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The enigmatic Portuguese R (2013) (hackingportuguese.com)
150 points by olvy0 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 169 comments

Portuguese is very rich in terms of phonemes compared to other western languages. Brazil is a very big country with many different accents, but when we talk about popular artists and TV, there are some which are popular in the whole country. This makes the people well aware of how people from different parts of the country speak and, naturally, people have developed a "common way to speak" that can sound "neutral" to most people.

I've heard people calling this way to speak "fala de apresentador da Globo": which means "Globo's presenter way of speech"; Globo is Brazil's most popular TV network and its presenters have a clear way to speak that sounds very neutral and free from accents from one region or another.

I lived in Rondônia during the 90's. It was a very recent state and, at the time, people from all over the country went to live there to make good use of the new opportunities offered by a recent new state. So, the people living there were mostly from other places and there was a mix of accents which made it basically accent-free.

All forms of pronouncing "r" are very easy to me. And, to help people understand what I say and because I lived among very different accents, I speak in a very "neutral" way. People have once said I have a "fala de apresentador da Globo". But this way of speech is not uncommon in most developed regions neither among people who have to talk to people of different parts of the country.

Result of this: Brazilians can speak most of the romance languages and even other less phoneme rich languages from Asia or Europe without much difficulty. We even make fun of hispanophonic latin-americans because they can't say "cair no poço não posso".

This really reminds me of “tranatlantic accent” which prevailed in the mid 1900 and for many non-English speakers was considered as the de facto English, mainly because of it popularization via news and entertainment industries.

Just like Hollywood and news broadcast, Brazilian soap operas have created the de facto Portuguese accent for non-Portuguese speakers.

I knew it as "mid-Atlantic" ... you sometimes hear it in old black and white Hollywood movies featuring upper crust East Coast Americans and media personalities like William F. Buckley. I believe FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt used it as well.

As a French what I find insane is that I can sorta read it (and I suppose Portuguese can decypher French too), but I do not get what they say at all. Italian, Spanish or Romanian I can, but Portuguese is like totally alien - I wonder how the pronunciation of Latin could derive so much from Italian.

As an American who can read basic Spanish and understand spoken Spanish (insofar as I understand the words being spoken), I concur. Written Portuguese is reasonable. Spoken Portuguese is a black box.

This is really surprising, Portuguese is pretty close to Spanish (it is derived directly from Spanish) so other than the nasal vowels it tracks pretty close to it, it also has a considerable vocabulary of words that sound pretty close to their Italian counterparts.

I've never heard an Italian or Spanish person say they can't understand anything in a spoken Portuguese conversation.

Italians and Spaniards should have an easy time understanding at least some Brazilian portuguese. European Portuguese is _really_ hard, though, because our vowels are all sorts of weird. When I moved to London, it really struck me how people speaking Russian sounded to me like they were speaking Portuguese, which always forced a double take when I tried to “tune in” and realised it wasn’t my own language.

He he. That's partly why we make fun of you as the most Western Eastern European country.

Developing economy, speaking with a strong Slavic accent, recovering after a long dictatorship, you check many boxes :-p

I'd never heard that one, that's amazing. Who's the "we" you speak of?

Must be Spaniards.

I worked with someone from Romania. He said Portuguese sounds just like Romanian until you try to understand it, then it sounds like someone making fun of Romanian.

I'm actually Romanian and I can confirm that. Portuguese is Romanian background noise at a party :-p

Oh yeah, I wonder why PT-PT is so different in terms of pronunciation, it would make sense for Brazil to move in a different direction given the waves of immigration and how insular it is in South America and Portugal to stay closer to Spanish/Gallego given how close they are there.

Portuguese (at least the one from Portugal) has 9 vowel phonemes, compared to 5 for spanish. If you count the nasals it's 14. And you can add some additional vowel richness in diphthongs.

It's very very varied phonetically when compared to the neighboring Spanish, which IIRC underwent considerable simplification at in the 16th century with unification of Spain.

I've heard many French and Spanish native speakers expressing the difficulty to understand it.

Source: Portuguese native speaker with decades-long immersion in Spanish and French-speaking communities.

Normally Brazilians have issues with the german R as spoken in the North of Germany. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNU6ZLaZ7Z8

Yup, I'm a brazilian living in northern germany, and one of the words I struggle with the most is "rechts". It's just really difficult to get that 'r' sound right.

"Rechts" also has the "ch" sound which is not as foreign per se to speak, but kind of deceptive and maybe too subtle to Portuguese speakers. I got the R quickly since it's more obvious, but for the ch it took me a bit longer to even notice the difference between my ch and the German ch.

Indeed, this 'r' sound where the vibration lies deep into the throat is not part of our phoneme repository. I have no difficulty with it though.

Similarly and for the same reasons, they have a lot of trouble combining the Spanish R with the Spanish G or J sound. Spanish words such as "jarra," "Jorge," or "rojo" tend to be very difficult even for Lusophones who are advanced Spanish speakers. But I agree that Portuguese is a lot more phonetically complex than most (if not all) Western European languages.

It’s just a regular “r” for us pt-pt natives... :)

Yes in Portugal, I tend to see a lot of similarities with German by the spoken Portuguese.. Like "Ei" sounding like "Ai" and "P" sounding like "B" in the beginning of sentences.

I was really surprised at how close the alphabet letters are pronounced in German and Portuguese.

Though I don't speak Portuguese myself, my immediate family roots are Azorean and grew up among the huge Azorean population surrounding New Bedford and Fall River, so I've heard it regularly for my entire life. I lived a bit further north during High School and regularly encountered folks from Russia and the Ukraine. I thought I was crazy for thinking spoken pt-PT and Russian sounded similar from a distance. However, my best friend who grew up in St. Petersburg and has a degree in linguistics said he often does a double-take when hearing pt-PT speakers on the street! He had some sort of technical explanation for it (that didn't stick in my head being a non-linguist and (sadly) monolingual.)

It’s because Pt-Pt is a stressed timed language vs Br-Pt which is a syllable timed language.

Pt-Pt drops a lot of unstressed vowels whereas Br-Pt almost all syllables are pronounced.

Langfocus did a video on why (European) Português sounds like Russian.


me too. I grew-up between Germany and Brazil and now I live mainly in Portugal. In the beginning I was amused by that too. Now I can really speak PT-PT. Even "Ja" can be used to say yes.

