A Few Words About Portuguese

Reading It is the Easy Part
Reading It is the Easy Part

When I was about seven, I think, my sister came up one day and said “uno y uno son dos.” She was studying Spanish, and decided, rightly so I imagine, that teaching somebody else was a great way to learn. I’ve been able to stumble badly in Spanish for years. Lately I’ve even been able to have some rudimentary conversations about normal topics (no “Norte America es un continente” for me bro!) Looking at the Portuguese carved into the Cabo da Roca monument, you’d think that it was a lot like Spanish. Well, you’d be wrong.

They’re both Romance languages. And some words are the same as they are in Spanish. Some look the same but aren’t, and some aren’t even close. Take chicken, for instance. The cooked kind. It’s “carne do frago.” What the heck is a frago? In old Iberian Celtic, it’s a chicken. Try asking for “carne do frago,” heck call it “de frago” in Spanish and all you’ll get is a blank look. ‘Cause, yeah, what the heck is a frago?

Pronunciation is very different as well. Take the word “banana.” in Spanish it’s “una banana” or “un banano.” Yes, banano. Dunno why. And “banana” is all long ah sounds, too. In Portuguese, it is “uma banana.” Go ahead and say that, just like you think it would sound if you saw that phrase lying around. You said “banana” like it was English, didn’t you? You know you did. And, here’s the thing, you were correct! Since almost forever, Portugal and Britain (first England) have been allies through thick and thin. After all, their chief rivals back in the days of good old imperialistic expansion were Spain and France. Oooo, they hated those guys! And I think that a lot of English habits rubbed off on the Portuguese. (I know that tea, as enjoyed traditionally in England, came from Portugal, so why not things going the other way?) Not only bananas, but other habits of pronunciation occur in both English and Portuguese. For example, Portuguese has a lot of susurration in it (look it up) and they leave off the sound of many final syllables. Here’s an example of a word that illustrates several of my points. I refer to the word, “pronto.”

Hey, you know that word! It means quickly, right? Uh, sure, in Spanish, and all you have to do is make both of those ‘o’s sound long and you’ve got it. We use it in English, at least in America, where we pronounce it like it was English, sort of like “prahnto.” Get it? Two things about that word in Portuguese. It doesn’t mean “quickly,” and it’s pronounced like the American version, less the final syllable. You know our word font? Sure, so you can pronounce pront, which is how a Portuguese pronounces the word “pronto,” which means “ready.” “Tens pronto?” Means “are you ready?” Tens, the word for “you are” if “you” is a friend, is pronounced, oh, heck, how do you think? You got all this? Tens pronto? Good.

Portuguese isn’t a difficult language, despite what people say. The verbs follow mostly Spanish conventions and the nouns mostly follow the French way of syntax. It is it’s own language, and that’s all. It seems to me that Portugal gets short shrift when Americans think of Europe. It’s really a very nice country. The least foreign feeling foreign country I’ve ever visited, and I include Canada. That may be good or bad, but it’s the case either way.

Okay, then, I think it’s time to get back to our travelogue, don’t you?


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