Portuguese dialects

Portuguese dialects

Portuguese dialects are variants of the Portuguese language that are shared by a substantial number of speakers over several generations, but are not sufficiently distinct from the official norms to be considered separate languages. The differences between 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.

Portuguese does not have an internationally unified body of language regulators. The two main language regulators, the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazil) and the Academia das Ciências de Lisboa, Classe de Letras (Portugal), work separately from each other, and on a national level only[citation needed].



Between Brazilian Portuguese – particularly in its most informal varieties – and European Portuguese, there can be considerable differences in grammar, as well. 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.

Within the two major varieties of Portuguese, most differences between dialects concern pronunciation and vocabulary. Below are some examples:

words for bus
Angola & Mozambique: machimbombo
Brazil: ônibus
Portugal: autocarro
slang terms for to go away
Angola: bazar - from Kimbundu kubaza - to break, leave with rush
Brazil: vazar - from Portuguese "to leak", Latin vacivu
Portugal: bazar - from Kimbundu kubaza - to break, leave with rush
words for slum quarter
Angola: musseque
Brazil: favela
Portugal: bairro de lata or ilha

Main subdivisions


For historical reasons, the dialects of Africa are generally closer to those of Portugal than the Brazilian dialects, although 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, thus 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].


Brazilian dialects are divided into a northern and southern groups, where the northern dialects tend to slightly more open pre-stressed vowels. Due to the economic and cultural dominance of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, their dialects end up having some influence on the rest of the country. However, thanks to the migration from the Northern states to the Southern states, this influence can be seen as a two-way phenomenon. Cultural issues also play their roles and 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 Santa Catarina state and Paraná state usually spell with a very notable German, Italian or Polish accent, while among the inhabitants of the Santa Catarina island predominates the Azorean Portuguese dialect in its local variant.

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.


Uruguay recently adopted Portuguese as obligatory by the 6th grade at public schools.[1]

Some public schools along the Brazilian border provide classes both in Portuguese and Spanish.[2]

Besides the official status of Portuguese in Uruguay, there's also the Portunhol Riverense, spoken in the region between Uruguay and Brazil, particularly in the twin cities of Rivera and Santana do Livramento, where the border is open and a street is the only line dividing the two countries. This language must not be confused with Portuñol, since it's 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 received some input from Uruguayan Spanish language and also Brazilian Portuguese language used on television and literature.

In academic circles, the Portuguese used by the northern population of Uruguay received the name "Dialectos Portugueses del Uruguay" (Uruguayan Portuguese Dialects, or "DPU" for short). 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 even no consensus on how many varieties it has (studies point out to at least two variations, an urban one and a rural one, although other sources says there are even six varieties—Riverense Portuñol being one of these varieties).[3]

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.


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

  • The southern and central dialects are broadly characterized by preserving the distinction between /b/ and /v/, and by the tendency to monophthongize ei and ou to [e] and [o]. They include the dialect of the capital, Lisbon, which however has some peculiarities of its own. Although the dialects of the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira have unique characteristics, as well, they can also be grouped with the southern dialects.
  • The northern dialects are characterized by preserving the pronunciation of ei and ou as diphthongs [ei̯], [ou̯], and by having merged /v/ with /b/ (like in Spanish). This includes the dialect of Porto, Portugal's second largest city.

Within each of these regions, however, there 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 Extremaduran is spoken, known as barranquenho.


The Galician language, spoken in the region of Galicia, Spain, is considered by some of its speakers as a dialect of the Portuguese - or, precisely speaking, Galician-Portuguese (Galego-Português) language, while others believe it to be a different, if closely related, language. It is mainly characterised by the lack of opposition between /b/ and /v/, the preservation of "ei" and "ou" diphthongs, and, perhaps more characteristically, the de-voicing of the consonant ʒ into ʃ ("xeneroso" instead of "generoso") and the use of "om" instead of "ão" ("associaçom" instead of "associação"). The latter two differences, contrary to the formers, are expressed in the differences between written Portuguese and written Galician. These features, however, are not limited to Galicia only: the national border between Portugal and Spain is not a linguistic border. The question whether Galician is a language in its own right is thus largely a matter of definition.