"BBC english" is also the name given to the rp "neutral" accent of British English.

RP = "Received Pronunciation"

Mentioning this because the term is not widely known in the U.S., at least in my circles.


Even Portugal, a small country of 10 million people / 100k km^2, has quite a lot of linguistic diversity.

Portuguese ranks sixths on number of native speakers, according to Wikipedia.

Portuguese as spoken in Portugal is very different from how it is spoken in Brazil which has a population about 30x larger.

After TV has became almost universal, there is indeed a unification of accents. I believe it also happens in other countries as well. For Brazil, I believe it is not "accent-free brazilian portuguese" popularized by the media, but rather accent from the southeast region, specially Rio-São Paulo (the most economically developed region) and totally excludes beautiful accents like northeast (Nordeste) and south (Sul) ones which rarely find a way on media with exception of local TV shows.

How well do you cope then with e.g. Germanic and Eastern European features (such as vowels ä, ö, ü/y, y/ы and schwa, difficult consonant clusters, and short/long vowels and consonants independent of stress)?

You don't have to go that far afield. Most Brazilians have a tremendous challenge in saying "the" and will be taught to say "th" as "d" and often it's good enough to be understood, but far from natural sounding.

Totally forgot the most obvious ones! I think "the" and "thing" are difficult to some degree for most non-English speakers. Actually, languages that have those both or something very close naturally are very rare. Only Icelandic comes to mind. And then peninsular Spanish, Galician, Albanian, Greek and many Arabic dialects have the "thing" at least.

Of all the approximates people use for "the", the soft Latin "d" is quite close to the original, compared to, say, the Franco-German "ze"! Even here in Finland, we are quite fluent in English as such but many completely disregard the difference brought by the "h" in both phonemes, and just aspirate the "t" like you would do without the "h" (and then pronounce the other t's softly without aspiration at all!).

It's all comprehensible as long as its regular, I guess. Still, as an elementary Spanish speaker, I still often get distracted by the Brazilian r's, since instead of "r", I hear the Spanish "jota" or otherwise something I would describe as in the range of h-like sounds, not r's.

I'm a native Portuguese and Spanish speaker. The phonetics of Portuguese are much richer than Spanish, even though they are so similar in vocabulary. I think this is the reason you can speak Spanish so much faster (even if you are fluent in both).

But I think the most difficult r is the Spanish r in perro. I like the way Chileans kind of sneak a zh in there: perzho.

Personal anecdote: once my mother (who speaks Spanish first) asked for me to dry the table with a sponge: Pega uma esponja e seca. Now, Spanish only has one e, but in Portuguese "seca" with an open e is "to dry" - the verb - and with a closed e is the adjective "dry". So I handed her a sponge and was duly reprimanded.

As a Brazilian learning Spanish, I definitely have a hard time saying perro. Perrito is way more difficult.

>I like the way Chileans kind of sneak a zh in there: perzho.

Do Argentines do this too or is that with just ll?

It depends on what part of Argentina, Buenos Aires and Rioplatense accent use a strong rolled R, meanwhile in Cuyo region (center-western: Mendoza, San Juan, San Luis and La Rioja) it's pretty common a very different sound for the R, that's closer to an English 'sh' sound. I believe it is being lost though and younger people use the rolled R but not as strong as in Buenos Aires. There a lot more differences with the Rioplatense accent, like with the Y and LL. Accent from Mendoza and San Juan are much closer to Chile's than to Buenos Aires accent.

A discussion of Portuguese Rs wouldn't be complete without at least a mention of Jimmy Five[0] (aka Cebolinha), a character in the Monica's Gang cartoon.

> Due to dyslalia, Jimmy Five is incapable of pronouncing the letter "r", replacing it with the letter l, in the Portuguese version, or with the letter w, in the English version. When the letter is used at the end of a word, however, he pronounces it normally (as in "car" or "locker").

What is fascinating about this cartoon is how diverse it is. I'd be hard pressed to name any other publication where one of the main characters has a speech impairment (which is often used to make jokes and puns), and that has side characters with various other disabilities, notably Hummer (Humberto), who's mute, and more recently Luca, a wheelchair-bound yet physically active boy. The cartoon isn't afraid of running stories about touchy topics like disability challenges, nor of using these topics for lighthearted comical effects.

It also pretty much single-handedly exposed generations of Brazilians to Guarani indigenous culture (e.g. what Monica fan doesn't know what Tupã[1] is), and frequently publishes stories about ecology preservation and morality.

IMHO, it's one of the best examples of minority representation in mainstream media done right.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Five

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tup%C3%A3_(mythology)

Here are the main characters from Monica's Gang:

- Monica (Mônica) - has ludicrous physical strength (quite easily the strongest person in the world in the cartoon). Gets made fun of by the boys for her big front teeth and responds by hitting them with her blue stuffed rabbit.

- Jimmy Five (Cebolinha) - Can't pronounce some words properly (as described above). Has exactly 5 strands of hair on his head and is always trying to steal Monica's rabbit, in an attempt to become the "owner of the street".

- Maggy (Magali) - REALLY likes to eat, is able to do so indefinitely. Many stories revolve around how quickly and much she can eat. Is often seen with a big slice of watermelon on her hands.

- Smudge (Cascão) - Has never taken a shower and is extremely afraid of water. The canon is that Smudge has never even touched a single drop of water in his life. Even has his own set of supervillains whose only goal is to get him to take a shower.

This is not even the tip of the iceberg of the shenanigans and characters from these comics. Monica's gang is such a special part of Brazilian culture and I hope someday it gets the international recognition it deserves.

Bravo for explaining it. But how could you not include Sansão as a primary character?

Quirky anectode: I befriended an american hobo who travelled to Brazil in the 90's (he came here again every now and then). He didn't shower much, truly looked like a crusty vagabond, and when he found out about it, he absolutely loved the character named Capitão Feio ("Captain Ugly"), a dirty, crusty supervillain whose superpowers are spreading dirt around. Capitão Feio lives in the sewers and got his powers and he got crushed by all the dust and dirt of his huge, old comic book collection. He's also Cascão's uncle, and his goal is to become dirtier than his nephew.

edit: I don't know what he's actually called in english. Captain Ugly is the literal translation. By the way, 'Little Onion' is way cooler than 'Jimmy Five'.

