Uruguayan Portuguese

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Uruguayan Portuguese
português uruguaio
Native toNorthern Uruguay, near Brazilian border
Native speakers
An estimated 525,000 people (2015)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For a guide to IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Border of Peace between Rivera and Livramento.

Uruguayan Portuguese (português uruguaio, locally [poɾtuˈɣes uɾuˈɣwajo]), also known as fronteiriço (locally [fɾõteˈɾiso]) and portunhol riverense (locally [poɾtuˈɲɔɫ riveˈɾẽse]), is a variety of Portuguese with influences from Spanish. It is spoken in northern Uruguay, near the Brazilian border, mainly in the region of the twin cities of Rivera (Uruguay) and Santana do Livramento (Brazil). This section of the frontier is called Frontera de la Paz (Border of Peace), because there is no legal obstacle to crossing the border between the two countries.

The varieties of Uruguayan Portuguese share many similarities with the countryside dialects of the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, such as the denasalization of final unstressed nasal vowels, replacement of lateral palatal /ʎ/ with semivowel /j/, no raising of final unstressed /e/, alveolar trill /r/ instead of the guttural R, and lateral realization of coda /l/ instead of L-vocalization.[3]

Recent changes in Uruguayan Portuguese include the urbanization of this variety, acquiring characteristics from urban Brazilian Portuguese such as distinction between /ʎ/ and /j/, affrication of /t/ and /d/ before /i/ and /ĩ/, and other features of Brazilian broadcast media.[4]


The origin of Portuguese in Uruguay can be traced back to the time of the dominion of the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, and the Empire of Brazil. In those times, the ownership of those lands was not very well defined, passing back and forth from the hands of one crown to the other. Before its independence after the Cisplatine War in 1828, Uruguay was one of the provinces of the Empire of Brazil.

Portuguese was the only language spoken throughout northern Uruguay until the end of the 19th century. To assure the homogeneity of the newly formed country, the government made an effort to impose the Spanish language into lusophone communities through educational policies and language planning, and the bilingualism became widespread and diglossic.[5]

The varieties of Uruguayan Portuguese vary in dialect continuum which range from Rioplatense Spanish to Brazilian Portuguese.[citation needed] Nevertheless, it has one variant which is the most used, and could be taken as a case study: this variant is geographically located on the area having the cities of Rivera and Santana do Livramento as its center, and expanding over a strip of several kilometers parallel to the border, including territory of both nations.

Phonology and orthography[edit]

The Riverense language does not possess a formally defined orthography, but in this article an orthography of Portuñol will be presented in order to enable its phonemes to be represented in the most accurate and consistent possible way, highlighting the phonologic features of this language variety. It should be noted that not all Portuñol-speaking persons use the same pronunciation for the same words (as is the case with most languages). Nevertheless, the script that is chosen is very representative of the most frequent and distinctive features.

The chosen representation is the closest to the one that would be used if we tried to transcribe the phonemes to the Spanish language (because this is the language taught to Uruguayans, which is the nationality of the majority of speakers of this dialect), except for the phonemes that can't be represented through the Spanish alphabet, like, for example the nasal vowels.

Spanish vowels[edit]

The Spanish vowels are the ones which are pronounced like the five vowels of the Spanish language (they also exist in Portuguese):

letter IPA Portuñol Pronunciation (IPA) Spanish (Rioplatense dialect) Portuguese English
a a papa [ˈpapa] papa batata potato
catarata [kataˈɾata] catarata catarata / queda d'água waterfall
e e peshe [ˈpeʃe] pez peixe fish
detergente [deterˈχente] detergente detergente detergent
i i, j cisco [ˈsisko] basura lixo garbage
niño [ˈniɲo] nido ninho nest
ciá [sja] cenar jantar/cear to have dinner
o o ontonte [onˈtonte] anteayer anteontem day before yesterday
oio ojo] ojo olho eye
poso [ˈposo] pozo poço well
u u, w yururú uɾuˈɾu] triste, melancólico triste, melancólico/jururu sad, melancholic
nu [nu] en el no / em in the (m.)
acuá [aˈkwa] ladrar latir/ladrar to bark

Portuguese vowels[edit]

These vowels are found in Portuguese, but not in Spanish.

Semiopen vowels[edit]

They are like the vowels e and o, but pronounced in a more open way, closer to an a.

letter IPA Portuñol Pronunciation (IPA) Spanish Portuguese English
é ɛ té [tɛ] chá tea
pél [pɛl] piel pele skin
véia [ˈvɛja] vieja velha old (f.)
ó ɔ fófóca [fɔˈfɔka] chisme fofoca gossip
póso [ˈpɔso] puedo posso (I) can

Distinguishing the open-mid vowels (é, ó) is very important because they can completely change the meaning of a word, like in the following examples:

avó [aˈvɔ] (grandmother) and avô [aˈvo] (grandfather)
véio [ˈvɛjo] (old (m.)) and veio [ˈvejo] (he came - from the verb [to come])
véia [ˈvɛja] (old (f.)) and veia [ˈveja] (vein)
póso [ˈpɔso] ((I) can) and poso [ˈposo] (well)

Nasal vowels[edit]

The nasal vowels are the vowels which are produced by expiring the air partly through the nose and partly through the mouth. They do not exist in Spanish and therefore are generally derived from Portuguese words.