Notable features of some dialects

Many dialects have special characteristics. Most of the differences are seen in phonetics and phonology. Below are some of the more prominent:


  • In some regions of northern Portugal and Brazil, the digraph ou still denotes a falling diphthong [ou̯], although it has been monophthongized to [o] by most speakers of Portuguese.
  • In the dialects of Alto-Minho and Trás-os-Montes (northern Portugal), the digraph ch still denotes the affricate /tʃ/, as in Galicia, although for most speakers it has merged with /ʃ/.
  • Some dialects of northern Portugal still contrast the predorsodental sibilants c/ç /s/ and z /z/ with apicoalveolar sibilants s(s) /s̺/ and s /z̺/, with minimal pairs such as passo /pas̺u/ "step" and paço /pasu/ "palace" or coser /kuz̺eɾ/ "to sew" and cozer /kuzeɾ/ "to cook", which are homophones in most dialects. In the other dialects of northern Portugal that have lost this distinction, one finds the apicoalveolar sibilants instead of the predorsodental fricatives that are found in all southern dialects of Portugal as well as in Brazil. In these dialects, they also appear in syllable codas, instead of the [ʃ] realizations that can be observed in all southern dialects.
  • In northern Portugal, the pronoun vós and its associated verb forms are still in use.
  • In Alentejo (southern Portugal), one finds word-final [i] where standard EP has [ɨ], a feature shared with BP.
  • Also in Brazil and Alentejo, progressive constructions are formed with the gerund form of verbs, instead of a followed by the infinitive that one finds in most dialects of Portugal: está chovendo vs. está a chover ("it's raining").
  • In Brazil, original voiced intervocalic stops are still pronounced as such, e.g. [vidɐ], [kabu] instead of the normal Portugal pronunciation [viðɐ], [kaβu].
  • In Brazil, all five vowels [a e i o u] are usually pronounced clearly in unstressed pretonic syllables, the same as in stressed syllables, while in Portugal they are generally reduced to [ɐ ɨ i u u]. That being said, some words in some Brazilian accents (esp. in Rio) have pretonic [e o] raised to [i u].


