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Portuguese ≠ Russian? Posted by on Aug 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

Does Portuguese sound like Russian, or the other way around?

To be fair, this comic comes from a guest writer – I myself don’t speak much Spanish, and I don’t speak any Portuguese or Russian.

But I’ve traveled a few (wonderful) times to Portugal, and I’ve always noticed that the language has a lot of guttural tones and sliding vowels that definitely give it a slavic slant. In fact, even at home in Berlin when I’m eavesdropping on passers-by to try and guess the language they’re speaking (a favorite hobby of mine), I almost always get confused hearing Portuguese, unless they say some giveaway like obrigado (“thank you”). It just sounds oddly Russian-ish, but not enough to be Russian.

At least, that is, to people who can’t speak either language. Portuguese speakers from both Portugal and Brazil of course take issue with this, with good reason. I’m sure there’s no actual connection between the two. It’s just some kind of tonal coincidence for the uneducated. “It is like mistaking the sound of tractor for that of racing car just because both of them are loud,” says one commenter. Fair enough! But another says, “I am a native EU Portuguese speaker and I have, myself, confused both languages many times in public places, when I’m not paying special attention to what’s being said.”

I can’t find any historical connection between the languages, try as I might, and I don’t know enough about either to pinpoint why exactly people feel this way.

What do you think? Does Portuguese sound like Russian? Why or why not?

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About the Author:Malachi Rempen

Malachi Rempen is an American filmmaker, author, photographer, and cartoonist. Born in Switzerland, raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he fled Los Angeles after film school and expatted it in France, Morocco, Italy, and now Berlin, Germany, where he lives with his Italian wife and German cat. "Itchy Feet" is his weekly cartoon chronicle of travel, language learning, and life as an expat.


Comments:

  1. Miguel Lopes:

    Definitely. Portuguese to foreigners sounds like Russian. Russians (and Ukrainians) on the other hand can speak European Portuguese without accent. My wife is Russian and if one talks to her by phone he/she will not be able to detect she’s Russian. It’s really amazing.


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