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date: 28 September 2022

Contact Between Spanish and Portuguese in South Americafree

Contact Between Spanish and Portuguese in South Americafree

  • Ana M. CarvalhoAna M. CarvalhoUniversity of Arizona


Spanish and Portuguese are in contact along the extensive border of Brazil and its neighboring Spanish-speaking countries. Transnational interactions in some border communities allow for ephemeral language accommodations that occur when speakers of both languages communicate during social interactions and business transactions, facilitated by the lack of border control and similarities between the languages. A different situation is found in northern Uruguay, where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken in several border towns, presenting a case of stable and prolonged bilingualism that has allowed for the emergence of language contact phenomena such as lexical borrowings, code-switching, and structural convergence to a variable extent. However, due to urbanization and the presence of monolingual dialects in the surrounding communities, Portuguese and Spanish have not converged structurally in a single mixed code in urban areas and present instead clear continuities with the monolingual counterparts.


  • Language Families/Areas/Contact
  • Sociolinguistics

1. Spanish and Portuguese in South America

The colonial history of South America is defined by multiethnic and multilingual encounters between an extremely diverse indigenous population and settlers from Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. However, despite multiple attempts by the other European powers to expand territories, Spain and Portugal were from the beginning the most prominent European settlements to establish control in the majority of the continent. Early disputes between Spain and Portugal over the territories explored by the 15th-century voyagers led to the establishment of the Treaty of Tordesillas, which set up a line separating the continent in two: Portugal was given the right to explore the eastern part while Spain gained rights over the west. As shown in figure 1, the 1493 treaty was revised in 1494, granting the Portuguese kingdom more land. In the subsequent centuries, Portugal and later Brazil expanded its territories to the west, finally giving rise to the current geopolitical configuration, which has existed since the 19th century. In addition to Dutch (Suriname), English (Guyana), French (French Guiana), and a plethora of indigenous languages maintained by the native population, Spanish and Portuguese are the two languages spoken by the vast majority of the population as either their first or second languages.

Figure 1. Treaty of Tordesillas.

Source: Ultimadesigns at English Wikibooks.

Brazil, the largest country in the region, is also the only country whose official language is Portuguese. While its eastern boundary is delineated by an extensive coastal line, Brazil borders every country in South America except for Ecuador and Chile. Among Brazil’s ten neighbors, only Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are not Spanish-speaking countries. The extensive borders with Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela present innumerous opportunities for contact between speakers of Spanish and Portuguese. This article will begin, in §2, “Border Encounters,” with a review of previous studies that discuss the linguistic consequences of the contact between these two languages along the border of Brazil and its neighboring Spanish-speaking countries, mainly characterized by sporadic linguistic accommodation toward the interlocutor’s language. It will then, in §3, “Spanish–Portuguese Bilingualism in Northern Uruguay,” concentrate on northern Uruguay, the only situation that presents stable and societal Spanish–Portuguese bilingualism in the beginning of the 21st century.

2. Border Encounters

The 15,719-km-long border that divides Brazil from its neighbors is characterized by vast territories with low population density. Extensive areas of agriculture and cattle are peppered by small and mid-sized towns along the borderlands. Some of these municipalities have a sister city on the other side of the border, facilitating cultural and commercial ties (figure 2). Studies that analyze the contact between Spanish and Portuguese speakers in the borderlands of Brazil and its neighbors are scarce and will be reviewed in the following sections, following the geographic configuration from the northern regions southward.

Figure 2. Twin cities along the Brazilian border.90

Map adapted from Ministério de Integração Nacional. (2009). Programa de Promoção de Desenvolvimento da Faixa de Fronteira. Governamental Agency.

2.1 Spanish–Portuguese Contacts Along the Venezuelan–Brazilian Border

Venezuela shares its southern border with Brazil. Based on interviews with Brazilians who live in Paracaima, adjacent to Santa Elena del Uairén in Venezuela, Amorim (2007) claims that although Brazilians do not speak Spanish, when they try to, they show some of the features that clearly depart from the L1 Spanish variety, such as lack of syllable-final /s/ aspiration. The movement of people from the Venezuelan state of Bolívar to Pacaraima (in Roraima, Brazil), is analyzed by Rodrigues (2006), who claims that due to the lack of bureaucratic or physical barriers, the northern border of the state of Roraima is characterized by the frequent presence of Venezuelans. However, one assumes from her description that the encounters between Brazilians and Spanish-speaking migrants and visitors are characterized by either nonreciprocal language choices or sporadic attempts to converge to the interlocutor’s language for business purposes. Recently, the influx of Venezuelans into the northern state of Roraima in Brazil has escalated due to Venezuela’s economic crisis. It is estimated that in 2017, 40,000 Venezuelans arrived in Boa Vista, the state capital, a number that has increased in 2018 to several hundred per day (Daniels, 2018). The presence of Venezuelans in Brazil should promote endless contexts for language accommodation and second-language acquisition.

