Portuguese Phonology - Vowels


Portuguese has one of the richest vowel phonologies of all Romance languages, having both oral and nasal vowels, diphthongs, and triphthongs. A phonemic distinction is made between close-mid vowels /e o/ and the open-mid vowels /ɛ ɔ/, unlike in Spanish, though there is a certain amount of vowel alternation. European Portuguese has also two near-central vowels, one of which tends to be elided like the e caduc of French.
Like standard Catalan, Portuguese uses vowel height to contrast stressed syllables with unstressed syllables; the vowels /a ɛ e ɔ o/ tend to be raised to (although occurs only in EP) when they are unstressed (see below for details). The dialects of Portugal are characterized by reducing vowels to a greater extent than others. Falling diphthongs are composed of a vowel followed by one of the high vowels /i/ or /u/; although rising diphthongs occur in the language as well, they can be interpreted as hiatuses.

The exact realization of the /ɐ/ varies somewhat amongst dialects. In Portugal, it is pronounced higher than in Brazil, approaching the mid-central vowel (see charts to the left).

In Brazil, and occur in complementary distribution: occurs in final unstressed syllables and in stressed syllables before one of the nasal consonants /m/, /n/, or /ɲ/ followed by another vowel, and elsewhere. In European Portuguese, the general situation is similar (with being more prevalent in nearly all unstressed syllables), except that in some regions the two vowels form minimal pairs. Many of these are composed of a stressed word and an unstressed clitic, such as "he gives" and da "of the". Others are verb forms of the first conjugation such as pensamos "we think" and pensámos "we thought" (pensamos in Brazil).

Close-mid vowels and open-mid vowels (/e ~ ɛ/ and /o ~ ɔ/) contrast only when they are stressed. In unstressed syllables, they occur in complementary distribution. In Brazilian Portuguese, they are raised to a high or near-high vowel ( and, respectively) after a stressed syllable, or in some accents and in general casual speech, also before it.

European Portuguese possesses a near-close near-back unrounded vowel. It occurs in unstressed syllables such as in pegar ('to grip'). There is no standard symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet for this sound. The IPA Handbook transcribes it as /ɯ̽/, but in Portuguese studies /ɨ/ or /ə/ is traditionally used. There are very few minimal pairs between this sound and either /e/ or /ɛ/ (except for monosyllabic clitics), and in relaxed pronunciation it is often elided. Some examples include ('be!') vs. ('cathedral') vs. se ('if') and pêlo ('hair') vs. pélo ('I peel off') vs. pelo ('for the'). However, there is the minimal pair pregar ('to nail') vs. pregar ('to preach'), the latter stemming from earlier preegar < Latin praedicāre.

Read more about this topic:  Portuguese Phonology

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