> I don't know what he's actually called in english

His english name is Captain Fray (a name that was presumably carefully chosen in order to avoid the need for redrawing his shirt, which has a big F on it)

Regarding cebolinha, absolutely his name is better in Portuguese. Especially since that's the word for green onions/scallions, which his hair resembles.

I think Maurício de Souza is an underrated genius and Turma da Mônica is the first and best example that comes to my mind when I'm overseas and get asked about Brazilian culture. But please, let's not measure its virtues by some broken standards like Identity Politics.

I mean, yes, they have "diversity" and I think they have "minority representation done right" but - unlike any example of modern American cultural production - they don't do it to "tick checkboxes". The art and the stories come first. The characters are there to support the story, not to push some agenda.

> The art and the stories come first

Yes, this can't be emphasized enough. I mentioned inclusivity to weave a narrative, and although one could argue that more recent characters like Luca are more of the checkbox-ticking variety, generally speaking the character cast of Monica's cartoons is mind-bogglingly diverse, far beyond "wokeness" lines. There's Chico Bento (a hillbilly boy living in a farm) and his gang, there's Papa-capim (a Guarani boy living in the rainforest) and his gang, there's Piteco (a pre-historic man) and his friends, Bidu (a blue dog) and friends, Penadinho (a ghost) and friends, Austronauta (a spaceman), Rolo/Tina (young adults), Capitao Feio (an anti-hero), Horacio (a vegetarian t-rex), Louco (a literally insane guy) and the list goes on.

In a single edition, you could go from one story about a dog talking to a rock (yes, the rock is a recurring character), to another about the grim reaper bringing people to the afterlife (yes, she's a recurring character too), to one about Magali's gluttony vs Dudu's aversion to food. There's so much going on in the cartoon's universe that it's hard to do it justice with just a short comment on HN.

It is Mrs. Rock, she is an old lady and demands respect. ;)

Seriously, I think I basically learned to read with their comics (along with Disney's) and it is impressive how some of these stories get stuck in our heads and definitely take a role in forming our personalities. With Disney's, there is the story where the kids use the duplicating machine to make infinite money, and end up learning about inflation. With Monica, there is one story where one of the boys (I think it's Cebolinha) are talking with Anjinho about the consequences of doing what they do to Sansão and if they are going to Hell for it, which becomes an amazing short but beautiful affirmation of Judeo-Christian values. Paraphrasing, Anjinho says something like "do not worry about Heaven or Hell and the afterlife, just use this life to bring as much of Heaven to Earth as you can"

This is an excellent article! However, I find the definition of phonemes very unsatisfying:

> Phonemes are not exactly the same thing as sounds, and they’re not exactly the same thing as letters. They are kind of like connecting categories that map letters to sounds … Phonemes are a way of saying, If you see a letter “r” is this situation, use Sound A for it. If you see “r” in this other situation, use a different Sound B for it. But Sound A and B are not fixed — they will vary depending on the specific dialect.

The problem is that this relies on letters, which is a problem because (a) many languages are unwritten, and (b) many other languages have weird irregular orthographies (e.g. English, French, Irish and Tibetan). Instead, in linguistics, the standard definition is that two sounds are different phonemes if they can be the only thing differentiating two words. For instance, in English, /p/ and /b/ are different phonemes, because we have pairs of words like pat and bat, which differ only in that one has /p/ and the other has /b/. By contrast, Mandarin has no such word pairs… but it does have the distinction between /p/ and /pʰ/ (where the latter has an extra puff of air, or ‘aspiration’), in words like /pa²/ ‘fall’ and /pʰa²/ ‘crawl’. But [p] and [pʰ] are not distinguished in English — we have a single phoneme /p/ which can be pronounced in either way, with no difference whatsoever.

(Of course, this definition can sometimes get difficult to apply. For instance, English has no minimal pairs between /h/ and /ŋ/ [the sound ending words like ‘sing’], because the one only occurs at the beginning of a syllable, and the other occurs only at the end. But by and large it works satisfactorily.)

(Not saying you are wrong, I'm trying to clear up my misconceptions) I didn't realize that phonemes were perceptually distinct units of sound, in the same way graphemes are visually distinct units. (yes there is the whole "some speakers recognize different sounds in their brain as the same" wrinkle).

What would the term be for units of sound which are perceptually distinct regardless of listener's perspective? E.g. [p] and [pʰ] are non-phonemic in English but are in Korean, and you can tell them apart with a spectrogram. Or is that just not a distinction linguists make?

> phonemes were perceptually distinct units of sound, in the same way graphemes are visually distinct units

Yes, exactly! This is a great way to describe it. (I think I might steal it for the future, even.)

> What would the term be for units of sound which are perceptually distinct regardless of listener's perspective?

The closest is ‘phone’, as mentioned by umanwizard, but I’m not sure there is any one word for this, because the concept itself is poorly-defined, and you can make two sounds arbitrarily close. Can you tell apart [a æ]? What about [a̝ æ̞]? How close can they get before you can’t distinguish them by ear? Before a speaker of another language can’t distinguish them by ear? Before you can’t distinguish them even with a spectrogram? And the language you speak really is important — I’m fine distinguishing [p pʰ], I think, but I know people who can’t even hear a difference. Linguists talk as if there were specific sounds, but really there’s only ‘fuzzy’ sets of sounds which people perceive as being more or less similar.

You got me thinking about minimal pairs of /p/ and /pʰ/ in English (at least my British English anyway). I'm not a linguist, but is this not a minimal pair?

    Mice pour (water into a jug)
    My spore (as opposed to your spore)
Or can minimal pairs not cross word boundaries?

Interesting question! Not a linguist, but I’d be inclined to the view that the word boundary itself is phonemic: these can be transcribed (for me) as /ma͡is poː/ vs /ma͡i spoː/. Supporting this analysis is the fact that the [p] vs [pʰ] distinction then can be derived using the same phonological rules as usual; also, for me, the /a͡i/ in /ma͡is/ is slightly shorter than that in /ma͡i/. But, as I said, exactly pinning down the phonemes of a language can be tricky.

Thanks for the cool IPA! I think that seems totally reasonable that the word boundary itself is phonetic, as such it could be intentionally accentuated (as a longer than usual pause) to clarify. Oh wait but isn't [pʰ] word-initial only anyway? So in a way it has an implicit word boundary.