2.2 Spanish–Portuguese Contacts Along the Colombian–Brazilian Border

Although the intense contact of native languages in the Amazonian area that encompasses the border of Brazil and Colombia is well documented (e.g., Aikhenvald, 2002; Epps, 2013), and the Portuguese influence in the formation of Colombian Palenquero a prolific research topic (see, for example, Schwegler, 2012 and see article on “Spanish-Based Creole Languages” in this encyclopedia, forthcoming), studies that analyze the contact between Spanish and Portuguese along the Colombian–Brazilian border are scarce. Lipski (2011) reports that in Leticia, a town in southern Colombia and on the Amazon riverbank, most of the residents are able to understand Portuguese and several of them speak it (Lipski, 2011, p. 85). Barbosa (2008) studied linguistic attitudes among Colombians in Leticia and Brazilians in Tabatinga, on the Brazilian side of the border. She concludes that despite their geographic proximity, Colombians and Brazilians reported a clear preference for their own national languages and cultures, which they maintain separated on either side of the national borders.

2.3 Spanish–Portuguese Contacts Along the Peruvian–Brazilian Border

Lipski (2011) discusses the presence of Portuguese in two border communities in Peru: Santa Rosa and Iñapari. Santa Rosa is an island village in front of the junction of Leticia (Colombia) and Tabatinga (Brazil) in the Amazon. According to Lipski, most residents have receptive competence in Portuguese and several speak it. Iñapari, also in Peru, is connected to the Brazilian state of Acre by a bridge. Because it caters its local business to Brazilian shoppers, most salespeople speak Portuguese when addressing their Portuguese-speaking customers.

The three border communities in the Amazon region (Tabatinga, Brazil; Leticia, Colombia; and Santa Rosa, Peru) were the object of Rojas Molina’s (2008) study about attitudes that the residents have toward their communities and dialects. She finds that her participants have extremely negative attitudes about the border varieties of Spanish and Portuguese. Also relevant to this chapter are the examples of interactions among Spanish and Portuguese speakers from different sides of the border. In example 1, Rojas Molina (2008) offers the transcription of an interaction between a Brazilian customer and a Colombian saleswoman in a makeup store in Leticia, where one notices the use of both Portuguese (PORT) and Spanish (SPAN).


The viability of nonreciprocal code-switching (Zentella, 1997) among speakers of Portuguese and Spanish illustrated in (1) is due to typological similarities and experience and mutual experience with the interlocutor’s language. However, when communication breaks down, it is important for the interlocutors to attempt to accommodate to the other language. Rojas Molina’s ensuing example (2) shows the dialogue between a salesperson in Santa Rosa (Peru) and a costumer from Tabatinga (Brazil). While the interlocutors try to carry out the conversation in their own languages, when communication becomes difficult, the salesperson adjusts to the customer’s native language accommodation (p. 272):


Here, the salesperson realizes that her costumer did not understand the Spanish word for ‘red’ (rojo) and uses the Portuguese one (vermelho). It is likely that this example is a close representation of innumerable instances of cross-linguistic communication and language convergence that regularly take place between Brazilians and their Spanish-speaking neighbors across the border.

2.4 Spanish–Portuguese Contacts Along the Bolivian–Brazilian Border

In his survey of border communities in South America, Lipski (2010) includes the town of Cobija, on the northwestern Bolivia border, which is linked to the town of Brasiléia, in Brazil, by a bridge over the Rio Acre that separates the countries in this area. According to him, Cobija’s residents have frequent contact with Brazilians, who visit the duty-free shops and favor Brazilian television over Bolivian. While bilingualism is rare outside binational intermarried families, the Portuguese presence in Cobija led to the incorporation of Portuguese lexical items in the local repertoire and, to a certain extent, the introduction of syntactic features that, according to Lipksi (2010, p. 569), resemble Portuguese, such as double negatives and non-inverted S-V interrogatives.

Lipski (2010, pp. 569–570) also discusses the sociolinguistic situation of the border town of Guayaramerín, in the department of Beni, in Bolivia. Unlike the situation in Cobija, the movement of border residents from Guayaramerín to the closest Brazilian town, Guajará-Mirim, is difficult since residents need to take a ferry in order to cross the wide Mamoré river. Lipski reports that Bolivian salespeople who work at the shops in Guayaramerín speak Portuguese with Spanish influence when speaking to Brazilian customers who take the ferry to Guayaramerín to go shopping. Example 3 is among those the author offers to illustrate this phenomenon:


In this example, the speaker starts the sentence in Portuguese (porque não tem), inserts a segment in Spanish (como le puedo) but complements it with the verb ‘to speak’ in Portuguese, a clear illustration of linguistic accommodation toward the client’s native language.

