Even dictionaries perish to define words

Image: Brett Jordan
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By MARCELO MÓDOLO & HENRIQUE SANTOS BRAGA*

The richness of the regional language and the different linguistic registers

A good linguist always has an attentive ear for everyday speech, a place where language is carried out without many brakes, with “the millionaire contribution of all errors”, as Oswald de Andrade said. It was with everyday speech that Dona Araci, a resident of the inland city of Cerquilho (SP), caught our attention, recalling a very common verb there: “pererecar”, in phrases such as “Why are you pererecando to wash this crazy?".

 

Does "perish" exist?

Lay people on the functioning of languages ​​link the record in dictionaries to the very existence of words, as if the language emerged only after being endorsed by scholars – even contradicting the mythical view according to which “in the beginning was the verb”.

In the case of “pererecar”, the main Portuguese language dictionaries record the term, but seem to ignore this meaning used by residents of different interior regions of the country.

For Cândido de Figueiredo (1913), “pererecar” is Brazilianism, an intransitive verb, in the sense of moving vertiginously from one side to another; be bewildered. Caldas Aulete (1945) also registers the verb as Brazilianism, intransitive, in the sense of moving from one side to another vertiginously; (fig.) be bewildered. Also with the meaning of skip, jump (used to refer to the movement of a top).

More recent dictionaries (as is the case with Houaiss) seem to reproduce their predecessors, expanding their semantic field a little: wandering around, bewildered, stunned; jump (the top); jump repeatedly (the player), and unexpectedly, to escape ball disputes; jump, bounce (the ball) unexpectedly, out of the control of the player(s).

As these examples show, the meaning with which the verb is used in the interior of São Paulo — that of “having difficulties with something”, “suffering to carry out a task” — is still not contemplated in important reference works.

 

Where does the term come from?

This friendly verb seems to be a result of its Tupi etymology perereg (also the origin of the term “frog”), which meant moving from one side to another vertiginously to get something – like getting rid of a danger, or grabbing an animal.

In Cerquilhe's usage, whoever "frog" is, in a figurative sense, "moving vertiginously", given the difficulty of carrying out an action. Examples of Amadeu Amaral, in his the redneck dialect (1920), support this hypothesis: “This top is too perishable.”, “I was desperate to grab the devil from the horse, when he is startled.”, “I'm perishable to get some copper, but it's difficult.”.

 

language and belonging

The linguistic material studied by Amaral predominantly refers to the municipalities of Capivari, Piracicaba, Tietê, Itu, Sorocaba and São Carlos, but it is interesting to learn from the author that the caipira dialect was widely used throughout the Province of São Paulo, not just by the majority of the population, but also by a cultured minority – which gave the people of São Paulo the reputation of “corrupting the vernacular”, with their “language vices”. Still alive in some inland places, the so-called “caipira dialect” is one of the remnants of the semi-Creole of the Tupis and Caboclos of Colonial Brazil (that is, a kind of fusion of these different languages), watered by many archaic structures of the Portuguese language.

The striking and influential characteristics of the region's dialect, together with its rich cultural production, seem to be what maintains its survival: it is as if the speakers, aware of their speech, preserved it as a matter of identity and became, in a perspective of discourse analysis, narrators-producers.

In times of commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1922 Modern Art Week, it does not hurt to also remember some precursors – in the linguistic field – who valued our regional language. But we reiterate that Dona Araci herself worked, in this case, as “madeleine proustiana” of this relationship.

*Marcelo Modolo is professor of philology at the University of São Paulo (USP).

*Henrique Santos Braga He holds a PhD in Philology and Portuguese Language from USP.

Originally published on Journal of USP .

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