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Phonological Variation and Change in Brazilian Portuguese  

Elisa Battisti

Brazilian Portuguese is the native language of more than 200 million people living in Brazil. Spoken in South America since around the year 1500, Brazilian Portuguese has peculiar phonological traits, many of them variable. The extensive language contact that has taken place in Brazil caused Brazilian Portuguese to break up into regional dialects. Various phonological processes affect Brazilian Portuguese at the segmental and suprasegmental levels. Some of the processes target consonants, such as the regressive palatalization of /t, d/, the fricatization of /r/ in syllabic onset; some processes target vowels, such as the raising and lowering of unstressed /e, o/ vowels; others target the intonation of utterances, such as the rising of the nuclear stress of yes–no questions. The results of several empirical studies on varieties of Brazilian Portuguese show that not all of the processes correspond to change in progress in Brazilian Portuguese; some of them are stable variables. They also show that not every variable is present in all dialects and that some variables are socially salient and stigmatized. Compared to present European Portuguese, the phonology of Brazilian Portuguese seems to be conservative in some aspects, such as in the raising of vowels in unstressed, word-final syllables; innovative in others, such as in the vocalization of /l/ in syllabic coda.