2.5 Spanish–Portuguese Contacts Along the Paraguayan–Brazilian Border

Lipski’s (2010) survey of Portuguese–Spanish in contact on the Brazilian border included four communities in Paraguay: Pedro Juan Caballero, Zanja Pytã, Capitán Bado, and Bella Vista Norte. Free movement of people and vehicles, in addition to proximity and easiness of transportation between these towns and their Brazilian counterparts, facilitates the presence of Portuguese in these communities. According to the author, it is common to find Paraguayans with a good command of the Portuguese language (2010, p. 86).

In a brief analysis of neologisms on the border area between Brazil (Mato Grosso do Sul) and Paraguay (Amambay), Isquierdo (1999) documents the presence of lexical loans from both Guarani and Spanish in the Portuguese spoken in the border Brazilian communities. She reports the presence of established nouns such as erva kue (or ‘used tea leaves’, where kue is borrowed from Guarani and erva is the Portuguese word for ‘tea leaves’); and pealar, a Spanish verb (to lasso), also used as a borrowing in the Brazilian southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Albuquerque (2010) discusses the presence of Brazilian landowners in Paraguay, who began migrating in 1950 and have since increasingly continued to do so due to the lower cost of land in Paraguay. The author discusses the conflictive coexistence of Paraguayans and Brazilians on Paraguayan land, where there are 300,000 Brazilian residents (MigraMundo, 2015). These so-called “Brasiguaios” maintain Portuguese as their home language and may learn Spanish, but resist the idea of acquiring Guarani, the first language of a large part of the native population.

2.6 Spanish–Portuguese Contacts Along the Argentinean–Brazilian Border

Misiones is the Argentine province that shares the largest border with the state of Paraná in Brazil. According to Lipski (2010), this border region differs from the others since Portuguese has been spoken in some rural communities for an extended period of time. The Misiones/Paraná border is peppered by several towns on the Argentinean side whose populations range from 40,000 (San Antonio) to as few as 1,000 (Alba Pose). Lipski’s survey of the varieties of Portuguese found in these communities points to the presence of lexical borrowings, as in example 4 (2010, p. 92):


Here, the Portuguese verb lembrar (to remember) is used instead of the Spanish equivalent acordarse in a Spanish sentence.

Lipski also offers an example of the insertion of a code-switched segment in the middle of an otherwise Portuguese sentence in 5 (p. 93):


In this example, the speaker starts the sentence in Portuguese (o trabalho não se dá), switches to Spanish (no se puede) and finishes in Portuguese (fazer muito). The code-switching in the middle of the verbal phrase is facilitated by the structural similarities between the two languages.

In addition, Lipski points out the interesting lack of verbal agreement, where the speaker conjugates the verb ter, ‘to have’ in the third-person singular, despite his use of a first-person subject pronoun, in example 6 (p. 90)


However, Lipski notes that, far from representing community norms, these features are sporadic and idiosyncratic.

In conclusion, the aforementioned border encounters typify prototypical language contact situations across border states that allow for contact between residents from both sides of the border, and whose movement is not controlled. These studies showed that, due to high level of similarities between Portuguese and Spanish, it is possible when engaging in a conversation for each speaker to keep using his/her own language. Established lexical borrowings, or borrowings that are widely used in the community, such as pealar, ‘to throw’, attested in Brazil near the border of Paraguay, are natural consequences of long-term contact between cultures and languages. Speakers’ efforts to assimilate to their interlocutors’ other language may lead to the use of nonce borrowings, as seen in example 3. As put by Lipski, few speakers who live in Spanish-speaking communities that border Brazil are fluent in Portuguese unless they have family ties or experience living in Brazil. However, the author points out that the Department of Misiones in Argentine presents an exception to this pattern due to the fact that Portuguese-speaking settlers have resided in that area for longer.

In sum, existing literature attributes the contact that takes place between the border dwellers of both sides of the border to social interactions and business transactions facilitated by the lack of border control, absence of geographical features that present natural obstacles to communication and transport, and by differential currency exchange rates. In general, L1 Spanish speakers will accommodate their Portuguese-speaking interlocutors as much as they can and as much as they find necessary. As Lipski (2011) observed, Spanish speakers use Portuguese as L2 only with Brazilians, although one can find words and expressions borrowed from Portuguese in border varieties of Spanish. A contrasting case is that of the language contact scenario that will be discussed next, where Spanish and Portuguese have been in prolonged contact in situations of stable bilingualism.

