EP word of the week (#29): bebé

Portuguese has two different words for babybebé in Portugal and bebê in Brazil.

The word was brought from French bébé; while the Portuguese took the accent at face value (keeping the same accent from French, but applying Portuguese rules to the accent, therefore making the e an open vowel), Brazilians decided to keep the phonetics intact (since the acute accent in French is used for the exact same purpose as the circumflex in Portuguese: to close a vowel).

Um bebé. A baby.

Also of note: [o/a] bebé is used as a two-gendered noun, meaning you should refer to a baby girl using a bebé and a baby boy via o bebé (like most other nouns that work like this, the masculine is the go-to gender when you’re not aware of gender or you’re talking about babies in general; if you’re talking about something that refers solely to baby girls, use the feminine instead). Portuguese is still a bit behind when it comes to adapting the language to non-binary situations (the masculine gender being used in generic descriptions of professions is an important issue, and so is the lack of third gender pronouns and signifiers)

Compare this with [a] criança (child), which is always feminine regardless of the actual gender of the child.

Related words:

  • [o] berço: crib/cot
  • [o] leite: milk
  • [o] nascimento: birth

5 thoughts on “EP word of the week (#29): bebé

  1. João Duarte May 3, 2016 / 10:57 pm

    Speaking (writing/reading) about “adapting the language to non-binary situations” in Portuguese: The HORRIBLE mistake “presidenta” (a “enta” que preside) would be a nice EP experience post. What do you think? ;)

    Liked by 2 people

    • luisdomingos May 3, 2016 / 11:32 pm

      Well, “presidenta” is more of a Brazilian thing (and also a very politicized turn-of-phrase, used only by Dilma supporters and enforced by the president herself), so I’m not entirely sure it’s under our mantle here; that would also involve talking at length about Brazilian history and we’d lose the Portuguese-oriented thread of the blog.

      Besides, I’ll eventually have to devote one Word of the Week post to “[o/a] presidente de Câmera” (vs. [o/a] prefeito/a), so that’s probably the best opportunity to talk about this particular issue while approaching it from a purely Portuguese and EP-oriented perspective.

      Thank you so much for your always interesting feedback! Um abraço (:

      Liked by 1 person

  2. edmeyr June 2, 2016 / 1:43 pm

    Olá Luís:

    I must admit that I am not sure I can differentiate the pronunciation of bebé from bebê. I checked with forvo.com and found only one entry for “bebé” and none for “bebê”. Could give me some tips on the pronunciation …based on mouth position, etc? Agradeço desde já!

    Liked by 1 person

    • luisdomingos June 2, 2016 / 3:11 pm

      Hello, Elaine. In bebé, both “e”s are open [ɛ] (wider opening of the mouth, like the first e in elephant, elegy, Edward); in bebê, both “e”s are closed [e] (mouth more closed than [ɛ], but not as much as [i] and like the e in mesa, vez, peso; and all French words with é – paté, opportunité, beauté, marié, féminin…).

      “Bebé” is an anomaly in EP since it has an open vowel on an unstressed syllable, but “bebê” in BP should sound pretty similar to “bébé” in French (perhaps with a slight emphasis on the last syllable, but not in all dialects owing to BP’s more syllable-time phonology, especially in slower speach).

      Liked by 2 people

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