Sunday 24 January 2010

Delia's Vocabulary Collection

Carol was looking for a recipe on Delia Smith's website earlier (for non-UK readers, Delia's a sort of British Martha Stewart without the criminal convictions. A certain sector of the population considers Delia - unlike Martha - to have an element of sex appeal. I'm not one of them but I believe it's something to do with cold fingertips and a buttoned-up schoolmarmy tone of voice. Judge for yourself.

I've digressed already. Where is this going, you're asking yourselves? Oh yes, Carol was looking at Delia-Online for a recipe and left the page open and when I saw it, it wasn't so much the recipe as the advert on the right which caught my eye.

An advert for something to do with testing your IQ, note the question Qual é a capital de Portugal? Goodness knows what an awareness of the capital of Portugal has to do with one's IQ but that's beside the point because the significance of the ad for me was that it at last cleared in my mind the difference between the Portuguese words qual and que. Qual is "what" (as in "What is the capital of Portugal?") and que is "which".

It is from little breakthroughs such as these, from sources as unlikely as Delia Smith, that I grope slowly towards an  understanding of Portuguese. Now all I've got to do before tomorrow when the TV repair man is coming is master the Portuguese for "I think it's either because my satellite dish is misaligned or because it's vibrating in the wind." Whose website am I going to find the answer to that on - Jamie Oliver'sthe Duchy of Cornwall's, Dennis Compton's  ... ?

(PS - Dennis Compton doesn't have a website - it's a Fawlty gag.)


Kathie said...

[Please don't shoot the messenger]

Welcome to the wild and wacky world of Portuguese grammar: complimentary hankies available to wipe away the inevitable tears of frustration.

"Qual" means "which" (as in, "Which of these cities is the capital?") -- while "que" is "what" (in the sense of, "What is a capital city?"). Of course, there are also idioms arbitrarily containing one or the other of these words which simply be memorized, because thinking about them too closely will make one's head hurt.

If you haven't yet begun, you can also look forward to learning to parse the subtleties of "para" versus "por" (including the latter's forms pelo/a -s when needed in order to agree with the object of the prepositional phrase). Consider the deceptively simple sentence, "I work for him":

"Eu trabalho para ele" (i.e., he's my boss).

"Eu trabalho por ele" (i.e., I'm substituting for him at work).

Let the head-banging on the computer keyboard commence, coitadinhos!

Neil King said...

Well I stand corrected, Kathie, and am feeling a right chump to boot!

If I had been setting the quiz in English, I would have worded it "What is the capital of Portugal?" rather than "Which [implicitly - of these three] is the capital of Portugal?" Hence why I convinced myself that Qual must be "What".

Any native Portuguese speakers have a view? Marisa?

All my Portuguese books are frustratingly ambivalent and translate both of qual and que as both "what" and "which".

One book says of qual (and quais) "denotes a preference, a limited number" which is clearly "which" but then goes on to translate Qual é a sua morada? as "What is your address?"

So I'm not sure there's a completely hard and fast answer but in future I shall default to the assumption that qual is "which" and que (or o que) is "what".

Kathie said...

Oh, the ambiguity of it all! Makes learning Portuguese a real character-builder at times, huh? But please don't let this get you down, because most native speakers I've met are:

a) very compassionate and understanding if it's not one's native language but one is making a good-faith effort to speak to them in theirs -- in other words, we get points just for the courtesy of trying; and,

b) just as we can usually comprehend the intended meaning of a non-native speaker of English who's mangling our native tongue, so too can Portuguese usually figure out what we're trying to say (well, most of the time), notwithstanding our minor mistakes.

So please don't get discouraged by this minor hiccup, because if a geezette like me could start learning the language in middle age, so can young'uns like you!

Marisa said...

Kathie is absolutly right. Sorry.... Portuguese learning in school is dificult for portuguese people too.

Marisa said...

Absolutely? well never mind. "what is your adress?" is correct too. The portuguese language is made of excptions to the rules, and when it comes to world of the verbs gets worse.

Kathie said...

Marisa is absolutely right about a few anomalies in the Portuguese language (as if we native Anglophones were in any position to criticize!).

One of my favorite exceptions to a rule surrounds the difference between "ser" and "estar" (both meaning "to be," although the latter in a more temporary sense, like "the window is open"). In class one day when I was taking Portuguese 1, we given a list of phrases to translate into Portuguese using the proper "to be" verb. When we got to "to be dead," I reasoned that since death is rather permanent (e.g., I don't anticipate a revival for poor Percy Palmeira), I logically translated it as "ser morto" -- which turned out to be wrong: it should be "estar morto," evidently because whoever invented Portuguese believed in an afterlife. So much for logic...

Kathie said...

Oops, make that, "...we were given..."

Neil King said...

And am I not right in thinking that that quintessentially ephemeral concept, the time, uses ser as in São oito e meia?

Kathie said...

Tens razão. If I can be so familiar.

Neil King said...


Received the calendar BTW. Thanks very much. We're going to use it as we did last year's, if we may, to record bookings for the Palheiro in. I hope you will find that a suitably fitting use for it. Thanks again, Neil

Marisa said...

ser morto means that someone killed you (to be killed), estar morto means being dead.

Kathie said...

There's a booby-trap lurking beneath "ser" and "estar" + "morto":

a) In "estar morto," "morto" is the past participle of "morrer" = to die.

b) In "ser morto," "morto" is the (irregular) past participle of "matar" = to kill.

I.e., two verbs with same past participle (sigh).

P.S. Apt usage for calendar.