Cape Verdean Portuguese: Wikis


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Cape Verdean Portuguese is the variety of Portuguese spoken in Cape Verde.



While Cape Verdean Creole is the mother tongue of nearly all the population in Cape Verde, Portuguese is the official language. Creole is, therefore, used colloquially, in everyday usage, while Portuguese is used in official situations, at schools, in the media, etc. Portuguese and Creole live in a state of diglossia.

Portuguese is not spoken uniformly in Cape Verde. There is a continuum that reveals several aspects: greater or lesser education, greater or lesser exposure to Portuguese, greater or lesser frequency in Portuguese usage, etc.

There is no institution that regulates the usage of Portuguese in Cape Verde. Nevertheless, there are some empiric concepts about what is "correct" or "incorrect" concerning the way of speaking, resulting from:

  1. consensual models among people that are the more educated and/or more exposed to Portuguese;
  2. consensual models among scholars, language teachers, etc.
  3. when some linguistic phenomena occur in a systematic and regular way, they are no longer considered deviance to the standard, but rather a genuine expression of a regional community;

Another interesting phenomenon is that, if by one side the Portuguese in Cape Verde has developed some specificities, on the other side, during the years of colonization the paradigmatic models were from European Portuguese, and as of today, the reference works (grammars, dictionaries, school manuals, etc.) are from Portugal. Therefore, we are in the presence of two movements in opposite directions that happen simultaneously: on one side the Portuguese spoken in Cape Verde moves toward a development of its own characteristics, and on the other side the European Portuguese standards are still making some pressure that slows down the development of a typically Cape Verdean variety.


The Portuguese spoken in Cape Verde is based on the European Portuguese. That's not too strange, due to the historical relationships and by the fact that the language standardizing instruments (grammars, dictionaries, school manuals) are based on standards from Portugal. However there are differences that in spite of being small are enough to set Cape Verdean Portuguese apart from European Portuguese. Despite some minor differences in the pronunciation by speakers of the northern and southern islands (see below), due to the small size of the territory one cannot say that there are dialectal divisions in the Portuguese spoken in Cape Verde, making up the Cape Verdean Portuguese on its whole a dialectal variety of Portuguese.



In the phonetics, the Cape Verdean variety is close to the Portuguese one. Shown here are the more striking differences:

  1. Consonants
    1. The “l” sound
      In Cape Verdean Portuguese the “l” sound is dental [l̪], i.e., it is pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the upper teeth, and with the tongue in an horizontal position. It is similar to the “l” sound in Spanish, French or German.
      The “l” sound in European Portuguese is alveolar [l͇], i.e., it is pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the alveolar ridge, well behind the upper teeth, with the tongue making a curve with the concavity pointing up. It is similar to the “l” sound in English or Catalan.
      Since this “l” is pronounced with a bowed tongue, the back of the tongue approaches the vellum, and therefore some authors consider that the Portuguese “l” is a velarizedl” [ɫ].
    2. The “rr” sound
      The “rr” sound has the same variability that in European Portuguese. It is either pronounced “with the tip of the tongue” (more frequent in the Southern Islands) or either pronounced “in the back of the throat” (more frequent in the Northern Islands). With “the tip of the tongue” it is meant an alveolar trill [r]. With “the back of the throat”, according to the speaker, it can be either an uvular trill [ʀ], either an voiced uvular fricative [ʁ], or either a voiced velar fricative [ɣ].
    3. The intervocalic “b”, “d” and “g” consonants
      Some works claim that the intervocalic “b”, “d” and “g” consonants are pronounced as fricatives [β], [ð], [ɣ] in Portugal. In Cape Verde they are always pronounced as plosives [b], [d], [ɡ].
  2. Vowels and diphthongs
    1. Unstressed “a
      In European Portuguese there are cases when the unstressed “a” is pronounced open [a]:
      - when it originates etymologically from two “a” (sadio, Tavares, caveira, etc.);
      - when a final “a” is followed by an initial “a” (minha amiga, casa amarela, uma antena, etc.);
      - when the “a” is followed by “l” + consonant (alguém, faltou, etc.);
      - other cases harder to explain (camião, racismo, etc.)
      In Cape Verdean Portuguese there is the tendency to close these “a”:
      - vadio, caveira, minha amiga, uma antena, alguém, faltou, pronounced with closed “a” [ɐ];
      Note that in the educated register some unstressed “a” are pronounced open [a]: baptismo, fracção, actor, etc.
    2. Unstressed initial “o
      In Cape Verde, the unstressed initial “o” is always pronounced close [o].
    3. Unstressed initial “e
      In Portugal the written unstressed initial “e” is pronounced [i]. In Cape Verde, according to the word (and the speaker) it’s either pronounced [e], either pronounced [i]. Probably, the natural tendency is to pronounce [e] (in a parallel way to the initial “o”) being the pronunciation [i] resulting from European Portuguese pressure. Many Cape Verdean speakers clearly distinguish in the pronunciation certain word pairs: eminência \ iminência, emita \ imita, emigrante \ imigrante, elegível \ ilegível, emergir \ imergir, etc.
    4. Unstressed initial “e” before “s” + consonant
      In Portugal the unstressed initial “e” before “s” + consonant is pronounced [ɨ]. In Cape Verde, this “e” is not pronounced at all, beginning the word by a voiceless palatal fricative [ʃ] (estado, espátula, esquadro) or by a voiced palatal fricative [ʒ] (esbelto, esganar).
    5. Unstressed “e” sound
      Some Cape Verdean speakers haves some trouble pronouncing the unstressed “e” sound, pronounced [ɨ] in European Portuguese (revelar, medir, debate). This trouble is solved in two different ways:
      1. speakers from the Southern Islands pronounce it as [i];
      2. speakers from the Northern Islands just don’t pronounce it at all (check point 7 farther below);
        Nevertheless, final “l” and “r” are never extended with an unstressed “e”, like some speakers do in Portugal. In Cape Verde it is never pronounced “normale”, “barrile”, “cantare”, “bebere”.
    6. Unstressed “i” and “u” sounds
      In Cape Verde there is no dissimilation of two “i” sounds or two “u” like it happens in Portugal. Words like medicina, vizinho are actually pronounced me-di-ssi-, vi-zi- and not me-de-ssi-, ve-zi- like in Portugal. Words like futuro, Sofia are actually pronounced fu-tu-, su-fi- and not fe-tu-, Se-fi- like in Portugal.
    7. Unstressed “i”, “e”, “o” and “u
      Speakers from the Northern Islands frequently don’t pronounce the unstressed closed vowels [i], [ɨ], [u] (written “i”, “e”, “o” or “u”).
      Nevertheless, either what is mentioned in this point as what was mentioned on point 5 are considered pronunciation errors by Cape Verdeans themselves.
    8. Diphthongs
      In standard European Portuguese the written diphthong “ei” is pronounced [ɐj], while the written diphthong “ou” is pronounced [o]. In Cape Verde these diphthongs are pronounced as the writing suggests: the written diphthong “ei” is in fact pronounced [ej], while the written diphthong “ou” is in fact pronounced [ow].
      In the same way, the nasal diphthong written “em” is pronounced [ẽj], and not [ɐ̃j] like in standard European Portuguese.
    9. Stressed “e” before palatal sounds
      In the same way as the previous point, the stressed “e” before palatal sounds (“lh” [ʎ], “nh” [ɲ], “ch” [ʃ], “j” [ʒ]) is pronounced [e] and not [ɐ] like in standard European Portuguese.
    10. Diphthong “ui
      The diphthong “ui” in the word “muito” is not nasalized ([uj], and not [ũj]).

Morphology and syntax

In the morphology there are not big differences towards European Portuguese, being noted however the preference for some forms. The syntax reveals now and then some Creole structures that are transposed to Portuguese.

  1. In Portugal there are several ways for the 2nd person treatment that are expressed by tu “you — familiar”, você “you — respectful”, o senhor “sir”, a senhora “madam”, Sr. Dr. “Doctor” (or any other professional title), calling the person by its name but using the 3rd person (ex.: O Manuel fazia-me isso, por favor? “Manuel would do this for me, please”), etc. Each of those ways correspond to several levels of intimacy, levels of respect, hierarchy levels, etc.
    The treatment for the 2nd person in Cape Verde is simpler, there are only two levels: tu “you” (intimacy, familiar or same age treatment) and você “you” (respectful treatment) that can be used indistinguishably from o senhor “sir” or a senhora “madam”.
  2. In Creole there is no specific form for the future tense. The future in Creole is expressed with the auxiliary verb “to go”. That is probably the reason why Cape Verdeans prefer using a composite form for the future in Portuguese instead of a simple form (eu vou fazer “I am going to do instead of eu farei “I will do”).
    The same happens with the conditional (se chovesse eu não ia sair “if it rained I was not going to leave” instead of se chovesse eu não sairia “if it rained I wouldn’t leave”).
  3. It is frequent the usage of the interrogative in the negative form, especially when someone offers something: Não queres uma xícara de café? “Don’t you want a cup of coffee?”; Não precisas da minha ajuda? “Don’t you need my help?”.
  4. In Creole there are no definite articles. That is probably the reason why the definite article is sometimes not used. Ex.: Pedro foi instead of O Pedro foi “Pedro went”).
  5. The first person of the plural in the past in verbs from the first conjugation is not pronounced with an open “a” [a] (even if the orthography requests that!). Cantámos, louvámos, brincámos pronounced with closed “a” [ɐ].
  6. Since there is no verbal inflexion in Creole, the usage of personal pronouns is mandatory. That is probably the reason why in Cape Verdean Portuguese the omission of the personal pronouns is rare. Ex.: Eu desço as escadas more frequently than Desço as escadas “I go down the stairs”.
  7. Also because the inflexion of words in Creole is weak, the word order is more rigid. Creole does not allow the flexibility, the inversions and word order changes that Portuguese allows.
    In every day usage, it is not natural to a Cape Verdean speaker, when speaking Portuguese, to use inversions and word order changes. For example, what in Portugal could be said espero eu que um dia lá chegues (literally “hope I that one day there you arrive”), to a Cape Verdean speaker would be more natural to say eu espero que tu chegues lá um dia (literally “I hope that you arrive there one day”).
    Nevertheless, it is not an impeachment to, at literary level, be used the flexibility mentioned before.
  8. Some frequent mistakes in Portugal, such as póssamos (instead of possamos), tu fizestes (instead of tu fizeste), tu hades fazer (instead of tu hás de fazer), dei-te a ti (instead of dei-te), etc. are not registered in Cape Verde.

