Brazil: One Country, Many Variants and a Linguistic Rivalry

Brazil is a massive country with more than 211 million people living across 3,287,956 square miles. In fact, Brazil is the fifth largest country by area across the world and the largest in South America. While the official language of this sprawling country is Portuguese, how the language is spoken varies greatly from region to region. The two most recognizable accents are the Rio de Janeiro accent and the São Paulo accent. 

While Rio and São Paulo are not very far from each other when it comes to distance, they do have quite the language divide. Both regions speak a different version of Brazilian Portuguese and their pronunciation differs greatly. Citizens of Rio tend to be called Cariocas, whereas citizens of São Paulo are usually called Paulistanos or Paulistanas.

These varieties stem from the European influences in Rio de Janeiro caused by colonialism. In São Paulo, more language influence came from the indigenous people and a variety of European languages. These differing influences have left a mark on Brazil that is still felt today, let’s take a look at some of these. 

Terminology 

Terminology can vary greatly throughout Brazil, even in popular songs. Take the “Happy Birthday” song for insance. In São Paulo they start singing “é pique, é pique…” whereas those in Rio de Janeiro will sing “é big, é big…” Even the names for party decorations vary widely between different areas of Brazil. The word “balloon” is another solid example of these differences. A balloon is called “bexiga” in São Paulo (which also means “bladder” across Brazil) and “balão” in Rio de Janeiro (like a soccer ball). 

The word for “traffic lights” also varies as “farol” (São Paulo) and “sinal” (Rio de Janeiro). Sometimes, the same Portuguese word can have different meanings. The word “bolacha” refers to any kind of cookie or biscuit in São Paulo, whereas in Rio de Janeiro, it only refers to cookies with filling. To learn more about this cookie issue, check out the video below.  

Accents

When it comes to accents, Brazil does not have a standard accent or even a preferable one. While some TV and radio broadcasters do try to speak with a more “neutral accent”, the version of a so-called neutral accent can sound different depending on where the content is being distributed. 

Whether paulista, carioca, or from other regions, most people in Brazil may be mocked at some point in their life by their accents, mostly in a friendly way, by those who live outside of those regions.

One key difference between the accents of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro is how they pronounce a “s” sound before consonants. How they pronounce the “s” before consonants in Rio de Janeiro is the same as it is when speaking Standard European Portuguese. Another example worth examining is the “r” sound. in Rio “r” is pronounced similar to “h” in English, whereas “r” in São Paulo are rolled, closer to the “r” spoken in Spanish.

One Language With Key Differences

While these differences may seem small at first glance, they can present challenges during the translation process. It can help to work with a localization expert that is very familiar with the specific market in Brazil that you’re creating a product or content for.

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