Bibliography update and some media

Quick notification that the bibliography has been updated (nothing substantial; just adding a few links where there were none). Also, those already familiar with some of the topics in Brazilian Portuguese may like to see my Google map of pretonic /e/, currently under development. If you know of any studies not on this map, please send them to me and I’ll add them. Those of you who are not familiar with such can probably guess you’ll find out what this all means, sooner or later!

Yes, I know what day it is. I would appear to be some kind of a godless heathen, but shh! — don’t tell the Brazilians. Have yourselves all a merry orgy of consumerism.

Mineiro identity and first informants

I intend to usually update this blog on Sundays. This posting is therefore somewhat late, caused by (a) little of consequence happening until yesterday, (b) the fact that the topic upon which I started writing the linguistics content turned out to be extremely lengthy, and will need to be split up between a number of other posts, and (c) having lost two days of my life to Brazilian bureaucracy in order to obtain a temporary ID card. Apologies to all who were expecting to see this on Sunday.

I have now been in Taguatinga for ten days, renting a small room in a small apartment in Taguatinga North, CNB 13, and have spent the time getting to know the area, and starting to set up some networks. As my research will focus on the speech of migrants from Minas Gerais and their children, I have also been watching out for signs of mineiro identity in the town.

There does seem to be a strong mineiro identity still here. A great number of the cafés and por-kilo restaurants identify themselves as selling mineiro food[1] or incorporate the words mineiro or related terms into their names, and I have also seen a number that identify as caipira. As I start to try and form some networks of contacts, I have been visiting these places a fair amount. Two of them in particular bear noting.

Patureba restaurantThe first is a buffet restaurant called “Patureba.” The word patureba is a demonym for people originating from Patos de Minas, a town in the triângulo mineiro (see map). However, the “correct” demonym is patoense; patureba is considered derogatory. Similarly, a small café-bar near my flat is called o chapeau mineiro, “The Mineiro Hat.” Both the owner of the café and its sign sport a hat of a distinctive shape, similar to that associated (in my mind, at least) with cigar-toting Texan oilmen. The active branding of such institutions with perjorative indicators of rurality suggest that the somewhat yokelish stereotype of the rural mineiro[2] has been, not without a certain humour, repossessed by the mineiro community as markers of identity.

The behatted owner of the latter institution in fact also comes from Patos de Minas and, more importantly, agreed yesterday to be recorded, getting me my first informant within ten days of arriving in Taguatinga. Shortly after this, my landlord informed me that an elderly gentleman who lives on the same floor, and who I’ve chatted to a few times, was himself mineiro and happy to be recorded. This gentleman is actually well above my top age band in my design: he is 84 and was therefore at least 34 when Brasília was founded, and corresponds to the “adult” group in Bortoni-Ricardo 1985.[3] Although I still think it unlikely that I could gather enough 75+ informants to correspond to Bortoni-Ricardo’s adult group, I shall certainly be consulting with him, and may well use him as an exemplar or reference point.

A third route to informants also opened up yesterday — although at something of a price. One of the first things I did here was join a gym, which here are quite sociable institutions. Taguatinga is hardly touristy, and one can imagine very few foreigners passing through for long enough to join a gym, and so the novelty of a foreigner in their gym (coupled, no doubt, with my innate charm) meant that I quickly got chatting with a number of the staff and regulars there, and have been invited to join the staff for their weekly football session. There are, apparently, three mineiros on the staff, so hopefully at least one of them will fall within my age bands. But football! Oh dear Lord, the humiliations I am prepared to put myself through for my work. This is Brazil — land of Pele and Ronaldo and Ronaldinho and Kaká — and I? I have not played football since I was 16, and was not spectacularly good at it then. (I wasn’t terrible: I seem to recall I made a half-decent defender largely by failing to draw fine — or indeed any — distinctions between rugby and football tackling techniques.) Next Wednesday, in the name of firming up my network and meeting new people, I shall expose my sporting failure to members of the most footie-mad nation on the planet.

There is little more to report, other than a mildly interesting shift in my own speech: I have changed my pronunciation of coda r to the “strong” r, in which—

An observant reader interrupts: Hang on a moment. “Little more to report,” indeed. You did this last time. You mentioned a small final point, which turned out to involve a linguistic discussion of many paragraphs. That, coupled with the introductory comment indicating most posts are going to have linguistic content leads me to wonder—

Me: Yup. Bang on. Buckle up, you’re in for a discussion of Brazilian Portuguese rhoticity.

