Friday, June 24, 2011

Portuguese and English: two different musicalities

Do you sometimes feel English is spoken this way?

Every language has a system of sounds, stress and intonation that gives it a peculiar rhythm and melody. We can call these specific rhythm and melody the language musicality. Portuguese and English have very different musicalities. A lot of Brazilian people say that is difficult to understand English because the natives speak too fast. Actually, it’s not a question of speed. Most likely, the reason is that the stress and intonation patterns are not recognized or understood.

Portuguese is a syllable-timed language. It means that most syllables receive equal stress.  Take the word CHOCOLATE for example. In Portuguese all the syllables receive almost the same stress: CHO-CO-LA-TE.

English is a stress-timed language. In this type of rhythm just one syllable is stressed. It is the syllable that has the stressed vowel. It means that the stressed vowel sound in that syllable is said louder, is said in a higher pitch, and it is held longer than the other vowel sounds in the same word. Take again the word chocolate as example. It’s the same word in both languages. While in Portuguese we have 4 sounds /ʃo-ko-‘la-te/ in English we have just 2 sounds  /ˈtʃɑ-klət/. In English, just the syllable /cho/ is stressed, all the others are reduced.

That’s why in Portuguese any change on the number of syllables compromises the comprehension. For instance: if somebody says “parato” nobody understands it. But if the person says the right number of syllables “pra-to”, everyone can understand it. That change in English doesn’t interfere at all in the comprehension. We can say: E-ve-ry or E-vry; DI-ffe-rent or DI-ffrent or even DI-ffernt. All of them are correct. What is important is that the stressed vowel is said louder, in a higher pitch and held longer.

The two videos below show the musicality difference between English and Portuguese.

Doesn't it look like the way the comediant Flávia Garrafa was imitating an American woman speaking?

Compare: duh duh DUH duh duh DUH   and "You knOW, I was like UH, you knOW, whatEVER, but I like it THOUGH, uh...UH...uh..UH..". For her (the comediant) the language is a sequence of low and loud uhs, like uh uh uh UH uh uh UH uh uh uh UH, and unhappily for many Brazilian learners of English as well.

In English, most syllables are almost not pronounced. They're, actually, mumbled. On future posts I'm going to talk about their reduction and the schwa sound.

TO MUMBLE: to say something in a way that is not loud or clear enough so that your words are difficult to understand, e.g.;
He mumbled something about not wanting to go to work.

That is the reason why William Bonner’s and Rubens Barrichello’s English are so different. Listen to them and try to identify if they speak English or Portuguese rhythm.

Can you see that although William Bonner speaks a fluent English he pronounces every syllable with the same time extension? You may say, "ok, but what is the problem of speaking that way, he's speaking English and communicating, isn't he?" Yes, he is. But the problem is: how much a person that speaks with this rhythm listens into English. You can speak that way, but the natives won't speak like that to you. And if you're not used to that rhythm, you'll most likely have difficulty in listening to English.

This topic about differences between English and Portuguese is going to be continued. Every week we’re going to post something different that can help us, Brazilian speakers, to improve our pronunciation. Next posts will be about content/function words and schwa.
see ya,

by Vivian Barone

1 comment:

  1. Teacher, congratulation, your post this week, however, is so good, I never thought about that, the rhythm, it makes a bigger difference, when I'm watching the video, in my mind the things were becoming clearer, now, I know why, we can not talk English with Portuguese's rhythm, another teacher already told me, if resemble with Portuguese, isn't English. The videos are a lot instructional and when you comment them, they become easier! Thank you a lot for help us with the pronunciation and English's rhythm on the blog! (: