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Review of  The Phonology of Portuguese

Reviewer: David James Silva
Book Title: The Phonology of Portuguese
Book Author: Maria Helena Mateus
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Subject Language(s): Portuguese
Issue Number: 12.1553

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Mateus, Maria Helena and Ernesto d'Andrade (2000) The
Phonology of Portuguese, Oxford University Press, hardback,
x, 162 pp., The Phonology of the World's Languages, ISBN:

David J. Silva, Program in Linguistics, The University of
Texas at Arlington

As noted by its publisher in LINGUIST 12.390, The
Phonology of Portuguese (TPP) provides "an accurate
description of the phonological system of Portuguese"--
referencing both European and Brazilian varieties, and
seeks to explain phonological and morphological phenomena
"within the light of current phonological theories." With
TPP, authors Mateus and d'Andrade have delivered a concise
and comprehensive English-language volume on Portuguese
phonology, nicely complementing the pre-generative English-
language version of J. Mattoso Camara's 1970 work, The
Portuguese Language (translated by Anthony Naro).
While the text manifests sporadic inconsistencies in
its handling of descriptive and analytical details (see
below), it generally presents a style and content that is
clear and coherent. In terms of its global organization,
for example, TPP is extremely clear, providing a
straightforward outline of the major subfields of
Portuguese phonology: segments and features (chapter 2),
syllable structure (chapter 3), morphology (chapters 4 and
5), word stress (chapter 6) and phonological processes
(chapter 7). Each chapter, in turn, presents a fusion of
data and generative theory with an eye toward providing the
requisite "explanatory power" (p. 1) useful to
understanding the peculiarities of Portuguese. As such, TPP
is likely to be of greatest utility to non-Lusophone
linguists seeking a theoretically-oriented survey of
Portuguese phonology.
From a descriptive perspective, TPP provides the
English-reading world with an overview of how Portuguese
phonology works. The authors are particularly vigilant in
drawing distinctions between the language's two most
widely-recognized varieties: European Portuguese (EP) and
Brazilian Portuguese (BP); in doing so, they establish the
utility and applicability of the work to either side of the
Atlantic--a real plus in the world of Portuguese language
studies. In subsequent chapters, the authors are
conscientious purveyors of language data, providing the
reader with relevant facts in appropriate quantities.
That said, there are a number of claims made in the
text that might raise questions. At the beginning of the
book, for example, Mateus and d'Andrade briefly comment:
"The dialects on the archipelagos of Madeira and the
Azores, while they have their own peculiarities, share the
general characteristics of the central-southern dialects"
(p. 2). This characterization of Azorean Portuguese comes
across as a bit too brief, however, particularly in light
of the significant discrepancies between the vowels systems
of standard EP and the varieties spoken on the islands of
S�o Miguel and Santa Maria (e.g. Rogers 1948, 1979). In a
discussion of word-initial consonant clusters, the authors
write: "... child productions during language acquisition
show an inserted vowel between the consonants (e.g. pnew
[pIn�w] instead of [pn�w] 'tire' of after [�fItA] instead
of [�ftA] 'aphthae'.)" (p. 44). [NOTE: [I] represents a
high unrounded central vowel (barred i); [A] represents a
mid central unrounded vowel (upside-down a).] While one
might believe that a child would utter 'tire', is 'aphthae'
attested in the child language literature? Curious, indeed.
In discussing stress-assignment generalizations, they
claim: "In nouns, the absence of a class marker [i.e.
masculine /-o/ and feminine /-a/] restricts stress location
to the final syllable" (p. 118). This is a curious claim
given the existence of words such as cat�strofe
'catastrophe', c�lice 'chalice', n�made 'nomad', o�sis
'oasis' sat�lite 'satellite' and z�nite 'zenith'. One hopes
that oversights of these sorts can be addressed in a future
edition. They should not, however, overshadow the authors'
success in providing readers with a wealth of
linguistically-oriented Portuguese language data: whether
establishing the segment inventory, motivating syllable
structure, presenting noteworthy phonological and
morphophonemic alternations, or outlining basic
inflectional and derivational processes, Mateus and
d'Andrade have produced a work of descriptive merit.
In a fashion that parallels the book's descriptive
aspects, the theoretical discussions in TPP are generally
sound, but with occasional weakness in both content and
style. From chapter 2 onward, Mateus and d'Andrade take
seriously their self-proclaimed charge to provide
generatively-oriented accounts for the phonological
phenomena they present, and they succeed. For example,
their arguments for a single underlying rhotic /r/ to
account for both the tapped and trilled surface
representations are particularly convincing. Moreover,
their analysis of syllable structure is intriguing, as they
account for both Romance-based words as well as those forms
in the language that present Greek-derived word-initial
clusters such as temese 'tmesis' and cten�foro
'ctenophore'. These (and other) successful, convincing
analyses notwithstanding, some of their analyses appear
less consistent, leaving them open to debate.
In an analysis of the Portuguese consonants, the
authors explicitly lay out claims regarding the featural
composition of each segment (table 2.2, p. 29). In this
table, they indicate that the voiced oral obstruents
/b d g v z Z dZ/ are underlying marked [-sonorant]. Why?
Given that one can distinguish 1) voiced from voiceless
segments by virtue of the feature [+/-voice], and 2) oral
from nasal segments in terms of [+nasal], assigning the
voiced obstruent series [-sonorant] appears to be
unnecessary. This decision is all the more perplexing in
light of the sentence that immediately precedes the table:
"Redundant values ... have not been included in Table 2.2."
Several pages later, the authors revise the representations
in Table 2.2 in light of a discussion of underspecification
theory; surprisingly, the revised table, 2.8 (p. 36),
maintains the suspicious [-sonorant] marking for the voiced
obstruents. Moreover, there are other features marked that
one might argue are themselves redundant. If, for example,
/p/ is not assigned a LARYNGEAL node (by virtue of a
putative universal of the sort [+cons] -> [-voiced]), then
it should suffice to represent /b/ as having only a
LARYNGEAL node; specifying a dependent feature [+voiced]
should be redundant. A similar argument holds for their
proposed representation of /k g/, which they describe as
DORSAL dominating [+back] (Table 2.8), and their claim that
the back rounded vowels are characterized by a LABIAL node
dominating the feature [+round] (Table 2.7, p. 35). In each
of these situations, are the dependent binary-valued
features necessary? One might argue, "no." Were one to
espouse a theory of radical underspecification (as Mateus
and d'Andrade appear to do on p. 34), one might argue for
even further streamlined representations.
Throughout the text, Mateus and d'Andrade make
reference to lexical items beginning <es-C> (e.g. espa�o
'space', estar 'to be', eslavo 'Slav', esmagar 'to crush')
as having underlying representations of the form /sC/, that
is, with no initial vowel. Indeed, the authors make this
claim explicit in their syllable-derivation of estar,
assuming an underlying representation of the form /star/
(p. 61). I find this assumption to be quite radical,
particularly in light of: 1) the facts of Brazilian
Portuguese, in which all of these forms begin with an
initial [i-] (p. 45); and 2) my own experience in the
Lusophone immigrant community of Cambridge/Somerville,
Massachusetts, wherein English words of the form /sC/ are
realized as either [IS-C] or [S-C]: store -> [(I)Stoa];
school -> [(I)Skul]; skippy -> [(I)Skipi]. ([S] represents
a voiceless alveopalatal fricative (esh).) Given the
propensity for vowel deletion in EP (as discussed by Mateus
and d'Adrade and quantitatively documented in Silva 1997,
1998), might it not be more expedient to assume that such
forms include an underlying word-initial vowel which is
subsequently deleted? Alternatively, might there be a
voiceless high vowel [I] in this word-initial position?
More careful phonetic analysis might prove worthwhile.
When accounting for word-level stress patterns
(ch. 6), the authors reject weight-based approaches as too
reliant on diacritic marking of exceptions and appeal to a
grid-based model that includes a right-left through-first
perfect grid for line 1, placing primary stress on the
first (rightmost) peak. To account for those forms in the
language without penultimate or ultimate stress, Mateus and
d'Andrade posit an "Anchoring Principle": "[The rhythmic
wave] is anchored to the first position corresponding to
its initial tempo; in the absence of such a position, it
anchors to the right limit." This "initial tempo"
corresponds to "the fact that a vowel of a given lexical
entry may have a pre-assigned rhythmic trough" (p. 123). It
not immediately apparent, however, that their strategy for
assigning stress--which also requires an assumption that
so-called "absent class markers" project an empty X slot on
line 0--is superior to previous accounts. Further
explication would be welcome.
As noted above, the book is generally well written,
particularly in terms of its descriptive passages. In
presenting those aspects of contemporary generative theory
they find most useful to their goals, however, Mateus and
d'Andrade occasionally seem to lose sight of their
For the reader who comes to the table with no real
knowledge of Portuguese, there are helpful discussions
about the basic workings of the language: its Romance
history, its use of morphological number and gender in
nouns, the organization of verbal paradigms, etc. These
same readers, moreover, are likely to have no problem
understanding passages that possess a moderate command of
phonological theory. Consider, for example, TPP's initial
discussion of the underlying rhotic:

