/ɐ̃/ (Brazilian Portuguese) vs /ɛ̃/ (French)

Alan Evangelista

Senior Member
Brazilian Portuguese
Hi, guys!

I am not sure this is the best forum for this question, but I think there is no perfect Word Reference forum to ask it, so at least here there is a bigger chance someone could answer.

I have always pronounced /ɛ̃/ (used in words like chien, vin and jardin in French) as /ɐ̃/ (used in words like rã, sã and santa in Portuguese - you can hears the sounds in Google Translate). However, I have recently reviewed the vowel trapezoid of both languages:
Portuguese phonology - Wikipedia
French phonology - Wikipedia

The two phonems are clearly in distinct positions of the vowels trapezoid, but I cannot hear any difference between both, nor can I understand how I should say /ɛ̃/ .

I read that I should simply say /ɛ/ (E sound in "bet" in English or "mel" in Portuguese) and blow air through the nose. However, when I do it, I get a sound similar to ɛ, different from /ɛ̃/ . But the way, in my ears /ɛ̃/ does not sound at all like a /ɛ/, so not even the IPA symbol itself makes sense to me.

Could someone please help me?

Thanks in advance!
 
Last edited:
  • merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I will review your links at a later time, but personally I have always pronounced the two exactly the same, but it was something I figured out all by myself listening to people pronouncing the two sounds. So I would pronounce rein and saint like and . However, I learnt Portuguese in Portugal, so I'm not sure if that accounts for any difference.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    French "/ɛ̃/" is actually quite a bit more open than it's oral counterpart /ɛ/, despite being written with the same letter due to tradition. I always pronounce it as a nasal front /ã/, contrasting (unless I mess up the pronunciation, since French is my L3...) with the nasal back /ɑ̃/. So pronouncing it similar to Portuguese /ɐ̃/ isn't too much of a mistake.
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    I agree with Zec, French /ɛ̃/ is a front vowel, while (Brazilian) Portuguese /ɐ̃/ is more back.
    French "/ɛ̃/" is actually quite a bit more open than it's oral counterpart /ɛ/, despite being written with the same letter due to tradition.
    Being an English-speaker, I originally associated French /ɛ̃/ with the [ᴂ] of (Am.Eng.) "danse" (not "dense"), until I learned of that tradition.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I've listened to the nasal vowels here and I still associate Portuguese an, am in campo, planta with [ᴂ] and French /ɛ̃/. They use the symbol /ɐ̃/ for Portugues but it doesn't sound to me to have any "a" quality to it , very unlike French camp, plante. Rather more like Quimper, plainte.
     
    Last edited:

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    What I hear is, using my native Catalan range of vowels:

    /ɑ̃/ (champ): somewhere between /ɔ̃/ and /ã/, closer to /ɔ̃/ for European French, and to /ã/ for Canadian French
    /ɛ̃/ (chien): almost like /ã/ in European French, and /ɛ̃/ for Canadian French
    /ɔ̃/ (bon): /õ/

    As for Portuguese nasal vowels, I hear them exactly as they're transcribed (/ɐ̃/ being between /ã/ and /ə̃/), so the difference between French /ɛ̃/ and Portuguese /ɐ̃/ is indeed very small.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    What I hear is, using my native Catalan range of vowels:

    /ɑ̃/ (champ): somewhere between /ɔ̃/ and /ã/, closer to /ɔ̃/ for European French, and to /ã/ for Canadian French
    /ɛ̃/ (chien): almost like /ã/ in European French, and /ɛ̃/ for Canadian French
    /ɔ̃/ (bon): /õ/

    As for Portuguese nasal vowels, I hear them exactly as they're transcribed (/ɐ̃/ being between /ã/ and /ə̃/), so the difference between French /ɛ̃/ and Portuguese /ɐ̃/ is indeed very small.
    I agree with you in exerything except with "/ɛ̃/ (chien): almost like /ã/ in European French". Chien doesn't sound like it has an /ã/ sound at all to me: as in dans, champs, paon
    That is unless your /ã/ is not IPA but Portuguese spelling. There I would agree sã = saint.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    That's because the vowel in dans, champs, paon would be more properly represented as [ɑ̃], or even [ɒ̃] if it really happens to be rounded (it's difficult to hear the difference by ear only).

