Research Paper

Searching for the origins of Uruguayan Fronterizo dialects: radical code-mixing as “fluent dysfluency”


Spoken in northern Uruguay along the border with Brazil are intertwined Spanish-Portuguese dialects known to linguists as Fronterizo ‘border’ dialects, and to the speakers themselves as portuñol. Since until the second half of the 19th century northern Uruguay was populated principally by monolingual Portuguese speakers, it is usually assumed that Fronterizo arose when Spanish-speaking settlers arrived in large numbers. Left unexplained, however, is the genesis of morphosyntactically intertwined language, rather than, e.g. Spanish with many Portuguese borrowings or vice versa. The present study analyzes data from several communities along the Brazilian border (in Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay), where Portuguese is spoken frequently but dysfluently (with much involuntary mixing of Spanish) by Spanish speakers in their dealings with Brazilians. A componential analysis of mixed language from these communities is compared with Uruguayan Fronterizo data, and a high degree of quantitative structural similarity is demonstrated. The inclusion of sociohistorical data from late 19th century northern Uruguay complements the contemporary Spanish-Portuguese mixing examples, in support of the claim that Uruguayan Fronterizo was formed not in a situation of balanced bilingualism but rather as the result of the sort of fluid but dysfluent approximations to a second language found in contemporary border communities.

How to Cite

Lipski, J., (2009) “Searching for the origins of Uruguayan Fronterizo dialects: radical code-mixing as “fluent dysfluency””, Journal of Portuguese Linguistics 8(1), p.3-44. doi:







John M. Lipski (Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, 231 Burrowes Building, The Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA 16802, U.S.A.)



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0


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