Learnin Brazilian Portuguese is difficult

Danielle   Wed Jun 02, 2010 11:43 am GMT
So here's my theory about the Portuguese Diglossia in Brazil:
In Brazil, Diglossia happens because the rate of literacy is relatively low, especially when compared to more developed countries. Think about it. When most people in a country know how to read, they agree on how the language "should" be, and it takes longer for the language to change because everyone's learning and using the same version of it. But in the case of Brazil, where literacy is much lower, people aren't learning their native language in school and from the same books. They're learning it from their friends and neighbors. In the absence of known grammar rules, they make up new grammar rules.

The language also is sometimes regularized/simplified in these cases. (Ebonics in the US is KIND OF (up for debate) a Diglossia situation.Think about how Ebonics formed in the United States. In some ways, it's "easier" than standard English. The verb "be" is not conjugated or it just isn't used at all (He be tired). There is no "doesn't". (He don't like that).)

In Portuguese, the Informal version is more simple in some ways. ("Ele liga para você" instead of "Ele te/lhe liga". Only one form of "você!")

The Portuguese Diglossia is most obvious in the cases of pronouns, passives, and subjunctives.
*Pronouns are things like I, you, me, he, him, she, her, etc.
*Passive is like "the house was built" instead of "He built the house."
*Subjunctive is the devil and doesn't really exist in English the way it does in Latin languages.

So okay. You might be getting bored now. The point is, there are 2 versions of Portuguese. Neither one is "wrong." It is a Diglossia situation. Everyone who studies Linguistics at a decent American university knows this.

However, studying linguistics (well, "letras") in a Brazilian university (at least in one of the blah ones around here) means that the only introduction to (what they think is) linguistics that students get is that they finally learn the Formal version of Portuguese really well, and then they go around thinking that they speak Portuguese better than everyone else. Except they speak exactly the same. Because they use both versions. BECAUSE THERE ARE TWO VERSIONS.

The result of my hunt for a Portuguese teacher has been that no one has been able to grasp this concept. They're all very excited to teach me the super Formal version that no one speaks on a daily basis. Then I ask them questions like:

What's the difference between "me ajuda" and "ajude-me"? (These both mean "Help me".)

And they say:

"Me ajuda" is wrong. "Ajude-me" is right.

And then I say:

But you just said "Me ajuda." Plus, I hear imperatives like that all the time. I even see it in subtitles.

And then they say:

What? No. Well, everyone says it, but it's wrong.

And then I say:

How is it wrong if everyone says it?

And they say:

Oh, well, because Brazilians can't speak Portuguese.

So at least in the case of imperatives, I've since figured out which is considered the Formal version and which is the Informal version. But no teacher is going to work for me if they have these notions like "the vernacular version of our diglossia language is wrong" or "Brazilians can't speak Portuguese."

I really need them to have this distinction so they can correct me correctly. Does that make sense? When I make a mistake in Portuguese, I need them to say one of the following:
(1) That's the informal version. This is a formal situation.
(2) That's the formal version. This is an informal situation.
(3) You made that up from Spanish. It's ungrammatical in Portuguese.
(4) You made that up from English. It's ungrammatical in Portuguese.

(They have to know the difference between "umgrammatical" (no Brazilian would say that and it's a red flag that you're not a native speaker) and "socially incorrect" (saying it like that is just too formal/informal for a given situation).)

So if you're a Portuguese (PSL) teacher, please make this distinction for your poor suffering English-speaking student. If you're learning English, know that this situation exists and ask them to clarify (if they know).

In the meantime, I'm going to keep looking. One of my students has a friend who lived in England for a few years and now teaches English here around town. She's willing to trade English classes for Portuguese classes, but I'm kind of jaded. If I try with this new girl, she'll be my 4th Portuguese teacher.

The first one was completely nonsensical (a lot of this "that's wrong but everyone says it" crap).

The second was was actually kind of decent but she quit on me after 3 weeks. :(

The third one insisted on giving me "cultural lessons" (even though I live here and don't need them-- I need written grammar.... it was really because she was too lazy to prepare anything). Her "cultural lesson" was playing DejaVu videos for me on YouTube. Yeah. Those classes stopped real quick.

I'm wondering if they'll be better teachers if I just pay them instead of trading for classes (that was the situation with the second one, but I'm not sure if it was the money that made her better, or just her experience/education). Do you think that makes a difference?

