The plural of "books" in Portuguese
It's a bit more complex than it seems at first sight.
“Book”, in Portuguese, is “livro”. So, to talk about books, we use “livros”. It seems quite straightforward: the plural is formed with an “-s” at the end of the word.
When we actually hear the plural “-s” coming out of the mouths of the Portuguese, it becomes a bit more complex. Syllable-ending “-s” can be read as (I’m using the International Phonetic Alphabet):
[ʃ] if the word is isolated or the following sound is a voiceless consonant (“livros todos”);
[ʒ] if the following sound is a voiced consonant (“livros dados”);
[z] if the following sound is a vowel (“livros azuis”).
Curiously, few Portuguese notice this. If asked, most would say they read the letter always in the same way.
That’s because the difference between these three sounds, when at the end of a syllable, is never used to distinguish different words. The speaker doesn’t even realise it is making these distinctions — a linguist would say these three sounds are the same phoneme (in fact, they are three allophones of the same phoneme).
With these same sounds, but at the beginning of the syllable, it’s possible to create different words. In that place, all speakers notice the difference between the sounds:
The same distinctions are either quite noticeable or rather imperceptible depending on the position of the sound inside a syllable.
Speakers know much less about their language than their own linguistic brains — it’s one of the amazing facts about human language.
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