BTW does your accent not aspirate "pour"? So you don't do /ma͡is pʰoː/?

> I think that seems totally reasonable that the word boundary itself is phonetic, as such it could be intentionally accentuated

That’s not what I mean. By ‘the word boundary is phonemic’ [not ‘phonetic’!], I mean that the word boundary can be transcribed on the phonemic level, and is thus allowed to influence the phonetic realisation of other phonemes.

> BTW does your accent not aspirate "pour"? So you don't do /ma͡is pʰoː/?

No, it does: [mɑ͡ispʰoː].

"Take this with a grain of salt, because I am not as familiar with the European dialect."

Actually as expected in Portugal, they have many dialects too. There are four main Portuguese dialect groups, all mutually intelligible: Central, or Beira, Southern (Estremenho), including Lisbon, Alentejo, and Algarve, Insular, including the dialects of Madeira and the Azores. There is even an extinct one, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaeo-Portuguese. The Portuguese version of this wiki article has more information https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeu-portugu%C3%AAs

I can't imagine any two English accents as far apart from each other as are the Portuguese accents of "standard Globo TV presenter in Brazil" and that of the Azores.

I grew up on and off in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro and Brasília) and later spent 20+ years in the SF Bay Area. Once in a while I'd run into old-school Azoreans who'd lived in the Portuguese towns (Santa Clara, Newark, San Leandro, Half Moon Bay, Pescadero, Castro Valley) for a few generations and it was almost impossible to understand them until I started listening occasionally to the Bay Area Portuguese radio station. I'd mimic those accents and got a bit better at understanding those folks, but with cost/benefit ... Brazilians have said I now sound Portuguese, and Portuguese people say they can understand my Portuguese better than a normal Brazilian's.

I'm not sure how it's changed in the last decade, but in many SF Bay Area and Central Valley towns there are Portuguese "Sociedade do Espirito Santo" (Holy Spirit Society) halls and Catholic churches where Portuguese/Azoreans maintain their traditional festivals and music.

I think Neto's shut down its huge Santa Clara restaurant/market and reincarnated in a strip-mall/sausage-making operation, but at least a couple years ago you could still go and get an excellent Linguiça sandwich.

EDIT: Sociedade Espirito Santo, Neto's

Is this a reasonable example of the Azores Portuguese?? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeVHjELjR9s

Sounds like a Russian speaking Portuguese to me (American fluent in Brazilian Portuguese), pretty amusing but I can follow everything. I often think that when I hear PT-PT as well - interestingly someone in the comments says this sounds less Russian to them. I have very little exposure to non-Brazilian accents so no idea in general, but the difference sounds about as much as American English<->Scottish English to my ears.

I wonder if there's a way to measure the distance between accents? That would be really interesting. I'd be curious how close all the American accents are to each other, versus the British accents, etc. and then also in comparison to Portuguese accents and other languages.

That sounds quite like the Azorean Portuguese I'd hear in the SF Bay Area, except I think modern Azoreans in the Azores probably have been exposed to a lot of Brazilian TV and music and so have probably "normalized" a bit toward the "centroid" of a pan-luso pronunciation. The SF Bay Area Azoreans I'd hear probably stuck to an "older original accent" and so were probably further from the Brazilian Portuguese I grew up with.

> Is this a reasonable example of the Azores Portuguese?? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeVHjELjR9s

Yes, but every island has a different accent. That was filmed in S. Jorge and the accent there is quite mild. Some islands have stronger accents. Most notably S. Miguel, which in it's thickest form can be very hard to understand for mainland speakers.

The syllable-eating, "Slavic-ish" sound of PT-PT is why I chose to learn it over Brazilian. I love it.

I have trouble with Brazilian accents, on the other hand, because I mainly listen to PT-PT.

The base of the Florianopolis immigration is from Azores. They are called "manezinhos" and have their own dialect https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florianopolitan_dialect

> I can't imagine any two English accents as far apart from each other as are the Portuguese accents of "standard Globo TV presenter in Brazil" and that of the Azores.

I don't know anything about Portuguese, but I find a lot of Scottish varieties to be totally incomprehensible (I'm American).

and Mancunian and Liverpudlian (I'm English).

New Zealand, Northern Ireland and South Africa can also be pretty tough. Australia, the Republic of Ireland, south England and Wales are all fine for me.

Just a heads up for non-portuguese speakers: brazilian portuguese and european portuguese can differ quite extremely in pronunciation. Then there's also african portuguese pronunciations, though to my ear those tend to be closer to the european.

The article is written from a brazilian standpoint, so keep that in mind when comparing with your own experiences of the language.

That's right, this is for Portuguese, not Portuguese (PT) /s

Recently, there was a polemic in social media that Portuguese mothers were worried their kids were only speaking "Brazilian", due to the dominance of Brazilian content creators in Youtube, Instagram, TikTok...

[1]: https://www.correiobraziliense.com.br/mundo/2021/11/4962302-... (Portuguese)

Yes, it's funny in a way that Brazilian culture is influencing Portuguese's other than the reverse (since Portugal colonized Brazil). I guess during the internet era, having a bigger population is a big factor on "culture pressure" or whatnot (there's more Brazilian online content than Portuguese, or any other lusophone country).

It seems very similar to the US influence on other English speaking cultures: the African diaspora influence on all aspects of culture in both countries - language, sport (the case has been made that boxing, basketball soccer/football and more are all directly influenced by asthetic stylings of African origin), music (blues, rock, samba, forro, hip-hop, soul, funk both the Brazilian and American types) literature (the places and people written about by Jorge Amado, Machado de Assis, ToninMorriaon) etc. and in my experience the ruling castes of both countries have sort of devauled or ignored the absolute saturation of these cultural influences over generations even as they have become the foundation which popular culture is built on and exported from both countries.

I'm Portuguese and I share this concern - PT-BR does have a lot of differences in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.

Pronunciation bothers us the least actually, but other things are weird and/or plain wrong for us:

- Lots of weird words adapted from English like "time" (pronounced "tee-me") which means team in PT-BR. Portuguese has a fine word for that already - equipa ("equipe" in BR) - and most of us speak good English so "time" is beyond weird for us.