Should I try again? Do any of you want to be my teacher? :( I have high standards, but I'm a good student, I promise!
Franco   Wed Jun 02, 2010 11:53 am GMT
Nobody cares Portuguese and Brazilian on this forum, both are peasant languages.
Fabio   Wed Jun 02, 2010 11:54 am GMT
Nice post and theory Danielle! I understand how you feel frustated, but let me tell you this. The Portuguese you learn from grammar books is so different because it's the Portuguese used in Portugal and also the formal Portuguese taken from novels from the 19th century. Why is that? Because Brazilian linguists are very conservative and they think that the correct Portuguese is the one that came from Portugal. They don't admit that we need a grammar based on the Portuguese spoken by educated people in Brazil(no one speaks like in the grammars, not even educated people). Brazlians don't say "ajude-me", that's how Portuguese people say it, therefore you can find it in grammar and we are obliged to study it even though we dont speak like that. There is a lot of politic issues involved as well. A lot of discrimination and prejudice as a result.

@Franco: ¡Vete a cagar!
Paul   Wed Jun 02, 2010 12:21 pm GMT
<<Think about how Ebonics formed in the United States. In some ways, it's "easier" than standard English. The verb "be" is not conjugated or it just isn't used at all (He be tired).>>

Not necessarily. English is already simplified to bare minimum grammatical complexity. Dialects and creoles of english are just different, but not easier.

Like in the example of your sentence, "He be tired" does *not* mean "he is tired", it has a different aspect, meaning that he is/gets tired very often. I would argue that this is an added complexity that standard english doesn't have.
Rio de Faveleiro   Wed Jun 02, 2010 2:32 pm GMT
Open your Shauna and come play with Momma!
Selena   Thu Jun 03, 2010 7:36 pm GMT
Well, basically the rich elites of Brazil (2% of population) keep archaic version of Continental Portuguese as their standard language to rule the mass [98% of population] that speaks only vernacular Brazilian, divide et impera! They use diglossia as a tool for social exclusion.
What?   Thu Jun 03, 2010 8:50 pm GMT
I don't get it. I thought Spanish and Portuguese people were very closely related. Why all the animosity?
latino   Thu Jun 03, 2010 9:15 pm GMT
No hay animosidad en las "actuales generaciones", cada día nos entendemos/respetamos/necesitamos/reconocemos/ y sobretodo nos queremos más hasta el punto de que somos "lo mismo" lo demás son historias de abuelos que no dan "reales".

int   Thu Jun 03, 2010 9:28 pm GMT
>> Well, basically the rich elites of Brazil (2% of population) keep archaic version of Continental Portuguese as their standard anguage to rule the mass <<

Wow, that's really interesting. So do people like the President speak like this? Is it hard for others to understand?
latino   Thu Jun 03, 2010 9:37 pm GMT

Perdón "inculto" pero das la sensación de ser un yanqui prepotente.

Como te atreves a resumir BRASIL " en cualquier aspecto" en solo un solo y pobre "parrafo".

Te has parado a pensar que en si mismo es un continente, que cada estado suyo es un país , que tiene dos ciudades en las que caben paises enteros, que es del tamaño de USA, que tiene un presidente que muchos querríamos ......

Si quieres que alguien te conteste :

!guarda el respeto debido! prepotente gringo.

Künstler   Thu Jun 03, 2010 10:39 pm GMT
So do people like the President speak like this?

Nah, the current Brazilian president is from peasants class, not elites.
But all the deputies and senators are against him.
tick-tock   Fri Jun 04, 2010 4:57 am GMT
Why do you think Spanish and Portuguese are peasant languages ?
pocoyo   Mon Jun 07, 2010 12:46 am GMT
Spanish is not lowclass.
Portuguese is.
John   Mon Jun 07, 2010 8:42 pm GMT
Modern linguistics studies normally suggest that spoken Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese are deeply distinct when grammar is considered. In fact, spoken BP has deeply different syntatical system from EP, as discussed by Charlotte Galves, 2001. One of the most dramatical differences is that BP shows strong traits of topic-proeminent language whereas EP is a subject-proeminent language, as presented by Eunice Pontes, 1987. Moreover it's not a pro-drop language as EP and its pronoun system is quite different, having abolished most of the oblique pronouns.

Some authors (such as Mário Perini, 1997) tend to suggest the existence two separate languages - vernacular Brazilian versus European Portuguese. Standard written BP is a little closer to EP than to vernacular Brazilian, hiding most of the differences for a casual observer and thus suggesting a somewhat artificial unity.

I'm sure that it's not Antimoon's job to raise polemics, but present the most accepted positions. Nevertheless, it would be a little more factual to present BP and EP as two different systems, with some distance in their grammatical systems, as it's widely recognized in academy.
Charl   Wed Jun 09, 2010 7:09 pm GMT
Bresileiro é um croile que me soa muito feio.