IPA letters Portuñol Pronunciation (IPA) Spanish Portuguese English
ã ã masã [maˈsã] manzana maçã apple
lã [lã] lana wool
sã [sã] sana (adj.) healthy (f.)
an (*) cansha [ˈkãʃa] cancha campo desportivo sports ground
en (*) pênsaũ [ˈpsaw̃] piensan pensam (they) think
ĩ in (**) intonce [ĩˈtõse] entonces então then
õ õ garsõ [ɡarˈsõ] mozo (de bar o restaurante) garçom/empregado de mesa waiter (bar, restaurant)
tõ [tõ] tono tom tone
on (*) intonce [ĩˈtõse] entonces então then
ũ, w̃ ũ ũ [ũ] uno um one (m.)
cũtigo [kũˈtiɣo] contigo contigo with you
niñũa [niˈɲũa] ninguna nenhuma no one (f.)
maũ [ma] mano mão hand

(*) before s, sh, y, z, ce, ci.

(**) before s, sh, y, z, ce, ci, or when it is the first syllable and is not followed by ga, gue, gui, go, gu, ca, que, qui, co, cu or k.

Distinguishing nasal vowels is very important, because they can completely change the meaning of the word, like in the following examples:

paũ [ˈpaw̃] (bread) and pau [ˈpaw] (stick)
[nũ] (in a (m.)) and nu [nu] (in the (m.))
nũa [ˈnũ.a] (in a (f.)) and núa [ˈnu.a] (naked (f.))
ũ [ũ] (one, a (m.)) and u [u] (the (m.))
[kũ] (with) and cu [ˈku] (anus - vulgar term)
ũs [ũs] (some (m.)) and us [us] (the (m.pl.))


In the next table, when there is a reference to Spanish, it refers to the Rioplatense Spanish dialect, and where there is a reference to Portuguese, it refers to Brazilian Portuguese and more specifically the Gaúcho dialect (from the Brazilian Southern state of Rio Grande do Sul).