- Wrong verb conjugations are used in informal conversation, e.g. "tu vai à praia?" (correct would be "tu vais à praia?" and generally we'd omit "tu" [you] because it adds no useful information)

- Many Brazilians seemingly think "mas" (but) and "mais" (more) are the same word because they pronounce it similarly and thus end up using "mais" for everything, even in writing

- Different usage of pronouns, e.g. "eu dou-lhe" in PT vs "eu lhe dou" in BR (or worse, "eu dou a você" - sounds like caveman language plus "você" is considered rude in PT)

Vocabulary differences make for some really funny misunderstandings sometimes though. My Brazilian neighbor's kid was really confused and scared when she was told she needed to "levar uma pica" (get a shot, as in an injection/vaccine) - in Brazil this same sentence means "take a dick". I hadn't laughed that hard in a long time.

In a way I agree with your concerns but I'd say that the main issue is with some evolutionary aspect of the language. My guess is that we see it happening in Brazil more due to sheer population size.

Looking at your examples:

- Brazilians borrows words from other languages a lot more easily than the Portuguese, especially when the foreign word is shorter. No wonder "time" gets more usage than "equipe".

- "tu" is going to become extinct in Brazil within the next generation or two. People only use first- or third-person conjugation anyway. "Você" is going to be used for making the distinction between the actual subject of the sentence, and coloquially people just say "cê", which is just as short as "tu", so I don't see it surviving for long.

- Disagree on "Mas/mais". Yes, it is true that a lot of people make this mistake or (worse) don't even know the distinction, but this type of error is equivalent to English "they're/their/there": there is no redundancy or efficiency, so I don't see why the language would change here.

- "dou-lhe", "lhe dou": also going to be extinct due to the redundancy with propositions. You (and I) may not like the "caveman language", but it's undeniably more efficient to just throw verb + proposition + person than to deal with different pronouns.

Sorry to ask you this, and please fell free to not respond. But I have wanted to move to Portugal with my wife and kids for quite some time, but the large number of Brazilians linving and moving there bum me out to an extent. Mostly, I don't know what is the general feeling towards Brazilians in Portugal (I went there a few times, and absolutely loved it, but it was travel, not living). I'm not a fan of Brazilian mainstream culture, mostly. We are outgoing, friendly and warm, sure, and those qualities I embrace and celebrate, however, there are many negatives to Brazilian culture that are widespread (anti-intellectualism, veiled prejudice, sexism etc). I don't know what most Brazilians in Portugal are like, and I know that it will vary greatly, but how much hostility is there towards Brazilians? Every person I met in Portugal was pretty nice, and some were downright great people, and I would love to live there, but I'm afraid my kids might have a bad experience from being Brazilian immigrants in school, etc.

In the 90s and early 00s there were a lot of lower class/uneducated Brazilian immigrants moving here and a small but significant part of them would cause all sorts of trouble, from bothering neighbors with loud parties in apartment buildings all the way to being involved in prostitution and violent crimes. This caused a significant amount of prejudice but that has mostly subsided since then as the next waves of Brazilian immigrants have been progressively higher class and more educated, and thus better integrated in our society.

Nowadays there is still some prejudice but the vast majority of people does not have any issues with Brazilians and, unless you are unlucky enough to run into some asshole, you'll probably not notice it at all. Kids care even less about these things so your kids are very unlikely to be bullied in school or anything like that.

In fact, my partner is originally from Brazil and her family moved here when she was 13. She always had friends, never really felt discriminated against, and is now sitting next to me working on her PhD thesis. The rest of her family loves it here too.

So I would say if you want to move here, go for it! Boa sorte :)

Thanks a lot for your reply!

I’m not the original commenter, but I’m Portuguese living a small city and I’d say most Brazilians that live here can blend easily. My kids have some Brazilian friends at school at they get along well.

Thank you too for your reply!

> - Many Brazilians seemingly think "mas" (but) and "mais" (more) are the same word because they pronounce it similarly and thus end up using "mais" for everything, even in writing

In the Carioca accent, mas and mais have the same pronunciation (“maish” with the s chiado) so it’s easy to confuse one for the other. This has to do with the Carioca tendency to “change” (there’s a linguistic term but I forget) certain vowels. Nós is pronounced “noish”, gas “gaish” and Petrobras “Petrobraish”.

I guess the mas/mais confusion carries over in writing albeit being incorrect.

This does not happen in thr Paulista accent or most other accents I know.

When Sesame Street was first popular in the 1970s my great aunt in Massachusetts famously forbade her grandchildren from watching it because she didn't want them to learn how to speak like New Yorkers.

Brazilians have a hard time understanding European Portuguese (I think that pronoun placement is a major factor other that the actual phonetics - they just don't expect certain phrases).

And I've also heard from Portuguese that they find Brazilians easier to understand than some of their own compatriots, especially now that telenovelas have spread Brazilian vocabulary in Portugal.

Yes, I think the asymmetry is entirely due to Portuguese people being regularly exposed to Brazilian pronunciation, whereas the reverse is much rarer.

In the late 80's & 90's Portugal started importing TV programs from Brazil. Since the 2000's this happens much less, but that has been replaced by a large number of Brazilian immigrants settling in Portugal.

As far as I can tell there are no equivalent influences going in the other direction, so Brazilians are rarely exposed to Portuguese pronunciation.

That is certainly a factor. But in my personal experience one of the biggest hurdles for Brazilians is the fact that Portuguese have a much shorter vowel pronunciation, so the separation between syllables is much less pronounced. In contrast, some Brazilian accents have comically long vowels, so it sounds like they are spelling out every word.

It's easy to have a brazilian sound like she's speaking portuguese from Portugal: just stop pronouncing the vowels. If you're brazilian, try it. It actually works.

I feel like I have to start saying them, then swallow and leave an empty space instead. I can't say I like it.

My name is Rodrigo and I work remotely for an american company with only American teammates. When I say my name I pronounce the way Americans would pronounce it to simplify communication, but it always feels a little phony. Like I am making up a nickname that’s actually not mine to a new group.

Not anything that bothers me, just a curiosity of global remote work and our R.

I had a similar experience in spite of not needing any R, living and working in several English speaking countries. My name is Mathias, and the variety of ways English speakers called me was a proper issue, in the sense that I sometimes didn't even recognize that somebody was talking about me, or calling me across a workshop. When I started introducing myself as "Matt", all became easy. Never had this issue with pretty much any other culture I worked with :D (all kinds of Europeans and Arabs mainly)

If it's about Rs, I worked on an oil rig with a Mexican guy named Javier. The American OIM had such hard time telling "Javier" (with the two different gutturals) on the tannoy, Javier got called "George" for the rest of our stay.