Lexicon and semantics

In the lexicon and in the semantics one can notice strong influences from Creole. But the frontier between a Creole substratum in Cape Verdean Portuguese and a Creole superstratum in Cape Verdean Portuguese is not clear. Since nearly all the words in Creole originate from Portuguese, the usage of certain forms is not clear if they are Portuguese archaisms that have remained in Cape Verdean Portuguese, or if they are Creole words that were (re)introduced in Portuguese.

In some other cases, even when speaking Portuguese, is more frequent to use a Creole word than the corresponding Portuguese one.

  1. Some words are specific and reveal some particularities of the fauna, the flora, the ethnography, the cuisine, the climate, etc.
    1. azedinha (gooseberry) instead of groselha;
    2. babosa (aloe vera) instead of aloe vera;
    3. bandeja (platter) instead of tabuleiro;
    4. beijo (meringue) instead of suspiro;
    5. calabaceira (baobab) instead of embondeiro;
    6. carambola (marbles) instead of berlinde;
    7. fatia parida (french toast) instead of rabanada;
    8. gaita (accordion) instead of acordeão;
    9. geada (dew) instead of orvalho;
    10. malagueta (chilli pepper) instead of piri-piri;
    11. mancarra (peanut) instead of amendoim;
    12. mel understood as sugarcane honey; the bee honey is known as mel de abelha;
    13. passarinha (kingfisher) instead of martim-pescador;
    14. tambarina (tamarind) instead of tamarindo;
    15. tchota (sparrow) instead of pardal;
    16. violão (guitar) same usage than in Brazil, but different than in Portugal (viola);
  2. Other objects, ideas or expressions are expressed differently. Ex.:
    1. one picks up the phone saying alô, and not estou or está as in Portugal;
    2. what in Portugal is called indiscriminately mala, in Cape Verde has several denominations accordingly to the object: mala “suitcase”, pasta “briefcase”, carteira “purse”, saco de senhora “lady handbag”, arca “trunk”, etc.;
    3. on the other side, what in Portugal can be called sobretudo “overcoat”, casaco “coat”, blusão “jersey”, kispo “anorak”, blazer, etc., in Cape Verde is simply called casaco;
    4. it’s said máquina de calcular (and not calculadora “calculator”), máquina de fotocópias (and not fotocopiadora “Xerox machine”), cartucho de tinta (and not tinteiro “ink cartridge”);
  3. Because the closer neighboring countries of Cape Verde are francophones, in diplomatic environment or in environments more in contact with foreigners some neologisms appear, strongly rejected by scholars and purists in Cape Verde. For ex.: engajar (from French engager), atitude revanchista (from French revanche), adereço meaning “address” (from French adresse or possibly from English “address”), “tchanci” (from English or French “chance”)
  4. In spite of some words being used with exactly the same meaning of European Portuguese, they are also used with the meaning in Creole. Ex.:
    1. malcriado, rebel, unsubmissive, instead of rude;
    2. afronta, desperation, instead of outrage;
    3. pudera! , exclamation meaning “of course!”
    4. rocha, mountain, instead of rock
    5. inocente, naïf, instead of innocent;
  5. Some meanings in Portugal are simply not known in Cape Verde. Ex.:
    1. abalar is only known with the meaning of “to shake”, and not with the meaning of “to leave”;
    2. ilhéu is only known with the meaning of “islet”, and not with the meaning of “island inhabitant”;
    3. ténis is only used for the sport “tennis”, the shoes “sneakers” are known as sapatilhas;


There are no differences between the orthography of European Portuguese and Cape Verdean Portuguese, because Cape Verdean Portuguese is based on European form.

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