3. Spanish–Portuguese Bilingualism in Northern Uruguay

The unique sociolinguistic configuration of the contact between Spanish and Portuguese in Northern Uruguay that allowed for the emergence of stable bilingualism springs from the regional colonial history. Unlike the aforementioned contexts where Spanish speakers and Portuguese speakers accommodate each other during sporadic interactions, several communities along the Uruguayan–Brazilian border present clear cases of bilingualism, where speakers use both languages in their everyday lives.

Portuguese settlers arrived at the Río de la Plata region as early as 1526 and soon began expanding their presence. In 1680, they founded the town of Colonia do Sacramento in order to extend the border delimited by the Treaty of Tordesillas (figure 1). Immediately after its foundation, however, Colonia do Sacramento was invaded by Spain. Due to the expansion of the Portuguese presence in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the need to defend the area from the Portuguese also increased, and in 1724, Montevideo, the current capital of Uruguay, was founded. Although Montevideo became an important Spanish center, the north remained sparsely populated, with a few Portuguese-speaking rural communities until the beginning of the 19th century (Elizaincín et al., 1987). In 1815, the Portuguese army initiated the invasion of the south that culminated in the establishment of the Cisplatine Province in 1821, which was dismantled in 1828 when Uruguayan independence was recognized. Upon independence, no measures were taken to delimit territories in the north, and no border between the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul and Uruguay was established, thus allowing for the continuing establishment of Portuguese and Brazilian families in northern Uruguay.

The 19th century saw several attempts to populate the northern area with Spanish-speaking residents in order to counteract the presence of the Portuguese-speaking population in that region. According to the 1860 Census, among Uruguay’s total population of 180,000 inhabitants, 40,000 were Brazilians residing in the northeast part of the country. Among these nation-building measures, one finds the foundation of several border towns, the establishment of Spanish-speaking business, the construction of a railroad that linked the south to the north, and most importantly, the declaration of Spanish-speaking mandatory schooling throughout the country in 1877.

With the establishment of Spanish-language businesses, public offices, and schools in the north, there was significant Spanish penetration into the Portuguese-speaking border communities. The confrontation of two cultures—the local, rural, Portuguese-speaking and the southern, urban, national and prestigious Spanish-speaking—became the root of the current sociolinguistic stratification, which will be discussed next.

While language policies continued to promote monolingualism in Spanish in Uruguay throughout the 20th century, Portuguese survived as the first language of several northern communities, in which it is still spoken by a large part of the population. Rona (1965) was the first linguist to document the presence of Portuguese in Uruguay (1965), followed by Elizaincín’s seminal studies (1976) and Hensey’s book (1972). Recent studies continue to document the use of Portuguese as a minority language used by a large part of the population in Artigas (Carvalho, 2014; Douglas, 2004), Rivera (Behares, 2007; Carvalho, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2014, 2016; Elizaincín et al., 1987; Elizaincín, 1979, 1980, 1992; Hensey, 1971, 1972; Rona, 1965; Waltermire, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014), Aceguá (Pacheco, 2017), and Chuy (Couto, 2008, 2011) (see figure 3).

Figure 3. Map of places where Portuguese as L1 in Uruguay has been studied.

Thus, unlike the contact between Portuguese and Spanish along the Brazilian border with Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Argentina, Portuguese has been spoken in Uruguay as the first language of a large part of the population for more than a century. The preservation of Portuguese in Uruguayan territory is partly due to a diglossic dynamic that allowed its maintenance as the minority language, used in ingroup conversations and in private domains, while Spanish was preferred as the public language (Behares, 2007; Carvalho, 2010; Waltermire, 2012). In addition, language choice is socially stratified: Both Carvalho (2007) and Waltermire (2012) show that while the vast majority of the working class prefer to use Portuguese at home, the reversal iss true for the middle classes, who reported more frequent use of Spanish despite proficiency in Portuguese. In fact, Brovetto et al. (2007), after surveying three schools in the working-class outskirts of Rivera, found that 89% of the students reported speaking Portuguese as their L1 at home. Because of its strong connections with the local community, Uruguayan Portuguese is an important identity symbol of the border culture (Behares, 1984; Carvalho, 2014; Sturza, 2010; among others).

It is well known in sociolinguistics that languages that lack official status and are in prolonged contact with another language (thus departing from the monolingual counterpart) lack social prestige. This is indeed the case of Uruguayan Portuguese, which is stigmatized and considered ‘mixed’ by its speakers (Behares, 2007, Carvalho, 2014; Douglas, 2004; among others), especially when compared to the prestigious Portuguese dialect spoken by monolingual Brazilians on the other side of the border, perceived by Uruguayan-Portuguese speakers as ‘pure’ and ‘correct.’ Uruguayan Portuguese’s strong roots in rural Brazilian Portuguese and the presence of contact-induced features are responsible for its lack of prestige, in addition to its status as a minority language, social and stylistic stratification, and lack of institutional support.