Which two gutturals? “Javier” only has one sound I’d call “guttural” — the velar fricative (i.e. the Spanish J sound).

To me names are simply not translatable. A name is not a word, is a sound we associate with our selves. The Americanized form of "Rodrigo" is not the sound you associate with your self I'd too feel weird to introduce myself trying to emulate an accent.

Have you ever lived in a country that spoke a language other than your native one?

You very, very quickly get used to introducing yourself in a way that people from that country can pronounce. It’s really not a big deal.

> A name is not a word, is a sound we associate with our selves.

All words are just sounds we arbitrarily associate with various concepts; names are not special in this sense. (In fact, in some languages, the word for “name” and “noun” are the same).

Like every other word, names follow the phonological and phonotactic rules of the language they’re part of. There’s a reason English has John and Spanish has Juan.

I used to do the same for "Samuel" but figured I'm happier saying my name the correct way when asked instead of having that weird feeling. I don't mind if people say it differently with their accents or don't try to say it like I do, but it's nice when somebody says it correctly.

"correct pronunciation" to me, in terms of names, roughly means the pronunciation that that person grew with (so it's about where they're from).

I thought about it, and I don’t think I would be happier not changing the pronunciation. This weird feeling is very minor, just a matter of curiosity, not something that bothers me.

And one key difference is the said Portuguese R. It’s trickier than Samuel variations. I think a lot of people would not understand what my name is at all if I pronounce it the way we do it in Brazil.

Hah! I'm also Rodrigo, and I've been living in Canada for 6 years now. I've given up hoping people would get the pronunciation of my name right. At this point I think I'm even more used to the North-American way. Rodrigo is a hella hard name if you've never spoken Portuguese.

"Rod" might work as a suitable nickname, since it's also used for names like Roderick (which sounds eerily similar to Rodrigo now that I think about it).

No one calls me Rod, I am not comfortable creating an actual nickname. I am happy enough just changing the pronunciation

You don't necessarily have to frame it that way. "Hey folks, I understand my name can be difficult to pronounce sometimes so feel free to call me X". But I also totally understand if you don't feel like it's necessary. Just something to keep in mind :)

My approach as well. I’m not bothered with different people pronouncing my name differently. Does not stop me from being pedantic about pronouncing other people’s “correctly” :)

If the problem was only with R's.. In my case (João) i just got used to have my name pronounced as "joao" :)

Lots of languages don’t have nasals and native speaker are almost physically unable to pronounce it.

I took some Spanish in school but my most notable experience attempting to learn (Brazilian) Portuguese as a native English speaker was hearing the difference between the names José and Roberto.

There's the quintessentially, native-English-speaking pronunciation of José with a hard J. With Spanish, the J is obviously silent, or extremely soft, but in Brazilian Portuguese (I can't speak for other forms), you pronounce it almost like someone reading the name for the first time in English, with the hard J.

And then you have the opposite with the name Roberto, in Spanish the R is hard and present (and easy for native-English-speakers), but in Portuguese, the R has that same soft J sound that Spanish speakers use on José.

It's fun how these (three) languages intertwine.

What is a "hard J"?

As another speaker pointed out, the J in José is not silent or nearly-silent in Spanish. It is a sound that doesn't exist in mainstream English, but is most close to the English "h" sound.

The R in Roberto can be soft like a Spanish J, or it can be pretty hard, albeit with the back of tongue bouncing off the palate rather than the tip, depending on many factors - local accent, the speaker's mood or energy level, etc. Mind you, to us it will still be the same phoneme, just at different "softness" levels.

In other accents, the tip of the tongue is used in the same fashion as in Spanish. This is especially present in border regions.

In other regions, that R is a single hit of the tip of the tongue, especially around Italian and German colony regions, similar to what a single R in the middle of a word typically sounds in Portuguese.

As a Spaniard, I am confused by the "the J is obviously silent". The most neutral pronunciation of José in Spain (the one you would hear in Spanish broadcast news) is indeed /xo'se/.

Spanish is extremely rich in pronunciation variations, due to the large population spread over several continents, so in most cases when you observe something about "Spanish" you need to focus on a specific region or dialect, for the observation to have a proper context.

It's also /xo'se/ in Mexico as far as I can tell. I'm not Mexican but I know a lot of Mexicans and am pretty sure that's how they'd pronounce it.

I would be very surprised if the "Spanish J" is silent anywhere; the person you're replying to almost certainly just made a mistake.

From my experience, native English speakers have a very hard time pronouncing the Spanish /j/ (or the German /ch/, for that matter, or even the French /r/), so they just pronounce it as a somewhat stressed /h/ (for lack of a better term).

“ch” in German actually represents two different sounds: e.g. the one in “ich” and the one in “Bauch”.

I’m a native English speaker and I find those extremely difficult to distinguish. But the French r is fine. (I spoke French to a near-native level 15 years ago; it’s probably decayed to “advanced intermediate” by now).

Maybe they got Spanish "J" confused with Spanish "H?"

There are some cases like "halar" / "jalar" but I don't think I've seen the name "Hosé" before. :-)

As a BR-born son of an American and a Brazilian, this post/article brings me all sorts of joy. To this day, the sound of people speaking in BR-PT out in public brings a smile to my face. (To be clear, I live in Boston so there is a pretty large Brazilian population here)

All languages have their own beauty but there's something special about Brazilian Portuguese - the flow, the "sing-song'y" nature of it, it's almost like a dance. Admittedly I am biased, but I've heard similar from people without the background.

Scottish people can pronounce the same sound!

When you say "Loch Ness" with a very thick Scottish accent, the "ch" in loch is quite close to it.

Also the sound is quite common in other languages: "roi" in French, "reisen" in German, ... Even some Spanish dialects like Galego have the same r. Only Castilian/normal Spanish doesn't have it.

OTOH, just ask a Brazilian to pronounce simply "the". The "th" phoneme is quite hard for Portuguese speakers.

Better yet, ask a native from Rio to pronounce any word with a mute "t" or "d". It's hilarious. "Brad Pit" becomes "brahdjee peetchee".

