c / ç / s / x => s

There are four different graphems for the simple s like in cigarette, simple and sun. That can be explained in part and in part it is a mystery. The most stunning graphem is ç. The ç was pronounced initially like the Spanish z or the English th. Therefore there are many words written with z in Spanish and ç in Portuguese (port. açucar <=> sp. azúcar (sugar), port. troço <=> sp.trozo (piece), port. descalço <=> sp. descalzo (barefoot). The phonem that corresponds to the English th disappeared in the course of history, but the graphem survived and is "hanging in the air", because it is actually superfluous. The same thing happened with the Spanish z, that is pronounced as a simple s in South America, although in this case it still makes sense, because at least in the north of Spain the disctinction between s and z is still made.

Concerning the c the pronunciation was waverng from the very beginning. The roman senator Cicero was pronunced as well Kikero.In the course of history someone made the heroic decision to pronounce it as k in front of a, o, u and as an s in front of e, i and that rule applies still today in all roman languages. In ce / ci the s is pronounced like an unvoiced s.

Beim c war schon die Aussprache im Lateinischen schwankend, Kikero oder Cicero. Irgendwann wurde dann der heroische Entschluss gefasst, c nur noch vor a, u, o als k auszusprechen, die Schreibweise hat man erhalten. Nach i bzw. e wurde es irgendwann, über ein paar Zwischenschritte, wie s ausgesprochen.

The reversed sickle is called cedilha. People who have learned French at school know it already. In French it is called cedille.

We owe that sign to the Visigoths. (The author assumes that a lot of similarities between French and Portuguese are due to the Visigoths.) The Visigoths had a z that looked like that and the cedilha steems from that sign. The cedilha is actually a little z, illa is diminutive. Concerning the Visigoth in Spain that made sense, because on the iberian peninsula existed a corresponding phonem, the ceta, pronounced as the voiceless English th. At least in the north of Spain this phonem has been preserved until today although it was substituted by z in a reform of the orthographie in 1815. In Portuguese and French the corresponding phonem disappeared in the course of history, but the graphem was preserved. If the c in front of a, o, u is to be pronounced like an s, we have to use therefore a cedilha. Instead of braço (arm) on could write as well braso. That would be rational, but not so elegant. For some people it is elegant to do things in a weird way. (Actually not a very successful approach by the way. Perl, the very powerful programming language, become famous because it stick to the philosphy of Larry Wall: Make easy things easy and difficult things possible. This world is complicated enough. No need to make it more complicated.)

Something similar is true for x. X is pronounce ks in Spanish, éxito is /eksito/. In Portuguese the k has vanished away in the course of history, but the graphem remained, although it had become superfluous. (If someone wants to know why there are such a lot of differenct graphems for the same phonem.) What we can learn from that? We can learn that traditions has only one sense and that is to break them from time to time if they are not useful anymore. Only complete idiots stick to useless traditions. Sticking to superfluous traditions is not elegant, it is simply stupid.

(The author is no fan of Karl Marx, not at all, his whole economic theory, see www.economics-reloaded.com, is pure nonsense, but that is true: The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.)


1) Before i and e c is pronounced s. Before a, o, u however c is pronounced k. If it is to be pronounced like s before a, o, u the cedilha is required.

2) The reason why sometimes s is written s and sometimes ç, why it is coisa and not coiça can be explained historically, although that is not very helpful. It must be learned by heart. (For those who speak Spanish: If the word corresponding in Spanish is written with z, than it is written with ç in Portuguese.)

3) S is always voiceless and corresponds to the voiceless s in English.

4) X can be pronounced like an s, but this is not always the case. Words that have been imported to Portuguese after the change from ks to s had happened, for instance taxi, are pronounced ks.

We have therefore four different graphems for the very simple s.

graphem IPA sign example translation pronunciation
s [s] bolsa bag
ç [s] braço arm
ce [s] céu sky
ci [s] ciúme jealousy

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