Riverense Portuñol language

The Riverense Portuñol or Riverense Portunhol, also known as Fronterizo or Fronteiriço is a mixed language (linguasphere language code 51-AAA-am) formed from Portuguese and Spanish, or Portunhol. It is spoken on the border between Uruguay and Brazil, and more specifically 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).

General characteristics

As any other language, the Uruguayan-Brazilian Portuñol is very dynamic and heterogeneous, and there is a continuum of dialects which range from Rioplatense Spanish (castiiano, in Portuñol) to the standard Brazilian Portuguese (brazilero, in Portuñol). 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 Sant'Ana do Livramento as its center, and expanding over a strip of several kilometers parallel to the border, including territory of both nations. This article refers to this variant, but from now on it will be simply called Portuñol or Riverense, names by which it is identified by the people who speak the language.

The majority of linguists classify portuñol as a variety of Portuguese (Alberto Elizaincín , uses the term "DPU" - Dialectos Portugueses del Uruguay to refer not to just one, but to between two and six different variations of Portuguese spoken in northern Uruguay, being Riverense Portuñol one of these varieties), but there is no consensus. On the other hand, it can be safely said that Portuñol is a very rich language, in the sense that it has a great amount of synonyms and more precise words to express specific meanings, besides of having a larger phonetic richness. However, it is not true to say that Riverense is merely a mix between two languages which doesn't follow strict grammatical rules.


The origins of Portuñol can be traced back to the time of the dominion of the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal. In those times, the ownerships of that lands were not very well defined, passing back and forth from the hands of one crown to the other. Portuñol was not only influenced by Portuguese and Spanish, but also, in a few cases, the native languages as well; e.g.: gurí (boy), mamboretá (praying mantis), caracú (bovine bone).

Phonology and orthography

The Riverense language doesn't 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

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 papa batata potato
catarata catarata catarata / queda de água waterfall
e e peshe pez peixe fish
detergente detergente detergente detergent
i cisco basura lixo garbage
niño nido ninho nest
ciá cenar jantar/cear to have dinner
o o ontonte anteayer anteontem day before yesterday
oio ojo olho eye
poso pozo poço well
u yururú triste, melancólico triste, melancólico sad, melancholic
nu en el no / em in the (m.)
acuá ladrar ladrar to bark

Portuguese vowels

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

Semiopen vowels

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 chá tea
pél piel pele skin
véia vieja velha old (f.)
ó ɔ fófóca chisme fofoca gossip
póso puedo posso (I) can

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

avó [a'vɔ] (grandmother) and avô [a'vo] (grandfather)
véio ['vɛjo] (old (m.)) and veio ['vejo] (he came - from the verb [to come])
véia ['vɛja] (old (f.)) and veia ['veja] (vein)
póso ['pɔso] ((I) can) and poso ['poso] (well)

Nasal vowels

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

IPA letters Portuñol Pronunciation (IPA) Spanish Portuguese English
ã ã masã manzana maçã apple
lã lana wool
sã sana (adj.) healthy (f.)
an (*) cansha cancha campo desportivo sports ground
en (*) pênsaũ piensan pensam (they) think
ĩ in (**) intonce entonces então then
õ õ garsõ mozo (de bar o restaurante) empregado de mesa waiter (bar, restaurant)
tõ tono tom tone
on (*) intonce entonces então then
ũ ũ uno um one (m.)
cũtigo contigo contigo with you
niñũa ninguna nenhuma no one (f.)
maũ 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 [paw̃ (bread) and pau [paw] (stick)
[nũ] (in a (m.)) and nu [nu] (in the (m.))
nũa ['nũa] (in a (f.)) and núa ['nua] (naked (f.))
ũ [ũ] (one, a (m.)) and u [u] (the (m.))
[kũ] (with) and cu [ku] (anus - vulgar term)
ũs [ũs] (some (m.)) and us [us] (the (m.pl.))


On the next table, when there is a reference to Spanish, it is actually referred to the Rioplatense Spanish dialect, and where there is a reference to Portuguese, it is actually referred 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 ['bɾaβo] (eng. angry, esp. enojado/bravo, port. zangado).
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 [ka'simba] (eng. hole with drinkable water, esp. cachimba, port. cacimba).
ch ʧ ce hache, che It is always used as in Spanish and is equivalent to tch in Portuguese. che [ʧe] (esp. che, port. tchê), bombacha [bom'baʧa] (underpants), bombasha [bom'baʃa] (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 [di'plojðe] (eng. diploid, esp. diploide, port. diplóide [dʒi'plɔjdʒi]).
f f efe The same phoneme as in Spanish, Portuguese, and English.
g g, 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 [gaɣe'ʒa] (eng. to stammer, esp. tartamudear, port. gaguejar), geología [χeolo'χia] (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 ['oʒe] (eng. today, esp. hoy, port. hoje), oso ['oso] (eng. bone, esp. hueso, port. osso)
j χ jota It represents the same phoneme as in Spanish (similar to English h). jirafa [χi'ɾɑfɑ] sounds like Spanish and yirafa [ʒi'ɾafa] 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. In Portuguese, an l at the end of a word sounds like an [u] or [w]; in Fronterizo this never happens. Brazil [bɾa'zil] (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 a'men] (eng. amen, esp. amén), amêñ [a'meɲ] (eng. amen, port. amém), inté [ĩ'tɛ] (eng. see you later, esp. hasta luego, port. até mais), sanga ['saŋga] (eng. ditch, esp. zanja, port. valeta)
ñ ɲ eñe Is the same phoneme as in Spanish (and which in Portuguese is represented by the digraph nh). niño ['niɲo] (eng. nest, esp. nido, port. ninho), carpiñ [kaɾ'piɲ] (eng. sock, esp. calcetín, port. meia), muñto ['muɲto] (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 [ase'sino] (eng. murderer, esp. asesino, port. assassino), read like in Portuguese it would be azezino [aze'zino], a non-existent word in Portuñol; más flaco [mas'flako] (eng. skinnier, esp. más flaco, port. mais magro), más gordo [maz'ɣordo] (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 ['ʃuva] (eng. rain, esp. lluvia, port. chuva); aflósha [a'flɔʃa] (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 ['timiða'mente] (eng. shyly, esp, tímidamente, port. timidamente ['ʧimida'menʧi]).
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 ['vaso] (eng. glass, esp. vaso, port. copo). When used as in Spanish, it becomes baso ['baso] (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 ['wiski], show or shou [ʃow]
x ks equis, shis It represents the consonant cluster [ks]. exelente [ekse'lente] (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 world which finishes with a diphthong or a triphthong, in which case the sound is the same of Spanish or Portuguese i. yurá [ʒu'ɾa] (eng. to swear, esp. jurar; port. jurar); Uruguay [uɾu'ɣwaj] (port. Uruguai); yacaré [ʒaka'ɾɛ] (eng. South American alligator, esp. yacaré, port. jacaré)
z z ceta It represents the same phoneme as in Portuguese and English. caza ['kaza] (eng. house, esp. casa, port. casa); casa ['kasa] (eng. hunting, esp. caza, port. caça)
zy z, zʒ, 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 ['kwazʒe] (eng. almost, esp. casi, port. quase); ezyemplo [e'zʒemplo] (eng. example, esp. ejemplo, port. exemplo).



See also

External links

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