Standard Brazilian Portuguese is generally described as having two rs — the “weak r” and the “strong r.” These contrast in words such as caro/carro (“expensive”/“car”). The weak r here is pronounced something like Anglo-English r (that is, English of England). The strong r has a variety of realizations, all of the type that linguists call uvular (produced at the back of the mouth). The most familiar of these is something like the r of French.

This distinction only holds inside words, between vowels. At the start of words r is always strong, and as the second consonant of a cluster, such as tr or br it is always weak. Where it gets interesting, though, is in the position linguists call “coda” — at the end of a syllable (or word).

Now, it may be necessary at this point to let other Anglo-English speakers understand that it is possible to pronounce an r here. People from England are generally what is referred to as non-rhotic here: in, for instance, the word “car”, we simply say it with a long a; we do not pronounce an actual r of any type. But if you are English, think of the Scottish or American pronunciations, and you’ll realize it is possible to articulate an r at the end of a syllable. We just don’t.

The Brazilians have a huge range of pronunciations here. They, too, can drop it entirely (particularly common at the end of words, and even more likely when that word is an infinitive). They can also produce either the weak or the strong r in any of the variants above. There are also regional pronunciations including a retroflex articulation (made with the tongue curled right back in the mouth), which is associated with rurality and highly stigmatized.

The pronunciation of coda r is going to be — did you guess? — one of the variables I examine. My own pronunciation, as I say, has shifted. Whereas previously I produced the English-style approximant I have been increasingly concerned that, unsurprisingly given I speak non-rhotic English, the r has just tended to disappear, without me really noticing I am dropping it. Whilst this is one of the pronunciations in Brazilian Portuguese, from the point of view of my own command of the language, I would prefer to avoid optional deletions such as this. This is not a judgement upon the social significance of such speech, but rather simply so that I am comfortable that I am not deleting in inappropriate contexts, or accidentally misrepresenting the word in my own lexicon.

What started through natural accommodation to my landlord — who has a strong coda r, and I speak with him more than anyone else at the moment — I have subsequently consciously taken up through deliberate monitoring of my speech, and shifted to producing the strong coda r. For me, of course, this is now marked, but that is partly the point: by changing to a strong r I am ensuring to my own satisfaction that I have the underlying structure of the word correct.

Plus, to be honest, I kinda like the way it sounds as well.

[1] Characterized by a preference for pork over beef and chicken, as well as a local delicacies such as pequi, with which I have had something of a run-in. [Back up]

[2] The stereotype of the rural mineiro is exemplified here (note the hat in the caricature). The joke translates (badly, or it is a bad joke) as:

Three paulistas wanting to impress a mineiro:

First paulista: — I have plenty of money, I’ll buy the Vale do Rio Doce [a mining company].

Second paulista: — I’m rich, I’ll buy Fiat Automobiles.

Third paulista: — I’m a millionaire, I’ll buy Usiminas [a steel producer].

And the three wait to see which the mineiro will speak to. He adjusts his hat on his head, takes a puff of his straw cigarette [tobacco hand-rolled in a corn husk], spits, swallows, pauses … and says:

— I’m not selling.

[Back up]

[3] Bortoni-Ricardo’s study was conducted in the early 1980s, and forms a major springboard for mine. She divided her informants in two groups: “adults” (aged 25 and up) and “youth.” Although she was largely concerned with the adult language change — how those in the adult group had “urbanized” their speech — I decided in my project design not to include an age band corresponding to her “adult” group simply because this would involve a minimum age of 75. [Back up]

First progress report

I have now been in Brasília for four days, and it is time for my first progess report. When I first arrived in Brazil I spent a some days on the coast with existing friends, partly to get my Portuguese flowing again, and partly to get contacts. This proved very fruitful, because the father of one of my friends — a chap called Dirceu — lives in Taguatinga, exactly the part of the Federal District in which I am interested. I met with him on Thursday and not only did he show me around Taguatinga a bit, but he offered my a room in his apartment to stay in.

This is pretty fantastic — within a few days of arriving I have a place to stay bang in the middle of community I want to be in. Additionally, although Dirceu himself is paulistano (from São Paulo), and therefore excluded from being a potential informant for me, he falls well within the age range of my top age-band — who were those that I had most concerns recruiting — and I hope will provide a number of informants from his own circle. So, tomorrow I move to Taguatinga and can begin the serious business of recruiting informants. More on my informant selection criteria will follow in later posts.