4. Portuguese in Uruguay

4.1 Uruguayan Portuguese: A Rural Variety

Contemporary Portuguese in Uruguay presents several traits of rural dialects in Brazil that reveal its origin in and close relationship with rural Brazilian Portuguese (BP). The similarities are abundant, and in the absence of contact features such as lexical borrowings, it would be difficult to discern it from the Gaucho variety of Portuguese spoken on the other side of the border, since Uruguayan Portuguese is essentially and structurally Portuguese (Carvalho, 2003, 2004, 2006a, 2014; Elizaincín, 1980, 1992; Hensey, 1972; Pacheco, 2017). Among rural features also prevalent in BP, one finds the tendency toward regressive nasalization due to the presence of a nasal segment in the following syllable, rendering the pronunciation of assim (this way) as [ã’sĩɲ] instead of the standard [a’sĩɲ], for instance. In addition, the occurrence of words such as açucre, Standard BP açucar, ‘sugar’ in Uruguayan Portuguese suggests borrowing from rural Portuguese, where this process of metathesis is rather productive. Perhaps the phonological feature that most clearly connects Uruguayan Portuguese with the rural Brazilian dialect is the vocalization of the palatal lateral as the pronunciation of the (lh) digraph, as seen in the pronunciation of trabalho (work) as [tra’baiu], as opposed to the standard [tra’baλ‎u]. This is such a productive variable rule that it may be applied to lexical loans from Spanish and adapted loan forms such as rodia [řo’día] (knees) (Standard PT joelho and Standard SP rodilla). However, (lh) vocalization is not categorical in Uruguayan Portuguese, as Carvalho’s (2003) quantification showed. Her analysis of 56 interviews in Portuguese with Rivera dwellers shows that the standard variant is preferred by the upper classes and in formal styles, while the vocalized variant is frequent among the elderly, the lower social stratum, and in informal styles. Based on these results, she indicates that Uruguayan Portuguese is not a monostylistic dialect, but susceptible to similar social and stylistic stratification as BP.

In addition to lexical and phonological features of BP, Uruguayan Portuguese presents a series of morphosyntactic variants also abundant in nonstandard BP. Variable nominal agreement in Uruguayan Portuguese, for example, coincides with BP, as seen in example 7, where ano (year) fails to agree with the plural modifier quinze (fifteen), a widespread rule in BP:


Another nonstandard feature in BP is the regularization of the reflexive pronoun paradigm favoring third-person singular se, amply documented in BP and illustrated in the speech of a 30-year-old native speaker of Uruguayan Portuguese in Rivera when she uses third-person Sg se instead of the standard first person Pl nos:


One of the most salient morphosyntactic features of nonstandard Uruguayan and BP is the replacement of the standard 1st Sg Pl verb suffix of –ar verbs, -amos by –emos, immortalized in Elizaincín, Barrios, and Behares’ (1987) book title Nós falemo brasilero and replicated in the following example, also collected in Rivera, Uruguay:


Rural and nonstandard features in Uruguayan Portuguese like the -emo verbal suffix that are present in both Uruguayan and BP like example 9 are too abundant to cite here (Carvalho, 2003; Douglas, 2004; Elizaincín et al., 1987; Hensey, 1972). What differentiates these two dialects are contact features, especially code-switching, lexical borrowings, and grammatical convergences, which will be discussed next.

4.2 Uruguayan Portuguese: A Contact Variety

Clear consequences of contact with Spanish are well documented in Uruguayan Portuguese (henceforth UP) in the form of frequent code-switching, lexical borrowings, calques, and variable grammatical convergences. These language contact phenomena have led linguists such as Lipski (2006, 2009; Marín, 2001; Sturza, 2004) to characterize Uruguayan Portuguese as a single code of mixed origins, or “true hybridization rather than simple bilingualism with code-switching and borrowing” (Lipski, 2006, p. 8). Other studies, from a variationist framework, point to strong commonalities between Uruguayan Portuguese and BP (Carvalho, 2003, Carvalho & Bessett, 2015; Pacheco, 2017) and refute the hypothesis that these two languages have merged to form a new, third variety, which would imply a complete “convergence, by a population of speakers, on a set of linguistic norms which are collectively different from previous norms” (Kerswill, 2010, p. 230). Based on long-term ethnographic observations and quantitative treatments to sociolinguistic interview data, these authors find that Uruguayan Portuguese’s structure does not deviate from BP indefinite and categorical manners that would justify the creation of a new variety.

