Welcome to part 2 of this series. I recommend you read Part 1 first to aquaint yourself with the basic introduction to the Portuguese alphabet and how to pronounce the vowels and the consonants. As that was a very long article, I thought I would break the rest of this series into more bite-size chunks for you.
In this entry we going to look at stress. No, not the kind of stress that comes from trying to go shopping with a screaming three year old! I’m talking about the kind of stress we use when saying a word, a phrase or a sentence.
To do this, we firstly have to take a look at syllables.
Like English, Portuguese words are made up of syllables. In Merriam Webster’s dictionary the word ‘syllable’ is described as having its root in a Greek word meaning ‘to gather together’. Syllables make up the smallest section of uninterrupted sound in a word. When we ‘gather together’ these sounds they create a word. The smallest amount of syllables any word can have is one.
To get the idea lets have a look at some English words. Say them out loud and try and hear the amount of sounds in the word.
One syllable words
Two syllable words
Lisbon – Lis-bon
Three syllable words
Portugal – Por-tu-gal
Petticoat – pett-i-coat
Remember – Re-mem-ber
Four syllable words
Memorable – Mem-o-ra-ble
Significant – Sig-ni-fi-cant
Fourteen syllable words
Okay so the last example is a little silly but you’re getting the idea I hope. If nothing else, it shows the sense of rhythm that a syllable brings to a word. I defy you to read that last word without the dulcet tones of Julie Andrews flying through your head followed by a raptuous “Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay”!
Anyway – getting back to the point…
If you would like to explore syllables a bit more the BBC has a nice little game here
So now you have a good understanding of what syllables are, let’s talk about stress.
In English we tend to stress the first syllable of a word unless it has a prefix. Think of ‘reason’, trying, listen, colour, harmony. You can hear the stress on the first syllable; it is said with more force than the rest of the word. Notice as well, how your intonation will change when you say these words out loud. Whilst accents can vary, most people will say these stressed syllables at a slightly higher pitch than the rest of the word. If you look at the word ‘disharmony’ however the stress falls on the second syllable dis-HAR-mo-ny as this word has a prefix ‘dis’. Whilst there are some generalisations, our rules for stress seem to be a lot more loosely based than Portuguese. For example, I just randomly opened my dictionary and saw the words ‘person’ and ‘perverse‘. Both have two syllables but one stresses the first syllable and one stresses the second. Why? Who knows! As a native speaker I instinctively know where the stress is supposed to fall but there must have been a time in my life when I didn’t know either of these words and had to learn the difference in pronunciation as well as meaning.
You’ll be thankful to hear that Portuguese is a lot more strict when it comes to stress and therefore it makes it a lot easier to learn.
Basically the rules are as follows
The last but one syllable is stressed – for example
The exceptions are :-
1) When there is an accented letter in the word.
2) When the word ends with l, r, z or i then the last syllable is stressed
3) When the word ends with a diphthong or nasal sound.
Now that wasn’t too stressful was it?
In the next part of this series I will take a look at the different types of accents in Portuguese – you’ll have seen them written like this :-
À Á Â Ã Ç
I’ll also explore diphthongs and nasal sounds.