letter IPA name description examples and counter-examples (eng=English, esp=Spanish, port=Portuguese)
b b, β be It represents the same phoneme as in Spanish and Portuguese. It is always a bilabial. brabo [ˈbɾaβo] (eng. angry, esp. enojado/bravo, port. zangado/bravo).
c k, s ce It is used the same as in Spanish and Portuguese when before a vowel or a consonant different from h,. That is, it represents the phoneme [k] when it is followed by the vowels a, o, u, ã, õ, ũ, ó, another consonant than h; and it represents the phoneme [s] when it is located before the vowels e, i, é. cacimba [kaˈsimba] (eng. hole with drinkable water, esp. cachimba, port. cacimba).
ch ce hache, che It is always used as in Spanish and is equivalent to tch in Portuguese. che [tʃe] (esp. che, port. tchê), bombacha [bomˈbatʃa] (underpants), bombasha [bomˈbaʃa] (gaucho's trousers).
d d, ð de Used the same as in Spanish. It never represents, as in some regions of Brazil, the affricate [dʒ]. diploide [diˈplojðe] (eng. diploid, esp. diploide, port. diplóide [dʒiˈplɔjdʒi]).
f f efe The same phoneme as in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.
g ɡ, ɣ, χ ge It represents the same sound as in Spanish and Portuguese when located before a consonant or the vowels a, o, u, ã, õ, ũ, ó. It represents the same sound as the Spanish j (similar to English h) when located before the vowels e, i, é. gagueyá [ɡaɣeˈʒa] (eng. to stammer, esp. tartamudear, port. gaguejar), geología [χeoloˈχia] (eng, geology, esp. geología, port. geologia).
h hache Silent, except when it follows a c or an s. In Portuñol, it is preferred not to use h when it is not present in the original word in Spanish or Portuguese. hoye [ˈoʒe] (eng. today, esp. hoy, port. hoje), oso [ˈoso] (eng. bone, esp. hueso, port. osso)
j χ jota It represents the same phoneme as in Spanish (similar to English h). jirafa [χiˈɾafa] sounds like Spanish and yirafa [ʒiˈɾafa] sounds like Portuguese (eng. giraffe, esp. jirafa, port. girafa)
k k ka Represents the same phoneme as in Spanish and Portuguese (and English).
l l ele Represents the same phoneme as in Spanish or European Portuguese. In Brazilian Portuguese, an l at the end of a word sounds like an [u] or [w]; in Fronterizo this never happens. Brazil [bɾaˈzil] (eng. Brazil, esp. and port. Brasil)
m m eme It represents the same phoneme as in Spanish (voiced bilabial nasal). In Portuguese, an m denotes many different sounds, depending on the preceding vowels.
n n, ŋ ene It represents the same phoneme as in Spanish, except the cases exposed in the nasal vowels section. amên [aˈmen] (eng. amen, esp. amén), amêñ [aˈmeɲ] (eng. amen, port. amém), inté [ĩˈtɛ] (eng. see you later, esp. hasta luego, port. até mais), sanga [ˈsaŋɡa] (eng. ditch, esp. zanja, port. valeta)
ñ ɲ eñe Is the same phoneme as in Spanish (in Portuguese a similar sound is represented by the digraph nh). niño [ˈniɲo] (eng. nest, esp. nido, port. ninho), carpiñ [kaɾˈpiɲ] (eng. sock, esp. calcetín, port. meia), muñto [ˈmuɲto] (eng. a lot of, esp. mucho, port. muito), ruñ [ruɲ] (eng. wicked, bad or rotten, esp. malo, port. ruim)
p p pe Represents the same phoneme as in Spanish and Portuguese (and English).
q k cu Represents the same phoneme as in Spanish and Portuguese (and English). It is always followed by a u.
r r, ɾ erre, ere It represents the same pair of phonemes as in Spanish.
s s, z ese It represents the same phoneme as in Spanish; except when at the end of a word and the following word begins with a vowel, or when located before a voiced consonant. In these cases it is phonetically equivalent to the Portuguese z [z]. asesino [aseˈsino] (eng. murderer, esp. asesino, port. assassino), read like in Portuguese it would be azezino [azeˈzino], a non-existent word in Portuñol; más flaco [masˈflako] (eng. skinnier, esp. más flaco, port. mais magro), más gordo [mazˈɣordo] (eng. fatter, esp. más gordo, port. mais gordo)
sh ʃ ese hache, she It represents the same phoneme that is represented by the digraph ch in Portuguese (that is, the English sh) shuva [ˈʃuva] (eng. rain, esp. lluvia, port. chuva); aflósha [aˈflɔʃa] (eng. don't disturb, esp. no molestes, port. não perturbe)
t t te It represents the same phoneme as in Spanish and is never affricate. tímidamente [ˈtimiðaˈmente] (eng. shyly, esp, tímidamente, port. timidamente [ˌtʃimidɐˈmẽtʃi]).
v v ve It represents the same phoneme as in Portuguese and English, that is, a voiced labiodental fricative or more rarely a voiced bilabial fricative. vaso [ˈvaso] (eng. glass, esp. vaso, port. copo). When used as in Spanish, it becomes baso [ˈbaso] (eng. spleen, esp. bazo)
w w doblevê It is used in the words derived from English, but it is convenient to follow the orthographic rules of Portuñol, for the words that are already part of this language. whisky or uísqui [ˈwiski], show or shou [ʃow]
x ks equis, shis It represents the consonant cluster [ks]. exelente [ekseˈlente] (eng. excellent, esp. and port. excelente)
y ʒ, j ye, í griega As in Rioplatense Spanish, it is postalveolar (as the s in measure); except when at the end of a word ending in a diphthong or a triphthong, in which case the sound is the same of Spanish or Portuguese i. yurá [ʒuˈɾa] (eng. to swear, esp. jurar; port. jurar); Uruguay [uɾuˈɣwaj] (port. Uruguai); yacaré [ʒakaˈɾɛ] (eng. South American alligator, esp. yacaré, port. jacaré)
z z ceta It represents the same phoneme as in Portuguese and English. caza [ˈkaza] (eng. house, esp. casa, port. casa); casa [ˈkasa] (eng. hunting, esp. caza, port. caça)
zy z, , ʒ ceta ye It is used in some words that have a phoneme which varies continuously between z and y (depending on the speaker). cuazye [ˈkwazʒe] (eng. almost, esp. casi, port. quase); ezyemplo [ezˈʒemplo] (eng. example, esp. ejemplo, port. exemplo).

See also[edit]



  • CARVALHO, Ana Maria. Variation and diffusion of Uruguayan Portuguese in a bilingual border town, by Ana Maria Carvalho, University of California at Berkeley USA. (PDF)
  • Lipski, John M. (2006). "Too close for comfort? The genesis of "portuñol/portunhol"" (PDF). Selected Proceedings of the 8th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium. ed. Timothy L. Face and Carol A. Klee, 1-22. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project. (PDF)
  • Nicolás Brian, Claudia Brovetto, Javier Geymonat, Portugués del Uruguay y educación bilingüe[permanent dead link]
  • Penny, Ralph (2001). "Variation and Change in Spanish". Cambridge University Press. [Contains a section on Portuñol].
  • Carvalho, Ana Maria (2004), "I speak like the guys on TV: Palatalization and the urbanization of Uruguayan Portuguese", Language Variation and Change, 16 (2): 127–151, doi:10.1017/S0954394504162030

External links[edit]