Differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese as explained through music and song

photo of Paula GândaraWritten by Dania Puente, CAS student intern

On Monday, February 4, Miami professor of Lusophone studies Paula Gândara sang and talked about the differences of the Portuguese language in both Portugal and Brazil. This event was part of the interdepartmental lecture series, 'What the L?'

'What the L?' was founded by Aaron Shield and Amber Franklin in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology and David Beard in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. It is a research cluster that "serves as a platform for faculty to showcase their research in an informal lecture setting." The program is designed for anyone interested in language research, whether they are students or other faculty members.

In the first 'What the L?' lecture series of the semester, Gândara uniquely explained through song some of the differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese. She sang 4 songs accompanied by pianist João Carlos Rocha, assistant conductor for the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra. The audience was provided with all song lyrics so that they could follow along.

Gândara's opening performance was the song 'Canção do Mar (Song of the Sea).' A Portuguese song first interpreted by Amalia Rodriguez in 1955, it describes the coastal life of the Portuguese people.

Dr. Paula Gândara sings Canção do Mar (Song of the Sea) accompanied by João Carlos Rocha.

Following the first song, Gândara provided an overview of how the Portuguese language began to change when the Portuguese conquered Brazil. Beginning in the 1500s as the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, she explained, the general language was a combination of both Portuguese and local indigenous languages until mid-1700s.

"Most indigenous words incorporated into Portuguese were names of animals, fruits, and places," Gândara said. "Due to the high influx of African groups, specifically Quimbundo and Yoruba, in Brazil, the language also adopted some African words, most related to music and religion."

Her second performance was a song by Mário Gil titled 'Dançapê.' This song consists of 113 words, of which only 55 are of Portuguese origin. Her purpose was to show how prevalent indigenous and African words had become.

For her third performance, Gândara did an exercise with the audience while singing 'Mortal Loucura' by Gregório de Matos (1636). She performed the same song twice, the first time with a European Portuguese accent and the second time with a Brazilian accent. Afterward, the audience had to identify the differences, such as how European Portuguese changes the O sound into the U sound, and how Portuguese-Brazilian pronunciation of the letter L actually sounds like a U.

Additionally, Gândara explained that in Portugal the sound of the language is marked by the syllables in a word, whereas in Brazil the rhythm of the language is marked by the vowels.

"Brazil has a lot of English words, but the number of English words is not as high in Portuguese from Portugal," she said before introducing her closing song, 'Samba do Approach,' by the contemporary Brazilian singer Zeca Baleiro.

"'Samba do Approach' is a satirical song that includes an English word in every line," Gândara said. "Baleiro is basically laughing at the fact that young Brazilians have adopted so many English words."

Learn more about the 'What the L?' lecture series at the Humanities Center Research Clusters.

Learn more about Spanish and Portuguese at Miami