EP word of the week (#81): vólei

The differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese are really tricky to place in neat boxes: since we’re talking about two variants of the same language who have been separated for centuries, it’s hard to pin where the differences will be more noticeable, and which words will suffer from this divergence.

Today’s word of the week is another such case where different phonetics causes different spelling, but one complicated by the fact that we’re talking about a shortening of a word that’s shared by both variants.

[O] vólei is EP short for [o] voleibol, the sport known in English as volleyball; in BP, the base word is spelled the same way – [o] voleibol – but the shortening takes a circumflex accent to match BP’s closing of the stressed vowel, becoming [o] vôlei.

Márcio Araújo, um jogador brasileiro de vólei de praia. Márcio Araúko, a Brazilian beach volleyball player.

Why does this happen? Well, for two reasons:

1) the way the Portuguese orthography shows stress and changes in vowel height varies between words, but one rule states that the circumflex should only be used with stressed syllables; in EP this makes sense (since we only close our As, Es, and Os when they’re stressed, so the processes – of stress patterns and vowel changes – match one another), but in BP it just causes an even greater disconnect between the spoken and the written language.

2) Words ending in -l carry their stress on the last syllable, and that’s true for both iterations of [o] voleibol; when we clip the last syllable to make a shortening, the stress falls naturally on the next-to-last syllable. In this case (and unlike metro/metropolitano), the EP vólei sounds exactly like the beginning of voleibol (this open unstressed vowel it’s an exception to the rules of Portuguese where most unstressed Os will sound like /u/).

I hope I was clear – let me know if you have any doubts about this!


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