How are Spanish and Portuguese different when it comes to grammar?
March 28, 2004 1:27 PM   Subscribe

How are Spanish and Portuguese different when it comes to grammar?

I speak Spanish fluently and now want to to take up Brazilian Portuguese. From hearing my Brazilian friends speak, and generally understanding them pretty well, I figured that Spanish and Portuguese grammar (syntax) must be very similar, the only differences between the languages being vocabulary and pronunciation. How right am I? If there are syntactic differences, what are they?

Would any speakers of these languages care to comment?
posted by pealco to Writing & Language (6 answers total)
There are some minor differences in the way certain things are phrased, which is to be expected, but on the whole it really does come down to differences in vocabulary and pronunciation.

The trick is really trying to keep the languages straight in your head. I had to mentally develop a "Spanish mode" and "Portuguese mode" to keep myself from getting mixed up.
posted by oissubke at 2:29 PM on March 28, 2004

Good luck, pealco! It's very rare for a "Spanish" speaker to speak Portuguese well and vice-versa as the two languages - Castilian and Portuguese - have been separated for almost a thousand years. Another Spanish language, Catalonian, is substantially more similar pronunciation-wise and even vocabulary-wise. Galician is still very similar to Portuguese, despite all the efforts of the Castilians, as they are the same language.

Languages are always political and Portuguese, Catalonian and Galician as just as Spanish as Castilian, since Spain was, until the 18th Century, the geographical name for all the nations in the Iberian Peninsula. The Castilians dominated all other nations (except Portugal, which is the oldest independent country in Europe, with the oldest borders) and violently imposed their language on the others.

Fortunately, these nations fought back heroically and so the Castilians were never as successful as they wished, although the fact that their particular language is called "Spanish" nationally and internationally shows that centuries of repression and unification achieved something.

Since the Spanish central government became more enlightened (30 years ago), the great Catalonian, Galician and, of course, Basque languages have flourished.

Is is this minefield you're stepping into! The very expression of the opinion "Portuguese is more or less the same as Spanish" will render communication very difficult, no matter what your skills. Step gingerly! Take heart with the fact that all Portuguese speakers, wherever they're from, understand Spanish speakers perfectly, as it's such a phonetically open language.

There are thousands of books all about the differences but, online, I found this very brief summary fair and useful.

Of course you realize, as happens with yoghurt, this opinion is only good until languagehat pops up and sets me straight! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:34 PM on March 28, 2004

Interesting. Is there much of a common audience - eg, would you as a Portuguese speaker watch Spanish/Castilian TV, or read a Catalan novel?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:14 PM on March 28, 2004

O/T: Hiya Joe. Catalans, Galicians, Andalusians and Basques are our brothers and much loved. Portugal imports more from Catalonia (including literature) than any other country, even though it's not a country (yet!). The UK is second but Castile is way down the list.

Castilians are still rivals, although things are getting much better. It's the usual case of a small, fiercely independent country living next to a big imperialistic neigbour, like Holland and Germany. (In fact, Portugal and Holland arguably turned themselves into empires in their own right to affirm their independence.)

We get Galician, Andalusian and Spanish TV on cable but they're not much watched, if at all. Portugal is an extremely cosmopolitan, Atlantic country (we don't dub our films or TV programmes) so all our cultural imports are British, American, Brazilian, French, Italian.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:45 PM on March 28, 2004

I wouldn't dream of trying to correct your Portuguese, Miguel!

The brief summary you linked to seems accurate, though it is very brief. I nodded my head vigorously at this:

The phonetics of Portuguese are rather complicated.

No kidding. Portuguese is one of the few languages I hear spoken and think "I could never learn to make those vowels." Spanish is a piece of cake by comparison.

pealco, I'm not quite sure why you're asking this, unless just for basic reassurance. I mean, you're going to learn the language, right? You already have the basic idea: it's pretty similar to Spanish in structure, but very different in phonetics and (often) vocabulary. So what are you hoping for from this thread? Unless you were just trying to get an eloquent peroration from Miguel, in which case you've succeeded admirably.
posted by languagehat at 9:15 AM on March 29, 2004

Basic reassurance is about it. I was more interested in the differences than the similarities and I always like to get a heads up on a language before I plunge in. Now I know what to expect.

Thanks to all involved.
posted by pealco at 12:49 PM on March 29, 2004

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