Brazilian Portuguese - Formal Versus Informal Registers

Formal Versus Informal Registers

The linguistic situation of the BP informal speech in relation to the standard language is controversial. There are authors who describe it as a case of diglossia, considering that informal BP has developed – both in phonetics and grammar – in its own way and now constitutes a different, albeit quite similar, language, which would explain the unease that many Brazilians have when learning standard Portuguese. According to them, while diglossia inevitably develops in every literate society, it is much more striking in Brazil than in English or in European Portuguese.

According to that theory, the formal register of Brazilian Portuguese has a written and spoken form. The written formal register (FW) is used in almost all printed media and written communication, is uniform throughout the country, and is the "Portuguese" officially taught at school. The spoken formal register (FS) is basically a phonetic rendering of the written form; it is used only in very formal situations like speeches or ceremonies, by educated people who wish to stress their education, or when reading directly out of a text. While FS is necessarily uniform in lexicon and grammar, it shows noticeable regional variations in pronunciation. Finally the informal register (IS) is almost never written down (basically only in artistic works or very informal contexts such as adolescent chat rooms). It is used to some extent in virtually all oral communication outside of those formal contexts – even by well educated speakers – and shows considerable regional variations in pronunciation, lexicon, and even grammar.

However, the theory of diglossia in BP finds many oppositions, since diglossia does not mean simply the coexistence of different varieties or "registers" of the language – formal and informal – . It means, in fact, the situation in which there are two (often related) languages: a formal one and an informal one, which is the spoken tongue. Opposers of that theory argue that the various aspects that separate the informal register and the formal one in Brazil cannot be compared with the numerous differences of standard Italian or German and their national dialects. Besides, the relatively "simplified" grammar of BP – actually, many different levels of informal BP with distinct alterations in grammar and pronunciation – would be a reflex of the formation of informal speeches, which happens in every language in the world.

The discussion remains whether informal BP has enough differences in order to be actually considered a low-prestige language, spoken by the Brazilian people, who, therefore, must learn a language that is not their own, the Portuguese language. Thus, opposing to that theory, many arguments have been used:

  1. even in the most informal and low-prestige varieties of BP, almost the entirety of the lexicon is Portuguese, with few differences of pronunciation in comparison to the standard BP, especially in what refers to the basic vocabulary;
  2. there are several different aspects in the grammar, but many authors argue they are very minor (besides, some of those differences also arose during the recent development of European Portuguese);
  3. the fact that the informal vocabulary is much smaller than the formal one happens in every literate language, so it cannot be used to prove the low-prestige variety constitutes another language in a typical situation of diglossia;
  4. the preference for another form that is also considered correct by the standard/classical grammar also does not justify the existence of diglossia (e.g., preferred compound tense vai faltar and faltará – "will lack" – are both standard BP; the common expression ter que is standard and equivalent to the verb dever);
  5. the phonetic aspects of the informal language are mostly a matter of preference or accent, since the standard language, in general, accepts most of them (for example, the devoicing of final r, which is accepted by standard BP, as well as the common contraction of words in Portuguese, such as para os becoming pros, as long as it is not written that way).

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