  • In central and southern Portugal (except the city of Lisbon and its vicinity), the diphthong /ei̯/ is monophthongized to [e]. The nasal diphthong /ẽi̯/ is often monophthongized to [ẽ] in this region as well.
  • In Lisbon and its surroundings, /ei̯/ and /ẽi̯/ are pronounced [ɐi̯] and [ɐ̃i̯], respectively. Furthermore, in this region stressed /e/ is pronounced [ɐ] or [ɐi̯] before a palato-alveolar or a palatal consonant followed by another vowel.
  • In northern Portugal, the phoneme /m/ has a velar allophone [ŋ] at the end of words.
  • In the dialects of Portalegre, Castelo Branco, Algarve (Barlavento area) and São Miguel Island (Azores), the near-front rounded vowel [ʏ] replaces /u/, in a process similar to the one which originated the French u. The dialect of São Miguel has also the front rounded vowel [ø] replacing /o/, as in outra or boi.
  • In northern Portugal, the close vowels /o/ and /e/ may be pronounced as diphthongs, such as in "Porto", pronounced [ˈpwoɾtu], "quê": [kje], "hoje": [ˈwoi̯ʒɨ] or [ˈwoʒɨ] or even [ˈwoi̯ʒɨ]
  • Some dialects of southern Portugal have gerund forms that inflect for person and number: em chegandos (when you arrive), em chegândemos (when we arrive), em chegandem (when you/they arrive). These are not used in writing.
  • There are some dialectal differences in how word final [u] is realized. In BP, it is always pronounced. In Portugal, it is usually most audible when at the end of an utterance. In other contexts, it may be not realized, or realized as mere labialization of the preceding consonant. The northern dialects tend to maintain it in most contexts. For instance, a sentence like o meu irmão comprou um carro novo ("my brother bought a new car") would be pronounced as [u ˈmew iɾˈmɐ̃w̃ kõˈpɾow u~ ˈkaʁu ˈnovu] or [u ˈmew iɾˈmɐ̃w̃ kõˈpɾow ũ ˈkaʁʷ ˈnovu] in these dialects. In the dialect spoken in Lisbon, the two last words would instead be pronounced [ˈkaʁʷ ˈnovu], [ˈkaʁʷ ˈnovʷ], [ˈkaʁ ˈnovu] or [ˈkaʁ ˈnovʷ]. In southern Portugal, word final [w] and [w̃] are also affected, so in Alentejo the same sentence would sound [u ˈme iɾˈmɐ̃ kõˈpɾo ũ ˈkaʁ ˈnovu] (in this dialect, utterance final vowels are also noticeably very prolonged, so a more accurate transcription might be [ˈnovuː] for this example). And in the southernmost region of the country, the Algarve, the vowel is completely lost: [u ˈme iɾˈmɐ̃ kõˈpɾo ũ ˈkaʁ ˈnov].
  • In most of Brazil, syllable-final /l/ is vocalized to /w/. This causes mau "bad" and mal "badly" to become homophones (although Brazil tends to use ruim in place of mau). Similarly, degrau "step" and jornal "journal" rhyme, which results in false plurals such as degrais "steps" (vs. correct degraus), by analogy with correct plural jornais. In the caipira dialect, and in parts of Goiás and Minas Gerais, syllable-final /l/ is instead merged with /ɾ/, pronounced as an alveolar approximant [ɹ] in the Caipira way.
  • The pronunciation of syllable-initial and syllable-final r varies considerably with dialect. See Guttural R in Portuguese, for details. In summary, syllable-initial ‹r› and doubled ‹rr› are pronounced as a guttural [ʁ] in most cities in Portugal, but as a traditional trill [r] in rural Portugal. In Brazil, this sound is normally pronounced as an unvoiced guttural ([x], [χ] or [h]), which is also used for ‹r› at the end of syllables (except in the caipira dialect, which uses an alveolar approximant [ɹ]). ‹r› at the ends of words in Brazil is normally silent or barely pronounced. In Macau (where Portuguese is spoken mostly as a second language), initial and intervocalic "r" is sometimes replaced with a diphthong, and ‹r› at the end of words (esp. when final-stressed) is sometimes silent.
  • The pronunciation of syllable-final s/x/z also varies with dialect. See Portuguese phonology for details. In summary, Portugal and Rio de Janeiro favor [ʃ], both before a consonant and finally. Most other parts of Brazil favor [s], although in the Northeast [ʃ] is often heard before consonants, especially /t/ (but not finally).
  • In the Northeast of Brazil and to an increasing extent in Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere, [j] is inserted before final /s/ in a final-stressed word. This makes mas "but" and mais "more" homonyms, both pronounced [majs] or [majʃ]. Other affected examples are faz "he does", dez "ten", nós "we", voz "voice", luz "light", Jesús "Jesus", etc. Related forms like fazem, vozes, nosso are unaffected, since /s/ is no longer final.
  • In most of Brazil, /t/, /d/ are palatalized to [tʃ], [dʒ] when followed by /i/. Common sources of /i/ are the unstressed ending -e, as in gente "people" [ˈʒẽtʃi] and de "of" [dʒi], and the epenthetic /i/ in words such as advogado "lawyer" [adʒivoˈgadu]. The prefixes de-, des- and dez- (e.g. dezoito "eighteen") vary from word to word and speaker to speaker between [de], [des]/[dez]/etc. and [dʒi], [dʒis]/[dʒiz]/etc..
  • Informal Brazilian Portuguese makes major changes in its use of pronouns:
    • Informal tu is dropped entirely in most regions, along with all second-person singular verbal inflections. When tu survives, it is used with third-person inflections.
    • But clitic te [tʃi] survives as the normal clitic object pronoun corresponding to você.
    • Clitic pronouns almost always precede the verb. Post-verbal clitics are seen only in formal contexts, and mesoclisis (amar-te-ei "I will love you") is practically incomprehensible to most Brazilians.
    • Possessives seu, sua virtually always mean "your". To say "his, her", constructions like o carro dele "his car" or o carro dela "her car" are used.
    • Third-person clitics o, a, os, as and combined clitics like mo, no-lo are virtually never seen in speech. Instead, the clitics are simply omitted, especially when referring to objects; or a subject pronoun is placed after the verb: Eu levo "I'll get it"; Vi ele "I saw him".
    • nós "we" is often replaced by a gente, conjugated with a third-person singular verb.
  • Other Brazilian Portuguese grammatical changes:
    • Preposition a is normally replaced by para in speech. (Note: para a /pra/, para o /pro/.)
    • The future tense is rarely used except for certain verbs with monosyllabic infinitives; otherwise periphrasis, e.g. vou falar "I will speak", is used. (But note that future perfect, future subjunctive and future perfect subjunctive all occur with regularity.)
    • The conditional tense is likewise used rarely. When a true conditional meaning is intended, the imperfect is substituted. When a prospective-in-past meaning is intended, a periphrasis is often substituted, e.g. disse que ia falar comigo "He said he would speak with me".

Mixed languages

  • Frantuguês/Frantugais (Frenchuguese), a mix of Portuguese with French

Closely related languages

This article does not cover Galician, which is treated as a separate language from Portuguese by Galician official institutions, nor the Fala language. For a discussion of the controversy regarding the status of Galician with respect to Portuguese, see Reintegrationism.

List of dialects

European Portuguese
American Portuguese

Dialectos Portugueses del Uruguay (DPU)

Brazilian Portuguese

Dialecto Portugues de San Antonio de Los Altos, Venezuela
African Portuguese
Asian Portuguese

See also


  1. ^ Learning of Portuguese in Uruguay
  2. ^ Chapter: "Diagnóstico sociolingüístico de comunidades escolares fronterizas en el norte de Uruguay" (A Sociolinguistic Diagnosis of border school communities in northern Uruguay). In print. Portugués del Uruguay y Educación Bilingüe. Nicolás Brian, Claudia Brovetto, Javier Geymonat (Eds.) Montevideo: Administración Nacional de Educación Pública. República Oriental del Uruguay. 44-96
  3. ^ 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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