    Thing is, even though IPA transcriptions are supposed to show a languages actual pronunciation, they are ironically similar to standard orthographies in that they eventually end up lagging behind the changes occurring in the spoken languages. The standard IPA transcriptions of English and French represent the pronunciation of the early 20th century standard language, which has changed quite a bit in England (with "RP" being replaced by "SSBE" as the de facto standard in media). French hasn't changed that much, but some transcriptions are still imprecise. How French nasal vowels are transcribed doesn't quite represent their true pronunciation, they'd have to be moved counter-clockwise in the IPA diagram a little bit to be precise: /ɛ̃/ is more open than /ɛ/, /ã/ is more back than /a/ and /ɔ̃/ is more closed than /ɔ/ (In France, in Quebec it's more similar to their transcriptions, but tends to move in the opposite direction, from what I've heard).
     

    Swatters

    Member
    French - Belgium, some Wallo-Picard
    The traditional IPA transcription of the DANS vowel is already /ɑ̃/. Something like /ɒ̃/ would indeed be more accurate to the realisation in Northern European French.

    If we ever reform the transcription of French, I'd be more partial to /ẽ - ã - õ/ for the current /ɛ̃ - ɑ̃ - ɔ̃/, since they'd have the advantage of being dialect-agnostic and easy to type while still showing their phonetic and morphological alternation with those oral vowels.
     

    In-Su

    Senior Member
    Fr. French
    This is an interesting topic. It's actually not uncommon at all in France to confuse /a/ and /ɛ̃/ in some situations. Watching tennis when I was younger, I thought it was weird how scoring a point could get you from 40-30 to 40-1. ;) Trying to de-nasalize /ɛ̃/ by blocking the air that passes through my nose, /ɛ/ is definitely not the phoneme that comes out; it's more of an "a" sound but I couldn't say if it's /a/ for sure.
    My experience with Brazilian Portuguese being so limited, I can only speak for European Portuguese. Oddly enough I've always thought of /ɐ̃/ as being closer to our /ɑ̃/ but that might just be me; I could be biased due to spelling. It'd be interesting if a Portuguese native with some knowledge of French could share their opinion.
     

    Alan Evangelista

    Senior Member
    Brazilian Portuguese
    I have always pronounced the two exactly the same, but it was something I figured out all by myself listening to people pronouncing the two sounds. So I would pronounce rein and saint like and . However, I learnt Portuguese in Portugal, so I'm not sure if that accounts for any difference.
    /ɐ̃/ and /ɛ̃/are somewhat close, but not the same, as I explain below.

    /ɐ̃/ in European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese are very close; the former is a little more central in tongue height than the latter (see the vowel trapezoids of European and Brazilian Portuguese in the link about Portuguese phonology in my first post). Personally, I cannot perceive the difference.

    French "/ɛ̃/" is actually quite a bit more open than it's oral counterpart /ɛ/, despite being written with the same letter due to tradition.
    That's right! I have just recently found out that after making this same question in French Stack Exchange:
    Why is the nasal vowel /ɛ̃/ transcribed as it is if it is closer to [ã]?

    I learned there that French /ɛ̃/ had this sound in the past, but it has shifted to [æ̃] in France and to [ẽ] in Canada. This is so confusing to French students! I wonder why nobody updates the phonetic/phonemic transcriptions.

    By the way, this is documented on the French Phonology wikipedia:
    In some dialects, particularly that of Europe, there is an attested tendency for nasal vowels to shift in a counterclockwise direction: /ɛ̃/tends to be more open and shifts toward the vowel space of /ɑ̃/ (realised also as [æ̃]), /ɑ̃/rises and rounds to [ɔ̃] (realised also as [ɒ̃]) and /ɔ̃/ shifts to [õ] or [ũ]. Also, there also is an opposite movement for /ɔ̃/ for which it becomes more open and unrounds to [ɑ̃], resulting in a merger of Standard French /ɔ̃/and /ɛ̃/ in this case.[32][33] In Quebec French, two of the vowels shift in a different direction: /ɔ̃/ → [õ], more or less as in Europe, but /ɛ̃/ → [ẽ] and /ɑ̃/ → [ã].
    side-note: IMHO there is a little error there in Wikipedia: "/ɛ̃/ tends to be more open and shifts toward the vowel space of /ɑ̃/ /ã/"

    I always pronounce it as a nasal front /ã/, contrasting (unless I mess up the pronunciation, since French is my L3...) with the nasal back /ɑ̃/.
    The current French French pronunciation is in fact [æ̃] (like saying A in English "bat", but nasalized), which is indeed near [ã].

    My experience with Brazilian Portuguese being so limited, I can only speak for European Portuguese. Oddly enough I've always thought of /ɐ̃/ as being closer to our /ɑ̃/ but that might just be me; I could be biased due to spelling. It'd be interesting if a Portuguese native with some knowledge of French could share their opinion.
    Brazilian Portuguese /ɐ̃/ is a low central vowel and thus it is in the midway between French /ɑ̃/ (back vowel) and French French /ɛ̃/ ([æ̃]) (front vowel). There is a subtle difference in pronunciation between Brazilian and European Portuguese's /ɐ̃/, as I explained above.