"It is generally accepted that codas may not have C-place
(see 2.4 and Chapter 3). If this is true, and given that
that [sic] flap is an unmarked consonant (see again 2.4),
it is preferable to have an underspecified flap in coda
and fill it with default rules than to specify it with a
new feature, [+f] (as Bonet and Mascar� [1997] propose),
even if this specification is restricted to the
contrasting contexts" (p. 16).

One might reasonably assume that a reader with at least one
semester's worth of exposure to generative phonology would
have access to terms such as "coda," "C-place,"
"underspecified," and "default rules." These same readers,
however, are likely to find minimal use for those sections
of TPP that read a bit too much like a phonology textbook.
In section 2.3, for example, the authors begin with a 3 - 4
page explanation of Feature Geometry, complete with a
figure illustrating the relationship among the various
nodes in the model. In section 5.2, they provide a
historically-oriented overview of lexical phonology, before
proceeding to implement the theory in their explanation of
derivational processes. Not only do these theoretical
"tutorials" feel out of place, they appear in sharp
contrast to those passages in the text that assume a more
in-depth knowledge of phonological theory (e.g. their
discussion of cyclic vs. non-cyclic rules on pp. 104-5).
This unevenness of exposition is striking.
Rhetorical inconsistencies of this sort give rise to
an important question: For whom was this book written? One
assumes that the Lusophone community has (at least
linguistic) access to the various articles and
dissertations cited throughout the text. Moreover, were TPP
written for this audience, one might have expected the text
to have been written in Portuguese. (Note: I would
certainly encourage a Portuguese-language version of the
text; such a volume would prove useful as an up-to-date
summary of theoretical concerns in the language.)
Phonologists without background in Portuguese should find
the text a useful source of data and ideas, skipping or
skimming the theoretical resumes. Neophyte linguists
seeking to learn about Portuguese, however, are likely to
find the text daunting in its theoretical scope.
Who, then, might have an interest in this book?
Anybody with background in linguistics seeking a
comprehensive description of contemporary Portuguese
phonology. This audience would include acquisition
librarians looking to add a single English-language volume
that addresses the issue of Portuguese phonology.
In the end, the weaker aspects of TPP are counter-
balanced by its strengths, with the balance tipping in
favor of the positive. I suspect that some of the
theoretical analyses presented in the book will become the
standard accounts for Portuguese. In other cases, I see
Mateus and d'Andrade's analyses serving as a springboard
for future discussion on this most interesting and (dare I
say) underappreciated Romance language.

Bonet, E. and J. Mascar� (1997) "On the representation of
contrasting rhotics." F. Mart�nez-Gil and A. Morales-Front
(eds.), Issues in the Phonology and Morphology of the Major
Iberian Languages. Washington: Georgetown University Press,
C�mara, J. Mattoso (1970) Estrutura da L�ngua Portuguesa.
Rio: Sim�es.
Rogers, Francis M (1948) Insular Portuguese pronunciation:
Porto Santo and Eastern Azores. Hispanic Review XVI-1.
Rogers, Francis M (1979) Atlantic islanders of the Azores
and Madeiras. North Quincy, MA: The Christopher Publishing
Silva, David J. (1998) "Vowel Elision in S�o Miguel
Portuguese." Hispania 81:166-178.
Silva, David J. (1997) "The Variable Deletion of Unstressed
Vowels in Azorean Portuguese." Language Variation and
Change 9.3:1-15

Bibliographical Sketch
David J. Silva is an Associate Professor at the University
of Texas at Arlington, where he serves as the Director of
the Program in Linguistics. He received an A.B. in
Linguistics from Harvard University in 1986 and a Ph.D. in
Linguistics from Cornell University in 1992. His research
interests lie in the area of phonology, phonetics, and
language variation; the data for this work are drawn
primarily from two languages: European (Azorean) Portuguese
and Korean. Ongoing projects involve the analysis of vowels
in the variety of Portuguese spoken by Azorean immigrants
in the United States and a diachronic analysis of post-
release aspiration (VOT) in Korean stop consonants. He can
be reached by visiting