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Post Second-Person Pronoun Usage: Portugal
Created by John Eipper on 10/25/16 7:25 PM

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Second-Person Pronoun Usage: Portugal (Mendo Henriques, Portugal, 10/25/16 7:25 pm)

The first thing you want to do with a language is talk to people. In Portugal, you are liable to be addressed in four or even five different ways, each determining a different kind of relationship. There is some old-fashioned formality of address in Portuguese, almost Oriental.

The second-person singular Tu is used by adults to children, brothers and sisters, lovers, husbands and wives, close friends and schoolmates. It may be avoided by soi-disant upper-class people. Tu is a most intimate form. Formerly, Tu was also used to indicate condescension to an employee.

Less close friends and acquaintances are addressed as você, with the verb in the third person. This word, now used as pronoun, is a corruption of the archaic vossa mercê, "Your Honour"; it became in due time vossemecê and now você. Of course nobody remembers the origin of você. If a person is a stranger or not so close as to be addressed as você, he will be addressed as o senhor (the gentleman) or a senhora (the lady), o menino (the boy) or a menina (the girl). Here again the verb takes the third person.

On TV a celebrity may be addressed with an article prefixed, v.g. O Cristiano Ronaldo (the Cristiano Ronaldo), O Mourinho (the Mourinho); third person again.

The second person plural Vós, is rarely used, being reserved for Deity--and not ever--or some large audiences.

Now this a complex system, full of dangers for the uninitiated. Carelessness can bring retribution, though not for the foreigner, who is excused almost everything. Portuguese are touchy in these matters and there is ample scope for many a subtle slight.

JE comments: This is complex indeed.  Most of Brazil, with the exception of Rio Grande do Sul, has lost the "tu" entirely in favor of "você."

A language question for Mendo Henriques:  does Portugal use "a gente" to mean "we," as in Brazil?  This is profoundly confusing for a Spanish-speaker, for whom "la gente" means everyone but "we."

Unlike Portuguese, Spanish uses the informal "tú" when praying to God.  Cameron Sawyer taught us recently that German does the same.  This is a good example of pronoun usage not necessarily reflecting one's power status vis à vis the other person.

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  • Second-Person Pronoun Usage: Brazil (Clyde McMorrow, USA 10/26/16 5:05 PM)
    I am not an expert in Brazilian Portuguese (just a confused listener), but "a gente" is always used with the third-person singular verb "a gente vai" and can be used for we or I (the limiting case of we) at least in Rio. Tu is used commonly by Southerners and in Bahia but is not common in Rio. A Senhora, Dona, Senhor, Doutor, and--in the roça--Coronel are used if there is a perceived social separation, followed by the first name.

    I've never heard the 2nd-person plural used.

    JE comments:  The roça is the countryside--right, Clyde?  On coronelismo, the semi-feudal system that predominated in rural Brazil, see this 2006 post from Istvan Simon:


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