Você é paulista?

As I write this entry I have been in Salvador, Bahia for over the past 7 weeks.  Our students have been here as part of the UT summer program and I am the faculty lead.  Recently I spent a few nights with friends celebrating São João, which is actually a pretty big deal here in Bahia.  Language wise, at one point I was in a row boat with a guy who was showing me the various houses and property along the lake.  He asked if I was from São Paulo.  Oh course, as a non native speaker, the greatest compliment that you can receive is to have someone think that you are a native speaker.  The illusion only lasts temporarily I am sure, but it’s fun while it lasts.  Later that day another person said something to the effect that what I had said was totally “paulista” and that here in Bahia people don’t say things that way.  Then it happened again, after talking to a guy who was selling things on the street, he asked if I was from São Paulo.

All of this got me thinking about what sticks with us when learning foreign languages.  I certainly don’t make any conscious effort to speak like a Paulista, but obviously something about my experience of learning Portuguese in São Paulo (over 30 years ago) has remained with me.  And it isn’t just the Paulista issue.  We have joked for years that I speak Spanish with a Portuguese accent.  Go figure, a Canadian born American who speaks Spanish with Brazilian accent!

Somehow learning that isn’t conscious sticks with us more.  Over the years I have also noted this among my students.  Two brief examples.  Students who learn Portuguese at school use “nós” for “we”.  Students who learn Portuguese in Brazil use “a gente”.  It’s just more common among native speakers.  We teach this to students a school, but it doesn’t stick until they spend time in Brazil.  Second, students who learn Portuguese via textbooks learn “pôr” to express “to put”.  Students who learn Portuguese in Brazil avoid “pôr” (highly irregular) and end up using “botar” (totally regular).

Bottom line:  I hope that my students are having a great time here in Salvador, but even more than that, I expect that they will subconsciously learn tons of Portuguese.


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3 Responses to “Você é paulista?”

  1. Tamara Says:

    Best line of the day:

    Canadian born American who speaks Spanish with Brazilian accent!

    I hope one day my Spanish and Portuguese has more than an American accent.

  2. Tommy Says:

    I like the idea of subconscious language learning and for me it involves 1) passive observation of the trends in everyday life, like tv news, street signs, conversations, etc, and 2) active creation of memories, by putting myself on location in new or incomfortable situations.

    Just curious, do you have any examples of really “paulista” vs “bahiano” situations you have been in on this trip? Is it pronunciation (like nasal diphthongs, r, final s/z, etc), do you use certain slang and filler words, or is there also a general difference in sense, attitude?

    In Japan, for example, a popular contrast in between Kantou-ben (Tokyo dialect) and Kansai-ben (Kyoto, Osaka dialect). In these dialects of spoken Japanese, there are lots of differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, basic greetings, even grammar, but there also is a cultural stereotype for each region, and this is a popular topic of conversation in Japan.

    Just ask anyone about “natto” (fermented soy beans), and it will probably turn into a conversation about differences in tastes between Kantou and Kansai.

  3. Study English Says:

    This is interesting — I think it’s totally true about subconscious learning, and also a very handy excuse to go and spend time in foreign countries. Thanks for posting!


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