“I sit on a shaded bench, close my eyes, and simply listen to the speech of people passing by. I love the sound of Portuguese, I really do—it’s more than music to my ears. It’s such an indefinably delicious sonic feast that I imagine I’m falling from the clouds.
But for all my infatuation with the language, I do have a complaint—oh, do I—the kind of complaint that insists on calling bread, bread.
The Portuguese swallow their syllables.
It’s almost a national pastime. They can take a perfectly fine sentence and, when they speak, reduce it to a half or a third of its original length. When it comes to spoken Portuguese, what you don’t hear is as important as what you do. Estas certo!—You’re right—becomes Sta cert! A 50 percent linguistic reduction is impressive, but when Eu estou—I am—can be snipped to something that sounds like tou, we’re talking a 75 percent drop in syllabic reality. I imagine that if the Portuguese dictionary were written as the language is truly spoken, the book would be the size of a pamphlet listing the late-blooming flowers of North African mountaintops.”