In the mean time, since I have been in Brasília, I have largely been accustoming myself to the accent here, and getting a general feel for the area. One noticable difference from the picture I drew in from my preliminary research is the presence of the metro. This was opened in 2001, and was a largely intended to address the socio-spatial problems I describe. The two lines thus start from the central bus station (for full transport integration), trace together down the south wing of the Plano Piloto, and thread into the western satellite cities, splitting into a line through the main part Taguatinga into Ceilânda, and another through southern Taguatinga and into Samambaia. The cost is a flat-rate R$3 per journey (around £1).

The metro certainly seems to have been a success. Although the trip is somewhat lengthy (around 40 minutes from Taguatinga to the central station; and most workers would then have to take a bus to their place of work within Plano Piloto), and R$6 per day (plus bus fares) is probably quite steep for the most lowly-paid workers, there is a definite feel that the satellites are less removed from the Plano Piloto than would be indicated in my preliminary research. Obviously I am not in a position to judge socio-economic improvement diachronically, but Taguatinga is less underdeveloped than I had expected, and the neighbourhood of Aguas Claras — the first stop on the metro within the satellite area — is positively gleaming with new, and architecturally rather snazzy, flats.

Beyond this, the one item I want to report — and regret that I cannot show because I did not have a camera with me at the time — is a sign I saw yesterday that beautifully captured one of my variables, and provides a nice little segue into explaining a feature of my research. The sign was by a street performer — a guy with two children, both of whom were slightly disfigured — playing music. The sign was an encouragement to give money, and read Estes crianças são especiais e precisa sua ajuda, “These children are special and need your help.” Speakers of Portuguese will note an apparent “error” there: precisa (the third person singular conjugation of precisar, to need) instead of precisam (the third person plural conjugation).

Now, one of the things I shall be looking at is how people conjugate their verbs. “Standard” Portguese has a conjugation system that will look fairly familiar to anyone who has learnt a Romance language, with different terminations for each grammatical person. Thus precisar, “to need”, is in the present:

Eu preciso I need
Tu precisas You (informal, singular) need
Ele/ela/você precisa He/she/you (formal, singular) need
Nós precisamos We need
Vós precisais You (informal, plural) need
Eles/elas/vocês precisam They/you (formal, plural) need

The gray forms — informal second persons — are basically absent from almost all forms of Brazilian Portuguese. However, what I am looking at is a further reduction in which speakers use the third person singular conjugation for all other persons except first person singular. That is, verbal paradigms become reduced to a simple I/everyone else opposition: eu preciso, every one else precisa. This is strongly associated with rurality/low socio-economic class and lack of education.

A great deal has been written on this (see here for my bibliography entry for the topic), however what is of interest here is an early analysis by Anthony Naro, who proposed that in any given utterance the likelihood a speaker using the non-standard form could be associated with its phonetic salience, and suggested a hierarchy of forms, the most salient of which would be most likely to be conjugated according to “standard” patterns, and the least salient of which would be likely to be conjugated according to the reduced opposition. The details of this are not relevant here: for a full description of this see Naro and Lemle 1976 or Naro 1981.

A lot of work has been done since then, and one of Naro’s major assumptions — that the popular speech was diverging from standard — has largely been challenged (starting from Guy 1981) and most authorities would now agree that the popular speech is diachronically converging on the standard from a historically simplified form. One of my research questions is whether, in the particular environment of Brasília, this convergence has been retarded or even reversed. More on that in posts to come!

For now, what matters is that Naro’s hierarchy of application has largely held, whatever the diachronic or social variation in the actual rates. The highest item in Naro’s hierarchy is the specific conjugation of the verb ser, “to be”, which is totally irregular and therefore highly salient: you couldn’t very easily mistake the third person singular é with the third person plural são. The second-lowest item in his hierarchy, though, is the regular present tense opposition between third person singular and third person plural of -ar verbs: between precisa and precisam as shown above. Non-Portuguese speakers should note that the terminal -m is not pronounced as such, but causes the preceding vowel to become nasalised.[1] The difference between these two word is solely of vowel quality and therefore of comparatively low salience.

So, this speaker shows a singular/plural distinction for the phonetically-salient “to be”, but not for the “to need”, and this for the same referents in the same clause. This immaculately exemplifies Naro’s hierarchy, and also gives me a sigh of relief that one of the expected phenomena is, indeed, still present in the Brasília speech community.

Of course, it could also be a simple spelling mistake. But that wouldn’t validate an interesting explanation of verb paradigms in vernacular Brazilian Portuguese, now would it?

[1] Many dialects of Portuguese do not have a nasal [ã], so the nasalization of /a/ leads to [ũ]. It is this that makes the -a/-am opposition the second-lowest on the hierarchy: the lowest is -i/-im where there is little change in vowel position (other than a slight centering) in the nasalization. [Back up]