    Sincerely, to my native Brazilian ears, all three of them sound similar, but /ɛ̃/ sounds closer to /ɐ̃/. /ɑ̃/ sometimes sounds close to /ɐ̃/ and sometimes closer to /ɔ̃/ (depends on speaker).
     
    Last edited:

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    I learned there that French /ɛ̃/ had this sound in the past, but it has shifted to [æ̃] in France and to [ẽ] in Canada. This is so confusing to French students! I wonder why nobody updates the phonetic/phonemic transcriptions.
    Ironically (since phonetic transcription is supposed to represent pronunciation), probably for the same reasons why nobody updates the standard orthography: reluctance to change a written standard with or without a good reason. In addition, I think at first people aren't even aware that pronunciation has changed... they simply learn the vowel in vin is /ɛ̃/ and only when contrasted with foreign dialects or languages can they become aware that something is not right...
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    Concerning the pronunciation of /ɛ̃/, I've listened to vin on Forvo:

    Of the Canadian speakers, Silveroo has a clear [ɛ̃], while mseers has a diphthong [ɛ̃ĩ]

    Of the French speakers, Sabir and Newdelly have an extremely front [ã], rather like the modern British, but not the Americal TRAP vowel. Newdelly's in particular is somewhat denasalized so it almost sounds like va, but the a is fronter than usual. Clador06 has a rather but not extremely front [ã], while arnaud and gwen_zbh have a more central-ish [ä̃].

    So, I'd say overall [ã] is a good description of what /ɛ̃/ has become, moreso than [æ̃]: as I've said it can resemble a nasalized British /æ/, but that vowel has also moved in the direction of [a], and it doesn't quite resemble the American /æ/.

    P. S: Compare also how satsujin (Canada) pronounces sans, and how gwen_bzh and Domigloup (France) pronounce sain. They are practically identical, in fact gwen_bzh's sain sounds darker to me than satsujin's sans! (And I recall when for a class I listened to some Québécois videos, a woman's constamment sounded like consta-main to me)
     
    Last edited:

    Alan Evangelista

    Senior Member
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Of the Canadian speakers, Silveroo has a clear [ɛ̃], while mseers has a diphthong [ɛ̃ĩ]

    Of the French speakers, Sabir and Newdelly have an extremely front [ã], rather like the modern British, but not the Americal TRAP vowel. Newdelly's in particular is somewhat denasalized so it almost sounds like va, but the a is fronter than usual. Clador06 has a rather but not extremely front [ã], while arnaud and gwen_zbh have a more central-ish [ä̃].
    Thanks for that feedback!

    I believe that my hearing is not that good. I hear [ẽ] in the Canadian pronunciations and [æ̃] / [ã] in the French pronunciations.

    gwen_bzh's sain sounds darker to me than satsujin's sans
    What does "darker" mean in this context?
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    Well, to some extent sound perception is subjective. For a long time I've had a wrong impression of [ɛ], since in my dialect the "open e" actually overlaps [ɛ] and [æ], and my "ideal [ɛ]" was as a consequence too open.

    So, it may be that the reason I describe the most fronted of the French pronunciations of /ɛ̃/ as [ã] rather than [æ̃], since the vowel quality registered as my /a/ and not as my /æ/. Most American (and Australian) /æ/'s, when they're not a diphthong like [æa], register as my /æ/ while the British ones sound too open, and it's been said these have moved in the direction of [a] - so, I based by interpretation of the French open and front /ɛ̃/ as /ã/ on that.

    I have no doubts that the Canadians really do say [ɛ̃], the second one confused me for a bit untill I noticed it had a diphthong, but on a closer inspection the first vowel sounder open too.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    I listened to some Portugues vem/vêm on Forvo, and while a few of them match the Canadian vin I linked to, most have a more closed vowel. Looking at the Portuguese vowel charts available on the Internet, at least Brazilian Portugues /ẽ/ can be closer to [ɛ̃ ] than to [ẽ] - although, one of the speaker who have a rather open /ẽ/, mrilke, is from Portugal.

    Conversely, I do remember hearing some Canadians pronouncing true [ẽ], I just wouldn't say the two I linked to are those.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    This may be true. My experience of Portuguese is almost entirely Lisbon dialect. So that may have conditioned my expectation of what vem would sound like. Regarding vêm I'd expect something even different.
    There is a lot of variation in Canadian accent and some people try to alter their accent as well but [ẽ] is possible at least.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top