>"Brad Pit" becomes "brahdjee pitchee"

I think this is very much standard all over Brazil. It's a common pattern in a large amount of english words, I think most or all of us can pronounce it correctly, but we don't because it'd be harder say and recognize while trying to pronounce it like an american almost sounds like pedantry here.

> I think this is very much standard all over Brazil.

You mean about the "mispronunciation"? Because the j in "bradhjee" I hear mostly in southeastern accents, where people in Northeast says it more closely with how it's spoken in English.

I believe the standardization refers to adding the vowels to the end of thos consonant-ended words. I believe most northeasterners would say "brédi píti".

> Even some Spanish dialects like Galego have the same r

You are opening a can of worms here considering that Galego is officialy a language, not a dialect, and it's basically very very similar to Portoguese, up to a point in which a galician colleague of mine, when we were at a conference in the USA would talk in Galego with a couple of Brazilian guys and they talked to him in Brazilian Portoguese and they went along just fine. Modern galego and portugues stem from the same root[1]

[1] https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idioma_gallego#Historia

> You are opening a can of worms here considering that Galego is officialy a language, not a dialect, and it's basically very very similar to Portoguese,

True, you are right. I stand corrected.

The difference between a language and a dialect is often just politics.

> The difference between a language and a dialect is often just politics.

Indeed! It can be defined by loosing or winning a war. If you win, it's a language; if you loose, it's a dialect.

That's pretty much why it's called "Portuguese", they pushed the moors before other parts of Hispania did it and decided to get their own kingdom started instead of waiting for all the other nobles to finish the work. If it wasn't for that Portugal might not even exist as a country in itself.

"A language is a dialect with an army and navy"


Hot-Dog: Rotchi-Dogee

Hardcore: Rardjee-Core

Armlock: Army-locky

Screen capture: prin-tche

Facebook = Fassy-Bookee

Hobby: Rhobby

That's so true! The thing with "th" I see is that we Brazilians speak it as "fink" (fɪŋk) or "sink" (sɪŋk) rather than the traditional "θɪŋk". But I find that's mostly a pedagogical problem, with teachers also doing it and students copying. However after quick explanation and practice, most can learn (I think I did :).

I think that phoneme sounds and looks silly. The whole putting the tongue out in order to properly pronounce "th" is very weird for Portuguese speakers. Like in this scene from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where Claude Frollo says: "The sentence: death!":


It's very funny to watch this in Portuguese because the word he uses is "morte", and he looks very stupid putting the tongue out after saying "morte".

People from Northeast inland will pronounce "breadee peetee".

Also on the coast

Very interesting article, however from Portuguese point of view, it left out plenty of dialects, not only it is somehow diverse across the mainland and islands, the african versions are also not one per country rather it also varies per region and the local criolo influences.

However the author does acknowledge that his knowledge is focused on Brasil, so there is that.

Yes. I've personally heard people from Cabo Verde and the way people from Brazil, Portugal and Cabo Verde speak is clearly different.

As a Spanish speaker who has studied Portuguese, I love this.

My first time in Portugal was a mess — I couldn’t understand anything. There were a few words I kept hearing people say that got me really mixed up: “Morrer” (to die) sounds a lot like “Mujer” (woman) in Spanish, whereas “Morar” (to live) sounds a lot like “Morir” (to die).

When I was in Brazil in the 90s someone asked me if I liked 'nuns and hoses'. Took me a while to figure out she meant Guns 'N Roses.

The Brazilian R is very variable as the article points out but often it is closer to an H than to an R and sometimes this is even true when Brazilians speak English;-)

I heard a story of an English speaker being confused when a Brazilian asked them if they liked “hedge hotch”, the endearing way Brazilian fans refer to the band red hot chilli peppers.

I, a native portuguese speaker, recently wrote about the German R pronunciation was one of the most complicated for me to grasp in this language. Even listening and identifying it is really hard for me. https://crocidb.com/post/on-the-german-r-pronunciation/

LOL, I really expected to read an article about a variant of the statistics programming language R...

I often entertain the notion that SQL would be way more enjoyable in Spanish.

See also Fjölnir https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fj%C3%B6lnir_(programming_lang..., where the program usually seems to end with "GRUNNUR". My understanding is that this is basically just the name of a standard library package "ground", but screaming GRUNNUR at the end of a program feels like something out of an issue of Heavy Metal.

When the author is sampling R sounds of the world, two prominent omissions come to mind:

- American English uses the r flap for the letters t and d between vowels. I think I may have also heard Australians do this?

- I've heard Puerto Ricans when speaking Spanish do something close to what is described as a "Brazilian R". A /x/ type of sound where /r/ would be in other accents. Backed up here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerto_Rican_Spanish#Feature...

Also, it's false that the alveolar approximant is the same as the retroflex (some Americans have the retroflex version; some don't). To be fair, they sound virtually identical (at least to me).

Furthermore, it's extremely false to claim that either of these sounds is exclusive or nearly so to American English; they are present in many languages, including but not limited to various dialects of European languages, and also including Mandarin, which has several times more native speakers than Am.E. does.

> American English uses the r flap for the letters t and d between vowels

I think it's more constrained than this; I don't have it in "baton", for example. I'm no phonologist, but I suspect it has to be followed by a liquid (L or R sound). I have it in e.g. "butter" or "little".

Has to be between vowels and at the start of an unstressed syllable, I believe. Compare "attic" to "attack," for example.

Great example -- I guess I stand corrected and it doesn't have to do with liquids at all!

Like another comment I can think of examples without a liquid following. "Latin" is one. (I have a distant memory of being called strange for saying that as [t])

I think I sometimes only do it if I'm talking fast. Pronouncing it as [t] isn't often outside the acceptable range, or something that makes you sound too foreign.

For me the /t/ in Latin is a glottal stop. Where are you from?

> Pronouncing it as [t] isn't often outside the acceptable range, or something that makes you sound too foreign.

I don't know about that. I'm pretty sure someone pronouncing the /t/ in "butter", "little", etc. as [t] would make me very confident that they weren't American.

> Where are you from?

I was born in Washington DC to a family that had recent roots all over Europe. And had some young interest and exposure to Spanish. I'm American, but my accent is a little all over the place.

I don't get much grief over this in the northeast, but on the west coast people are pretty confused by the way I talk.

I’m from Arizona (not the West Coast, but culturally and physically close enough).

