Shoot!

Brazilians, it would appear, are more than passingly fond of football. Who knew?

I am now co-opted as a lifetime and devoted supporter of Botafogo, and last week watched them play, and lose on penalties to, Flamengo (boo, hiss). Football already features in my research to a certain extent, because one of the questions I ask informants is which team they support and then, if they respond positively, questions about how they are performing, who are the best players, etc. This is partly because it is a good topic to get people talking on, but also because it is useful for getting some third person plural forms (that is, sentences using nós, “we” and its conjugations) and, finally, the answer goes into the mix of variables which will be used to calculate indexes of regional identity (as discussed here).

But the games themselves are wonderful for linguistic observation — sadly, of course, totally unrecordable. Other than slews of such profanities as would make your little ears burn, what one observes a huge amount of is imperatives, and these are really interesting to me.

Imperatives are instructions or orders, such as Go!, Get in there! and, of course, Shoot! In English we just use the bare infinitive, but many languages have their own set of conjugations for the imperative. In Portuguese, these are derived from the subjunctive conjugations. What the subjunctive is, and when it is used is not too important — and as English barely has it, there is little to compare it with. All you need to know is that the subjunctive forms, and therefore their imperative counterparts, are considered “difficult.” People from the lower end of the socio-economic scale often do not have good command of these forms, and avoid using them, or simply use the present indicative — that is, the “normal” present tense.

Imperatives themselves I shall not be examining from the analytical viewpoint, due to the problems in eliciting sufficient data. In the relatively controlled and one-to-one environment of a sociolinguistic interview it is highly unlikely that many spontaneous imperatives will occur, and drawing them out by other means (such as for instance, asking “What would you say to X to get them to do Y?”) is, to my mind, too artificial. See my comments on a relevant paper here for more on this.

To return to the match: throughout the game there were passionate calls to the players to shoot, expressed (fortissimo) as chuta!. This recurred again and again, and caught my attention. It is clearly derived from a borrowing of “shoot” and descriptive grammars tend to attest that all new verbs in Brazilian Portuguese take the -ar conjugation. I later checked with a number of people, all of whom independently confirmed that there is, indeed, a verb chutar, “to shoot.” Now, in the -ar conjugation, the imperative form would be expected to be (orthographically) chute! I note “orthographically” because for the vast majority of Brazilians, word-final written e is pronounced like British “ee”, and this has a corresponding effect that a preceding t becomes “tch.” Thus chute is pronounced “shootchee” whereas chuta, the simple present tense form, is pronounced “shoota.” The difference in the articulation of the t is very useful because, in the fraught and noisy surroundings vowels can easily be missed. However, I was confident that the watchers were, indeed, largely using the present tense rather than the imperative form produce their directives.

I cannot draw on this observation with anything more than anecdotal force and, as any proper scientist will tell you, the plural of anecdote is not data. I am probably not even going to look at the grammatically-related subjunctive mood because similar problems of elicitation arise. However, overall, this shows that non-standard verb forms are still alive and well in Taguatinga, a fact that cheers me greatly.

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