Portuguese 101

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As with French, Portuguese is often noted for its contrastive use of nasal vowels and the large number of dipthongs. Most dialects, including the standard languages of Portugal and Brazil, have several vowel phonemes that are distinguished by nasality. Most dialects have 14 vowel phonemes, five of which are nasals which combine to form 10 oral and 4 nasal diphtongs. There are 19 consonant phonemes, none of which are unique to the language.

European Portuguese differs from the dialects spoken in Brazil and the former Portuguese colonies by a marked velarization that affects vowels as well as consonants. The vowels are generally lowered and centralized (approaching a schwa) and gives pronunciation a distinctly lax quality that is present in colloquial as well as formal speech and often results in complete reduction of vowels.


Portuguese features lexical stress which often is a distinguishing feature of minimal pairs. There are occasionally words within the same word class that are distinguished only through stress, like ['tunel] túnel "tunnel" and [tu'nel] tonel "wine cask". Stress is usually on the penultimate syllable, though it may vary between any of the three final syllables. A secondary stress falls on syllables with diphtongs when the primary stress is placed elswhere in a word. There are also several different types of intonation in the form of six separate dynamic tones that affect entire phrases, having their nucleus in the stressed syllables. These tones are used to indicate the mood and intention of the speaker such as implication, emphasis, reservation, etc.

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