1 de jun de 2016

Repro-dropping Brazilian Portuguese

(This is something I had very long ago thought about, and I am not even sure if I ever wrote about it here, but because I can't sleep and don't have any mood to do anything more productive I thought of writing here.)

Something that I have realized for a while about Brazilian Portuguese (ok, maybe there is literature about it, I didn't check) is that Brazilian Portuguese has done a move that is similar to French a while back and nowadays has become mostly non-pro-drop. This means that, while in languages like Spanish or Latin saying things like

Spanish: Estoy comiendo pasta.
English: [I] am eating pasta. (the word "I" was ommited in the Spanish sentence)

is common, it is not generally common to hear the equivalent Estou comendo pasta (which is, however, prescriptively grammatical, that is, can be accepted generally according to what we learn in school). Instead, we generally don't drop the pronoun (that is why "non-pro-drop") and do it like in English, Eu estou comendo pasta, with the I in the beginning.

Why does this happen? I think the problem is with ambiguity (which is the same with French): Brazilian Portuguese has (in many many regions!) simply stopped using the conjugations of the verbs in the second person. What does this mean? Below is a chart with how Portuguese has changed:
Hey... it is pretty neat, isn't it. I didn't expect to manage to express it that well =)


As you can see in the image, both tu (second person singular, i.e., you singular) and vós (second person plural, i.e., you plural) are simply gone. Most people don't use them. The first person plural (we) also got mapped into the same conjugation of the third person singular (he): instead of saying we, we say a gente (which means the people), and then conjugate the verb as if we were referring to them (in Portuguese, gente is singular... so we use the third person singular).

I call this phenomenon "third-personalization" of Portuguese (actually, I use a word in Portuguese: "terceiro-personalização"). Because it makes everything so ambiguous (it also causes us to drop the second person possessive pronouns, and use the third as if they were second... and then use something else for the third), we need to say what we are referring to when we conjugate a verb (similar problem with French, where a lot of stuff sounds the same and it is impossible to tell what they are referring to simply by the verb conjugation).

[before I proceed, I need to just say something: this is by no means the way everyone speaks. E.g., people in my region, including me, use tu and conjugate the verb in the third person (e.g., you eats). People in Rio use tu and você interchangeably, people in many regions still use nós, people in the Amazon, as far as I know, conjugate the verbs right, and many other places scattered through the country still make a fair distinction between the conjugations of tu and você. One thing, however, applies to everyone: noone uses vós (actually, I try a lot to, and lots of people find it funny)]

But hey... pronouns are words that are repeated everywhere by everyone all the time. And because they are used so often, we are good at correcting wrong pronunciations of them, right? For example, theoretically, the way I'd say the you eat in Portuguese is tu come (read again the last paragraph if you don't get why I wouldn't follow that chart). But my pronunciation of it is actually very "bad", and I can't notice any difference between saying tcome and tu come. Similarly, for people who say você, I don't see a lot of difference (but I see some... and I don't know how to represent it in letters) between saying ce come (contraction of você come) and scome. Even the 3-syllabic a gente becomes some aentsch when near a verb: aentschcome could perfectly express how I say a gente come when speaking rapidly.

So... what if we could reanalyse this grammar? What if we have been looking in the wrong place all the time? What if the t/c/entsch are actually part of the conjugation of the verb, and actually dropping the pronoun is mandatory, as opposed to optional? Or even... maybe we don't even have these pronouns after all, and everything is part of the same construction. Then the verb conjugations would look more or less like this:

The letters "ö" and "ä" are actually supposed to sound as they would in German.
What would have to change so that this new grammar makes sense? First thing: negation. The sound (corresponding to our não, meaning not) would have to come after the conjugation, and would have to be attached to the verb. E.g.,

öcomo -----> öcomo
äntschcome -----> äntschcome

Negation, actually, seems to be only one specific case among a myriad of words that generally can come in between the pronoun and the verb, as sempre (always), nunca (never) normalmente (normally) or nem (not even), that would have to be reanalyzed as either part of the word, or "words that you put in between words" (does this even make sense?). E.g.,

Portuguese: ö-sempre-como
English: I always eat

So far, it would be still ok, but there is one problem I see (that I don't know how to solve unless we make Portuguese the language with most hifens ever): we can put some weird "subordinate" clauses in between the pronoun and the verb:

Portuguese: eu sempre que tenho tempo como negrinho.
English (in the order of Portuguese): I always when have time eat negrinho.
(yes, I ommited the I between when and have to reflect how the sentence is in Portuguese)
[negrinho is my regional word for "brigadeiro", a small ball of chocolate common in parties]

But actually this doesn't seem to be the "direct" way in which we would say stuff. To me, what we are doing there is using only one eu for two sentences (and that is why we say the sentence in that order). The "direct" way in which I think I would say this is:

Portuguese: sempre que eu tenho tempo, eu como negrinho.
English: always when I have time, I eat negrinho.

And then we don't incur in this problem.

I actually find it way more interesting (and fun) to look at Portuguese this way. Then our verb conjugations would be composed by circumfixes instead of suffixes (that are boring). We could even include the demonstrative pronouns as one more class of conjugations:

Portuguese: Esse é o seu carro.
English: This is your/his car. (again, third-personalization: "seu" is ambiguous here)
New Portuguese: essé o seu carro.

But... well... anyone please tell me your opinions =)

R$