My mom would always try to correct my pronunciation of “Latin”, “mountain”, and similar words with a /t/ realized as a glottal stop.

She’s from the East Coast, so indeed, maybe that pronunciation isn’t as common there.

Yeah. That amuses me. I'll need to be honest... When I hear people overdo the flap pronunciation of /t/ in those specific words, it triggers something judgemental in me. I've been on the west coast for 14 years now, so I think I've gotten over it somewhat.

The "t" in "Latin" is just a glottal stop for me. Using [t] sounds vaguely British to my ears.

Same goes for other words that end in "t" + unstressed "en," e.g. "fatten," "batten."

That's a tad ironic because British people are some of the biggest users of glottal stops for /t/.

Received Pronunciation English does emphasize the /t/ in these cases, but other British dialects use glottal stops for /t/ in many cases.

Definitely. I was thinking more of the sort you hear from BBC reporters.

Repeating "butter" is actually a great way to teach people how to make the rolled R [r].

By "rolled r", do you mean the trill? The trill and flap are different sounds in some languages (for example, Spanish "perro" (dog) has the trill whereas "pero" (but) has the flap). The /t/ in Am.E. "butter" is the flap.

I mean exactly the sound that is referred to as the "rolling R" or "[r]" in the original article.

The flap is [ɾ].

In any case, as the sister comment says, the point is that in order to learn the rolling r (consciously, as an older person) you have to notice the flap, and repeated flapping can transfer into the rolled r. So, yes, you learn the flap first, but few people start out saying "I wish I could flap my rs," instead they're looking to learn how to roll them.

If you start with a flap and add a little air and lengthen it, you get into trill territory. This is a good way to teach the trill.

Once I recall I pronounced a drawn out /d/ when cold and startled, and a friend commented that I "rolled my D" and it was weird.

As a GAE native speaker quite comfortable with [ɹ] (inverted r), the voiced [post]alveolar approximant, I find this sound super fascinating. It's very rare in languages, suggesting it is very unusual phonetically, but it happens to be prominent in two of the most widely-spoken languages, so many speakers can pronounce it.

I've always found alveolar trills more aesthetically pleasing, but you casually drop them in English conversation and you get weird looks and questions.

Question for the peanut gallery: what the heck is the difference between the voiced alveolar approximant and the r-colored vowel, ɝ, (schwa plus hook)? They have different IPA so presumably they have distinct pronunciation, but I cannot hear a difference, nor can I feel a difference in my tongue placement when I say them.

Also, curse HN's lack of unicode support. ~~I think it's related to MySql's stupid utf8 is actually utf8mb3 thing~~. I think they rendered? I see it in my comment after posting, but they are blank squares in the text form.

I can never get over the way my Brazilian wife pronounces the currency.

Singular - hey-ow

Plural - hey-I.

They're spelled real and reals respectively.

The correct spelling for the plural form is 'reais' (the 'l' from the singular form 'real' becomes an 'i').

I think I've never heard anybody pronounce 'reais' without the sound of s at the end, are you sure she doesn't say it? It's probably something like hey-eyes (hey-eye-shh for cariocas)

A small historical note: there are/were two different Brazilian currencies called Real. The current one has "reais" as the plural, but the old one had "réis" as its plural form.

real and reais, not reals.

hey-I on the plural doesn't make a lot of sense to me, you are probably not hearing something she is saying.

You're right there is a very subtle s as the end that I wasn't noticing, especially at the speed of normal conversation.

We pronounce 'r' in Portuguese as 'h' in english words. For example: the word 'mice' in Portuguese is 'rato' which we pronounce as if it was 'hato'. Similar to 'hat', 'hate' or 'hit'.

But never as the english word 'rat'. For us it sounds like 'rrrrrrrat', because the 'r' is too long in the pronunciation.

Summarizing: Portuguese don't use long 'r' phonemes when the word starts with 'r'. We usually pronounce as if the word starts with 'h' in english.

The long 'r' is used when 'r' or 'rr' appears in the middle of the words.

Actually, I am familiar with a rolling r such as in English 'rat', used in place of the the initial R or double RR, in rural central and northern Portugal.

The linked article acknowledges this at the end

>Summarizing: Portuguese don't use long 'r' phonemes when the word starts with 'r'. We usually pronounce as if the word starts with 'h' in english.

Either I didn't understand what you mean or I have never seen any Portuguese native speaker (including me) pronouncing it like you say we do.

These treatments always skip over the elephant in the room: "r" where there is none. E.g. Brit pronunciation "agender" for agenda, and most problematically "drawring".

It appears that appending "r" sounds was once a marker for "posh" status in England, and adopted by the middle class as an attempt at upward mobility. But they went overboard, and added Rs the posh wouldn't. Arguably, it was initially done in mockery, but the mocked missed the joke. I don't know any way to test that hypothesis.

The letter R in Portuguese can range from a strong sound to voiceless. It all depends on where the r appears in the word, the context in the phrase, and the dialect used.

If you're interested in Portuguese in general, I suggest listening to Azorean Portuguese. It's so different it sounds like a different language to most Brazilians (and I assume to other nationalities as well),


There are certain interviews to Azoreans that require subtitles to be added, otherwise nobody from the mainland will understand anything that they're saying due to a very thick accent.

But as far as I know it's due to the colonization of the islands with both Portuguese people and people from the low countries.

Link is dead.

As an anecdote, to kick off discussion, I, as a native European Portuguese speaker, that was born in France (moved to Portugal when I was 4), can _barely_ pronounce them correctly.

Not all R's have the same roll of the tongue. They're usually in the middle of the word. Hate those R's.

Don't worry, as native European Portuguese speaker, the way we speak the H means (hint for others, we really don't), has already landed me in some funny situations in languages where it actually makes a difference, like German.

The difference between the sounds of "a penis" and "happiness" is mostly the h vocalization which European Portuguese basically ignores.

As an English speaker who learnt Portugal Portuguese (PT-PT), which has its own "r" pronunciations, imagine my surprise and confusion when I heard Brazilian Portuguese (BR-PT) for the first time :-)

You'd be surprised how much Brazillian Portuguese phonology you can learn from watching MMA where Brazilians have had a big impact since the outset.

tl;dr - /r/ in Portuguese apparently has a wide variety of allophones

Just look up the pronunciation in a dictionary.

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