October 22, 2012 | Portuguese
More Fun with Portuguese Grammar
And maybe a little bemusement.
I am still making my way through my Modern Brazilian Portuguese Grammar books (both the practical guide and the accompanying workbook) by John Whitlam.
John Whitlam’s Portuguese Grammar Books
I find them responsible. They are not always fun, but there is good information in them. For example:
- I did get a kick out of this sentence offered to illustrate the idiom estar sem (literally, “to be without”): Ela estava sem sutiã. That means, “She had no bra on.” The things grammar book writers think of!
- I keep encountering examples where informal Brazilian Portugese seems more complicated and confusing than formal Brazilian Portuguese. For instance, Whitlam translates “I’ve just arrived” as Eu acabei de chegar for speech and informal writing. For more formal contexts, he says one should use the present tense, which I guess for this sentence would result in: Eu acabo de chegar. The latter, formal option just seems so much more logical to me. There have been multiple such cases where my brain understands the formal versions much more easily than the informal. In a Western language, I don’t remember ever seeing level of formality affect word choice and grammar to this extent!
- Here’s a sentence that caught my attention: Deu zebra no jogo de ontem. Whitlam translates that as, “There was an upset in yesterday’s game.” The zebra looked funny, so I went to Dictionary.com to check the etymology of “zebra” in English. Was our English “zebra” originally a Portuguese word? Possibly! Dictionary.com collects multiple explanations of origin from different sources. One of the ones offered for “zebra” is as follows: “Origin: 1590-1600…< Portuguese zebra, zebro the Iberian wild ass (Spanish cebra), perhaps < Latin equiferus (Pliny) kind of wild horse, equivalent to equi- (combining form of equus horse) + ferus wild.” Words travel funny routes, originating as animal nominatives and graduating to disrupters of sporting events.
- This sentence stymied me grammatically: O banco é perto da igreja. (The bank is near the church.) I would have thought that verb would be está or fica.
- What happens to proper nouns in foreign languages often surprises me. Of course it is natural for common nouns such as “bed” or “napkin” in English to be something entirely different in Portuguese, but I do still have trouble shaking this sense that a name is a name and should be immutable. With place names more than people’s names, I guess. So when I saw that Berlin is Berlim in Portuguese, it looked really funny to me. Like a mistake. Ah, what to do with my persistent parochialism?
- Here’s a sentence I liked from the book: Ela optou por Exatas, enquanto a irmã estuda Letras. (She went for sciences, while her sister is studying literature.) I was amazed that “sciences” translated as Exatas (subjects of study get capitalized in Portuguese, I guess, which makes this particular word extra conspicuous). I gather that this term is short for Ciências Exatas. It is funny to see that particular adjectival component take over—and it puts even more pressure on the scientists, no?
- This note shocked me: “Remember that, in informal spoken language, the verb estar and all its conjugated forms are pronounced without the initial es-, so está and estou are pronounced /ta/ and /to/ respectively.” I didn’t know that! How very odd. Would I be a social outcast if I left the es in? It seems like a waste of perfectly good letters.
- More funniness: the book told me that one way I could on the phone translate “This is Ellen speaking” is like this: Quem fala é a Ellen. That translates literally as “Who speaks is the Ellen”! I would kind of like to try that one out in English and see how it goes.