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Pronunciation of Portuguese, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Introduction

Portuguese is one of the Romance Indo- European languages in the world, today spoken by over 240 million people globally. By virtue of its pronunciation, Portuguese is determined one of the easiest and yet interesting second languages to learn. It is the main language in Portugal and Brazil though it is also spoken in some other parts of the world such as Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and East Timor. Portuguese speakers are also to be found in USA, UK and Canada as well as a number of other nations in the world. The Portuguese language descended from Latin, with historic documentation indicating that its first appearance was around the 9th Century AD. King Denis decreed that the language then called the “Vulgar language” to be renamed to the Portuguese language and adopted as the official language in 1290.

Since then, the language underwent a series of transformation. The most significant reform however occurred in 1916, when the Portuguese orthography was altered to feature word spelling was in accordance to their pronunciation (Madalena 90-94). This ultimately had a great impact on the phonological system of the language. The Portuguese Alphabet includes all the letters in the English alphabet. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the three letters K, W and Y, are only used in foreign loan words that have been naturalized into Portuguese.

Learning Portuguese from a Linguistic Perspective

First, it is important to note that pronunciation is among the easiest facets in learning Portuguese, something that is incomparable to any other language in the world. This is because Portuguese is written based on its phonetics. It’s virtually written phonetically such that you can be able to read aloud very fluently something you don’t understand at all, as long as you learn the rules applicable in pronunciation.

In every language learning process, pronunciation remains arguably the single most important aspect with the exception of grammar (Chomsky, p. 245-267). Although having a 100% perfect pronunciation is never the objective especially of second language learners, the level of approximation in pronunciation to the first language dialect is what indicates proficiency in the language. This is more so in Portuguese (both European and Brazilian Portuguese) than in any other language in the world. This is because Portuguese have a variant pronunciation, with most phonotactics having a deviation in vowel distribution, diphthong articulation and stress placement inconsistencies that not many languages have (Crystal 63-78).

Experts believe that these differences with the conceptual universal language phonology may be what makes Portuguese so pleasing to hear, especially to non-speakers. This however presents a challenge to the learner, especially in SLA (Second Language Acquisition). The learning process involves learning how to articulate the vowels and consonants in Portuguese, knowing their distribution, learning about stress placement, conceiving the semantic distinction implied by intonation and then being able to create and combine syllables to form novel words and sentences (Chomsky 245-267). If a learner conceives all these essential components of the language, he or she will be in a position to speak Portuguese with a perfect pronunciation.

To learn Portuguese pronunciation, what one needs is not a lecture on how to pronounce each possible syllable and each possible word in Portuguese. It would take eons to learn half of it that way. Rather, the learning process must be where input of the language as pronounced by its speakers is processed in the mind of the learner until the mind can deceiver the rules use to form and combine syllables alongside stress placement patterns in Portuguese.

The unconscious process where the learner derives pronunciation rules from the input he or she integrates with; helps such a leaner to make proper pronunciations of some words and syllables he or she has never heard before. What a learner needs to learn is the rules, the patterns in which the pronunciation of Portuguese is derived (Chomsky 245-267). From there on, the learner can aptly and creatively apply the same rules whenever he or she has anything Portuguese to pronounce.

Modern linguists led by the Father of modern linguistics, Noam Chomsky, believe that learning the rules is more important and the only way one can acquire language unlike traditional theorist who believed in repetition and practice as the only way to learn languages like Portuguese.

Phonological Distinction of Portuguese with English

Portuguese has 9 pure vowels, 6 diphthongs and 19 consonants (Barbosa and Eleonora p. 227–232). These are a dismal comparison with English vocalic phonemes, which is simply described by the words vast with 12 pure vowels, 8 diphthongs. Most of the vowels in Portuguese are differentiated by stress such that they form different vowels when stressed and when unstressed. Another core difference is that English has one and half times more consonant clusters that Portuguese. English differs with Portuguese mainly in the articulatory system and the matrix of phonemes (phonotactics or phoneme distribution in syllables).

One of the largest distinctions between pronunciation of Portuguese and that of English is nasality. In linguistic analysis, nasality is a characteristic quality of vowel articulation, which is produced when a speaker lowers his or her velum such that some section of air stream passes through his or her nasal cavity instead of the oral cavity. Nasality therefore produces a resonance in the nasal cavity when producing vowel sounds without altering any other feature of the sound quality. French for instance has predominantly nasal vowels.

English does not have any nasal vocalic phonemes while Portuguese is notoriously popular for a strong nasality, stronger than that of French or Polish (Barbosa and Eleonora 227–232). In fact, nasalization helps Portuguese to create additional distinctive phonetic quality while presenting a great difficulty for second language learners with non-nasal first languages fluency such as that of English.

Finally, in both English and Portuguese, stress is phonemic, meaning stress is used to make distinct phonemes. The two are thus stress timed languages were the syllable is timed based on the placement of stress (usually at the vowel location). While in English stress is expressed exclusively explicitly, Portuguese has fewer cases of explicit stress (Clements and Keyser 113-129). Unlike in English, Portuguese diphthongs do not receive the accent mark. Another important thing to note is since Portuguese is phonetically written; diacritics are rarely used since such stress can always be predicted from the spelling. Only in cases where the pattern of letters is uncommon do we have diacritics to mark stress in Portuguese. This is exact opposite of English (Clements and Keyser 113-129).

Works cited

Barbosa, P. and Eleonora C. “Brazilian Portuguese”, Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34.2 (2004): 227–232.

Chomsky, Noam and Morris, Halle. The sound pattern of EnglishHarper & Row: New York. 1996. 245-267.

Clements, G. and Keyser, S. CV phonology: A generative theory of the syllable. MIT Press: Cambridge, 1983. 113-129.

Crystal, David. Prosodic systems and intonation in English. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1969. 63-78 .

Madalena, Cruz. “European Portuguese”, Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 25.2 (1995): 90-94.

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