August 11, 2012 | Portuguese

The Portuguese R

It took me a while, but I think I now have this consonant at least partly under control.

Today when I was at Aroma Café studying over my (uncaffeinated!) morning cup of chamomile, Brazil’s soccer team was playing Mexico on the television. I love the Olympics.

Soccer: Brazil vs. Mexico at London Olympics

Soccer: Brazil vs. Mexico at London Olympics

I did Pimsleur while (sort of) watching. I am not knowledgeable about soccer.

Back in early July, I admit I was struggling with the Portuguese r.

It often did not sound like an r to me.

Instead, it rather frequently sounded kind of like an h with phlegm. Well, in some locations at least. Like at the beginning of the word restaurante, whose meaning should be apparent.

I don’t know whether this is true in all versions of Portuguese, but in the Brazilian dialect I am learning, restaurante starts off with that phlegmy sort of h for the initial r, and then includes what I consider to be a normal, maybe mildly trilled r in the middle of the word.

It sounds kind of like this: hiss-tuh-RUN-chee. Except maybe don’t forget to add a little phlegm to the beginning.

And the in Rio, as in Rio de Janeiro? Wow, not recognizable in Portuguese to me. Instead of REE-oh, it sounds like HEE-oh. That just isn’t the essence of r-hood to me. 

Fortunately, I have now said restaurante so many times that I can’t help but start to get it right(ish) and am now maybe beginning to feel a little smug and proud of my mini-conquest.

Don't Become a Statistic! Subway Ad.

Don’t Become a Statistic! Subway Ad.

I recently came across this subway ad warning me in four languages not to become a statistic. The Metro Transit Authority ads are very thorough linguistically speaking.

I think they are generally in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Russian, but maybe that’s because I ride certain subway lines more than others. Perhaps the language combinations are different on other routes.

Anyway, the ad informed me, “Standing at the platform edge is dangerous!” It made sure I got the point by showing a slanty little red figure of a not-too-swift human at the edge of the platform, and in a position where neither gravitational forces nor train arrivals would be operating in his favor.

Now this is something I already know.

Comments (3)

Ken • Posted on Wed, August 22, 2012 - 8:52 am EST

An ‘r’ in the beginning of a word is pronounced differently depending on where in Brazil the speaker is from.  In São Paulo, most common is just like an English ‘h’.  No phlegm.  The ‘r’ in the middle of ‘restaurante’ is what’s called a tap in Linguistics.  Same sound as the ‘tt’ in English ‘matter’.  And the ‘au’ is a dipthong.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, August 22, 2012 - 12:46 pm EST

Yes, I heard some phlegmless h sounds in Pimsleur alongside the throatier ones, depending on the speaker! Thank you.

Tim • Posted on Sun, December 09, 2012 - 9:34 pm EST

Others can probably say better, but as I understand it, the h-like pronunciation comes either at the beginning of a word or if you have a double r.

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