend to surface /ɹ ~ ɻ/ in the coda in some parts.
    • Conclusion: Hard to tell which of the two Portuguese standards is more innovative. In any case, Galician, northern EP and RGdS are most conservative.

Distinction between /t͡ʃ/ and /ʃ/

This was evidently reflected in 16th century orthography as ch vs x; it is in the 17th and 18th centuries that we find 'misspellings' such as xave for chave "key" and fexadura for fechadura "lock".

  • Galician: distinction retained.
  • Northern EP (Alto-Minho, Trás-os-Montes): distinction retained
  • Standard EP: merged
  • Standard BP: merged
    • Conclusion: Galician and Northen EP are the most conservative.

Simplification of /ej ~ ei/ to /e/ and /ow ~ ou/ to /o/

  • Galician: distinction preserved
  • Northern EP: distinction preserved
  • Standard EP: /ej/ tends to be preserved more than /ow/
  • Lisbon: /ej/ shifts to /ɐj/ instead, merging e.g. em and ãe; /ow/ generally shifts to /o/.
  • Standard BP: monophthongisation is common, though not standard.
    • Conclusion: Galician and Northern EP are conservative, Lisbon is innovative. The Standard forms are somewhere in the middle.

Vowel reduction and isochronicity

Although vowels were reduced from Latin, mediaeval Portuguese is presumed to be syllable-timed. There is some evidence that there was a prosodic change reflected in orthography between the 16th and 17th centuries.

  • Galician: some unstressed vowel reduction; relatively syllable-timed
  • Standard EP: strong unstressed vowel reduction, with an e caduc phenomenon like French, with significant vowel devoicing and desyllabification; strongly stress-timed
  • Standard BP: some unstressed vowel reduction, but epenthesis in e.g. opção is often realised [opˈsɐ̃w̃]; syllable-timed.
  • Northeastern BP: significant vowel reduction, e.g. prática is pronounced [ˈpɾatʃkɐ].
    • Conclusion: Standard BP and Galician are about equally conservative, Standard EP being innovative.

Vocalisation of syllable-final /l/ into /w ~ u/

From the spellings of the 16th century, this may have already started back then (or rather ... just never ended?).

  • Galician: 'clear' /l/
  • Standard EP: heavily velarised 'dark' /ɫ/
  • Standard BP: mostly vocalised into /w ~ u/.
    • Conclusion: Galician is more conservative than Standard EP, which is more conservative than Standard BP.

There are plenty of other very important phonological features that one can analyse, not to mention grammatical factors. It really does depend on what you are looking at, and also how you assign them a weighting.

At the moment then, just by a basic count, it seems like the two standard forms of Portuguese are relatively balanced - but seemingly according to this, the most conservative are Galician and (rural) northern European Portuguese (even though they both have many innovative features)!

  • “its distribution was like Modern Peninsular Spanish, and not like Modern Italian, where word-initial r is given the trill” — Not sure I follow this. Word-initial r is normally trilled /r/, not tapped /ɾ/, in both Spanish and Italian … what opposition are you referring to here? Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 20:59
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Have added some more detail (having not saved all of my previous typing...!). I was specifically thinking of cases like porto, where Standard Italian pronunciation prefers a 'strong' trilled /r/ (cross-checking with Canepari).
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 0:59
  • Oh, you meant “like MPS, where word-initial…, and not like MI” – I misread due to the commas! Much clearer with the edit. (You forgot intervocalic single r, so I took the liberty of adding that as well.) Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 1:17
  • But one cannot say which is closer to 16th century Portuguese since we don't have any actual recordings of it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 29, 2023 at 17:08

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