In fact, the separation of Spanish and Portuguese in bilingual communities in northern Uruguay remains possible, relevant, and available for the manipulation of discourse functions. Code-switching, the hallmark of bilingual behavior, is very common in Uruguayan Portuguese (Amaral, 2008) and may indicate meaningful manipulation of the separation of languages. Among innumerable examples, one common switch occurs in quotes, as documented in Spanish–English bilingualism in the United States (Zentella, 1997), and illustrated here:


Note that the speaker starts describing her coworker in Portuguese, talking about the time when he started working at her company. She switches to Spanish to report on her sister-in-law’s comments about him. Once the quote is closed, she returns to Portuguese and continues to explain her coworker’s character.

In addition to code-switching, the presence of Spanish has affected Uruguayan Portuguese in different parts of the grammar, as discussed in Section 4.2.1.

4.2.1 Lexicon

In addition to code-switching, the most salient contact phenomenon in Uruguayan Portuguese is the massive presence of lexical borrowings. It is well known in contact linguistics that the most permeable feature in language contact situations is the lexicon, and Uruguayan Portuguese is no exception. Several Spanish words have been incorporated in UP, and some of them are categorically used, such as weekdays, months, holidays, names of public institutions buildings, entertainment, and professions. The use of these words in Spanish as established loans (Poplack, 1993) is used to express concepts borrowed from the official Spanish-speaking world. Example 11 illustrates the use of the word lunes ‘Monday’ instead of the Portuguese equivalent segunda-feira:


Other borrowings are more semantically diverse and used variably according to the speaker’s social characteristics and type of interaction. Most of them are nouns, as illustrated in (12):


In example 12, note the use of Spanish nouns (maletín for BP mala ‘suitcase’; galleta for BP bolacha ‘cookie’; and linterna for BP lantern ‘flashlight’) to refer to all the objects the speaker would take with her on her trip into the woods. An example of a borrowed verb is given in example 13:


In example 13, the speaker explains her ex-husband’s financial support in a stretch that is completely Portuguese except for the incorporation of the verb stem rentar from Spanish into Portuguese (PP alugar) ‘to rent’.

While Uruguayan Portuguese follows the tendency of borrowing content words (nouns, verbs, and adjectives), one finds the use of pronouns and conjunctions borrowed from Spanish in Portuguese as well, as seen in example 14.


Here, this Rivera native explains that he changed to Spanish (“uruguaio”) in a sentence that is in Portuguese, as evidenced by the Portuguese syntax, morphology, phonology, and lexicon, except for the indirect object pronoun that he borrowed from Spanish (le and not the BP lhe, or second person. sg indirect object clitic ‘you’).

Most of the borrowings are less systematic and maybe used sporadically, in variation with their Portuguese counterparts, as seen in example 15, where a school kid in Rivera told his mother who was giving him orders:


Note that his first mention of the verb ‘dance’ was in Spanish (bailar) and the second in Portuguese (dançar) ‘to dance’.

In addition to borrowings, or the inclusion of lexical material in the recipient language, calques, or the assignment of a new meaning to the existing lexical repertoire (Poplack, 1993; Weinreich, 1953), are also frequent in Uruguayan Portuguese. For example, the adjective forte (strong) in Portuguese incorporates the Spanish meaning ‘loud’ in (16):


Word collocations can be calqued as well. (17) illustrates the adaptation of Spanish meter la pata ‘to screw up’ into the following Portuguese segment:


Other common borrowings are discourse markers, well known for being highly permeable in contact situations as well (Carmichael & Dajko, 2016; Myers-Scotton, 1992). Example 18 illustrates the use of three discourse markers (este ‘this’; o sea ‘I mean’; and pero ‘but’) in Spanish, incorporated into a stretch of discourse in Portuguese:


In addition to direct borrowings, nativization of loanwords through phonological adjustments accounts for local neologisms such as sía ‘chair’, St. Spanish [’siʒa] and Pt. cadeira ‘chair’, which suffers iodization, a productive rule in Uruguayan Portuguese. This process is also seen in the UP word [’koza] for St BP coisa ‘thing’ and St US (or Uruguayan Spanish) cosa [’kosa], where the Spanish version is adopted but /s/ undergoes the Portuguese phonological rule that voices intervocalic /s/. Other words have less transparent origins, and it is difficult to trace the steps of their formation. For example, it is difficult to trace the origin of the near-categorical use of the word muñata for Pt. batata doce ‘sweet potato,’ whose standard Spanish counterpart is boniato.

4.2.2 Morphology, Morphosyntax, and Syntax

As concerns morphology, in Uruguayan Portuguese one finds the use of Spanish suffixes with Portuguese stems, such as the diminutive –ito (vs. St Portuguese –inho), as in (19):


Sporadic grammatical gender borrowing is detected as well, as in the utterance no próximo viajem (in the next trip), collected in an interview in Rivera with a lower-middle-class man, where the feminine noun viagem ‘trip’ was assigned the Spanish-like masculine grammatical gender (viaje [m]). Also found to coexist with the Portuguese rules are prepositions and articles agglutination (e.g., pela ‘on the’) that are kept separated as standard in Spanish por la ‘on the’, as in (20):


In morphosyntax, adjustments are found in the use of reflexives that mirrors the Spanish use as in the verb dormirse (to fall asleep), contemporary standard Portuguese dormer, as illustrated in example 21:


In language contact situations, syntax is often considered the least permeable to language contact (Romaine, 1994; Thomason, 2001), and indeed only a few syntactic characteristics found in Uruguayan Portuguese may be the result of contact with Spanish. For example, a syntactic calque is found in the use of um (one) as an impersonal pronoun (e.g., Uno nunca sabe ‘one never knows’). While the uno construction is productive in Spanish, it is no longer present in monolingual varieties of Portuguese. Example 22 illustrates this phenomenon:


Note, however, that instead of interpreting the change as due to language contact, it is important to first distinguish categorical and variable behavior. Example 23, collected during the observation of a dialogue between a mother and her kids, illustrates the Spanish-influenced use of present subjunctive after the preposition até (until) followed by que (where), whereas in monolingual Portuguese, future subjunctive immediately after até is more frequently chosen. Thus, (23) could signal a syntactic convergence toward a construction that is categorical in Spanish but variable in Portuguese.


Minutes later, during the same interaction, the same speaker uses the future subjunctive verbal form after quando (when), and not the Spanish-like present subjunctive:


The use of the standard future subjunctive in (23b) reveals the variable nature of these constructions in Uruguayan Portuguese, and it becomes clear that the preference for the Spanish-like present subjunctive in (23a) is neither categorical nor definitive, thus not constituting a contact-induced change that has displaced the future subjunctive in Uruguayan Portuguese.

Another fundamental component of the variationist approach to language contact is the discernment of internal tendencies from contact-induced ones (Poplack & Levey, 2010). While some urban varieties of Uruguayan Portuguese have leveled toward urban BP (Carvalho, 2004), more rural dialects in the region may resemble previous stages of Portuguese that are closer to Spanish. Simoni (2017) studies the presence of Uruguayan Portuguese in Poblado, a small village 10 miles south of the Brazilian border, and finds linguistic phenomena that, despite the resemblance to Spanish, could be traits of more conservative varieties of Portuguese. She illustrated this phenomenon as seen in example 24, when the placement of the indirect object pronoun te before the auxiliary ir in the future periphrasis is different from contemporary tendencies to place the pronoun in proclitic positions in relation to the main verb.


In addition, Simoni points to the presence of indirect object doubling with full NPs in her corpus. In (25), we observe a construction that is practically absent in urban BP, but it is also found in Rivera (Carvalho, 1998) and in Barranquenho, a dialect spoken alongside Portuguese and Spanish by bilinguals on the border of Portugal and Spain (Clements et al., 2011):


Simoni argues that although these constructions may resemble Spanish, one needs to consider the possibility that they could be vestigial traits of archaic rural Portuguese.

4.2.3 Phonology

Regarding the Uruguayan Portuguese sound system, Hensey (1972, 1982), Meirelles (2009), and Douglas (2004) identified phonological variables in Uruguayan Portuguese that attest to Spanish influences such as /z/ devoicing and the pronunciation of syllable-final /l/ as alveolar. Meirelles (2009) studies the phonological inventory in the Portuguese dialect of both sides of the border, in Rivera (Uruguay) and in Santana do Livramento (Brazil), and finds that despite some phonetic differences, the phonological inventories present no differences, and maintain important distinctions such as /v/ and /b/, /s/ and /z/, and oral versus nasal vowels (2009, p. 274). The similarities between Uruguayan Portuguese and the Gaucho variety of BP spoken on the other side of the border were evident in a recent study, where Córdoba (2017) found that the unstressed final mid vowels in Uruguayan Portuguese fail to raise 65% of the time, contrary to the general tendency of vowel reduction in BP. However, his results do follow very closely the behavior of monolingual Portuguese speakers in the state of Rio Grande do Sul on the other side of the border, as documented by Carniato (2000). Also from a variationist perspective, Castañeda (2011) analyzes the pronunciation of nasal vowels in Uruguayan Portuguese and finds that the linguistic factors conditioning nasalization in Uruguayan Portuguese closely resemble the tendencies found in BP.

In sum, aside from the presence of heavy lexical borrowing and code-switching and sporadic morphosyntactic and phonetic convergences, urban Uruguayan Portuguese keeps strong continuities with southern varieties of BP. The data briefly discussed here suggest that thanks to the large number of Brazilian shoppers in Rivera, constant exposure to Brazilian media, and linguistic insecurity, Riverans show a tendency to avoid nonstandard, local features, and informal styles, and to approximate the dialects spoken by urban monolingual Brazilians. This tendency is especially prominent among young middle-class speakers, who identify less with the border culture. Meanwhile, the city outskirts dwellers tend to maintain more conservative varieties of local Portuguese, those characterized by frequent use of nonstandard, rural Portuguese and contact features. In order to represent the broadening of the vernacular base of urban Uruguayan Portuguese, Carvalho (2003) submits the abstraction of a linguistic continuum that bridges the dichotomy between rural varieties of Uruguayan Portuguese with more urbanized dialects. This continuum consists of a set of possible choices ranging from rural to urban Uruguayan Portuguese, is socially and stylistic stratified, and should explain the current situation of Uruguayan Portuguese spoken in urban centers.

4.3 Border Uruguayan Spanish

While Uruguayan Portuguese has been the subject of multiple analyses since Rona’s seminal work (1965), studies on the Spanish varieties in contact with Portuguese in these bilingual communities are scarce. Border Spanish phonology was studied by Carvalho (2006a) and Waltermire (2011). Both analyzed syllable-final /s/ aspiration and found that this feature has entered border Spanish in a variation pattern that very closely resembles patterns found among Spanish monolinguals in Montevideo. Waltermire (2008, 2010) also analyzed intervocalic /d/ in the Spanish of Rivera residents and found that the Portuguese-influenced occlusive realization is favored by older speakers from the low strata, who usually participate more often than other groups in Portuguese-speaking networks and identify themselves with a pre-urbanized border culture.

In terms of morphosyntaxis, Carvalho (2006c) examined nominal agreement and found that the same social group that favored occlusive /d/ realizations in Waltermire’s study also presents more nonstandard nominal agreement in border Spanish, including the Portuguese-resembling absence of the whole plural morpheme, or plural stripping, as seen in example 26:


The presence of voseo, or the use of the 2nd-person sg address form vos as opposed to tu in Rivera Spanish has been analyzed as well. Carvalho (2010) finds that while both forms are variable in most of Uruguay, only recent vos was incorporated into the border dialect as a result of dialect leveling toward the Montevideo variety. Her results illustrate yet another continuity between bilingual and monolingual varieties despite the coexistence of Spanish with Portuguese, a language that lacks any address form that resembles verbal voseo.

As our discussion about lexical borrowings in Uruguayan Portuguese revealed, Spanish is the main lexical donor due to its status as the majority language and receives far fewer lexical items from Portuguese than it provides. However, a common use in border Spanish that departs from its monolingual counterparts is the calque of discourse negative tags from Portuguese não é? (isn’t it). While monolingual Spanish prefers the invariable ¿no?, border Spanish has incorporated ¿no es?, ‘isn’t it?’ as pointed out by Elizaincín (1992, p. 766).


Syntactically, one may find constructions in border Spanish that depart from monolingual Portuguese. They are often used variably with standard Spanish counterparts and favored in informal styles and/or by elderly speakers of rural origin. Among these constructions, one may sporadically find dative constructions that depart from the monolingual Spanish varieties and mirror Portuguese, as illustrated by Elizaincín (1992, p. 793).


Elizaincín also notes a tendency to express third-person singular subject pronoun with inanimate referents in the Spanish varieties spoken in rural areas of northern Uruguay, a common feature in BP. In urban Uruguayan Portuguese, this may not be as prevalent: Carvalho (2016) quantified this variable in the Spanish dialect spoken in Rivera and found only one occurrence of expressed pronoun among 138 contexts, illustrated in example 29 (p. 414).


In her analysis, Carvalho argues that instead of illustrating a clear case of the use of a personal pronoun with an inanimate referent, the referent ‘the gun’ has some degree of animacy since it is metonymically extended to the agent who uses the gun ‘to protect’ the house, thus not radically departing from the monolingual Spanish norms.

The variety of Spanish spoken by bilinguals in northern Uruguay presents a fertile field of study, as it has been analyzed in only a handful of studies. Based on the results that are currently available, one can conclude that similarly to what was found in Uruguayan Portuguese, bilinguals do speak a variety of Spanish that is closely related to the monolingual dialects spoken by monolinguals in the south, except for a few contact-induced variable phenomena.

In sum, this article reviewed the studies that were available to the author about border encounters along the Brazilian borders with Spanish-speaking countries. Several acts of linguistic accommodation between speakers of both languages were documented, and a few contact features in each language were discussed. The situation in northern Uruguay was discussed at length, since it presents a sociolinguistic configuration that is fundamentally different from the other encounters. The case of prolonged contact between Spanish and Portuguese communities in northern Uruguay is an example of stable bilingualism. Both languages, while showing clear signs of language contact, continue to present strong continuities with their monolingual counterparts, especially in urban communities where the massive presence of standard dialects exerts undeniable normative forces.

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