Diglossia refers to a situation when a group of people (usually a country) uses either (a) 2 separate languages or, more commonly, (b) 2 very different versions of the same language. The people use these 2 versions/languages in a distinct way. One is considered the common, everyday, conversational version, and the second is considered the formal/official/literary version, used in government, education, and the media.
Of course every country and language has formal and informal features. Notice the difference in English between "You guys coming with?" and "Would you care to join us?". So the idea of diglossia is only a matter of degree. But usually the differences between 2 versions of a language can be called a diglossia when there are distinct grammar changes, or when the 2 versions are not mutually intelligible (that means if you speak only one, you can't understand the other).
The most famous diglossia situation (that every linguist learns about as their first example) is with Arabic. But I'd like to promote the theory that Brazil/Portuguese has Diglossia. (I read up on it on Wikipedia and learned that some (good and forward-thinking) Brazilian linguists are starting to agree.)
In Portuguese, there are very distinct grammar choices that are marked as being the Formal version and the Informal version. And more importantly, the Formal version isn't just picked up by native speakers of Portuguese. It has to be formally studied in school. (This is not the case in English. If you're an American, of course you had some grammar classes as a kid, but if you did your required reading in your K-12 years, you have enough experience with English to have a notion of how to be formal and informal.)
So Diglossias happen for different reasons. In the case of Arabic, it's a freakin' old language, and it's spoken in a lot of different countries close together. So the result is that, over time, people in the different countries start making their own rules and changing it up a bit. But since they (usually) want to communicate with each other (and even within their own countries), the old version was maintained (a large way to maintain it was because of the religious factor).
So here's my theory about the Portuguese Diglossia in Brazil:
In Brazil, Diglossia happens because the rate of literacy is relatively low, especially when compared to more developed countries. Think about it. When most people in a country know how to read, they agree on how the language "should" be, and it takes longer for the language to change because everyone's learning and using the same version of it. But in the case of Brazil, where literacy is much lower, people aren't learning their native language in school and from the same books. They're learning it from their friends and neighbors. In the absence of known grammar rules, they make up new grammar rules.
The language also is sometimes regularized/simplified in these cases. (Ebonics in the US is KIND OF (up for debate) a Diglossia situation.Think about how Ebonics formed in the United States. In some ways, it's "easier" than standard English. The verb "be" is not conjugated or it just isn't used at all (He be tired). There is no "doesn't". (He don't like that).)
In Portuguese, the Informal version is more simple in some ways. ("Ele liga para você" instead of "Ele te/lhe liga". Only one form of "você!")
The Portuguese Diglossia is most obvious in the cases of pronouns, passives, and subjunctives.
*Pronouns are things like I, you, me, he, him, she, her, etc.
*Passive is like "the house was built" instead of "He built the house."
*Subjunctive is the devil and doesn't really exist in English the way it does in Latin languages.
So okay. You might be getting bored now. The point is, there are 2 versions of Portuguese. Neither one is "wrong." It is a Diglossia situation. Everyone who studies Linguistics at a decent American university knows this.
However, studying linguistics (well, "letras") in a Brazilian university (at least in one of the blah ones around here) means that the only introduction to (what they think is) linguistics that students get is that they finally learn the Formal version of Portuguese really well, and then they go around thinking that they speak Portuguese better than everyone else. Except they speak exactly the same. Because they use both versions. BECAUSE THERE ARE TWO VERSIONS.
The result of my hunt for a Portuguese teacher has been that no one has been able to grasp this concept. They're all very excited to teach me the super Formal version that no one speaks on a daily basis. Then I ask them questions like:
What's the difference between "me ajuda" and "ajude-me"? (These both mean "Help me".)
And they say:
"Me ajuda" is wrong. "Ajude-me" is right.
And then I say:
But you just said "Me ajuda." Plus, I hear imperatives like that all the time. I even see it in subtitles.
And then they say:
What? No. Well, everyone says it, but it's wrong.
And then I say:
How is it wrong if everyone says it?
And they say:
Oh, well, because Brazilians can't speak Portuguese.
So at least in the case of imperatives, I've since figured out which is considered the Formal version and which is the Informal version. But no teacher is going to work for me if they have these notions like "the vernacular version of our diglossia language is wrong" or "Brazilians can't speak Portuguese."
I really need them to have this distinction so they can correct me correctly. Does that make sense? When I make a mistake in Portuguese, I need them to say one of the following:
(1) That's the informal version. This is a formal situation.
(2) That's the formal version. This is an informal situation.
(3) You made that up from Spanish. It's ungrammatical in Portuguese.
(4) You made that up from English. It's ungrammatical in Portuguese.
(They have to know the difference between "umgrammatical" (no Brazilian would say that and it's a red flag that you're not a native speaker) and "socially incorrect" (saying it like that is just too formal/informal for a given situation).)
So if you're a Portuguese (PSL) teacher, please make this distinction for your poor suffering English-speaking student. If you're learning English, know that this situation exists and ask them to clarify (if they know).
In the meantime, I'm going to keep looking. One of my students has a friend who lived in England for a few years and now teaches English here around town. She's willing to trade English classes for Portuguese classes, but I'm kind of jaded. If I try with this new girl, she'll be my 4th Portuguese teacher.
The first one was completely nonsensical (a lot of this "that's wrong but everyone says it" crap).
The second was was actually kind of decent but she quit on me after 3 weeks. :(
The third one insisted on giving me "cultural lessons" (even though I live here and don't need them-- I need written grammar.... it was really because she was too lazy to prepare anything). Her "cultural lesson" was playing DejaVu videos for me on YouTube. Yeah. Those classes stopped real quick.
I'm wondering if they'll be better teachers if I just pay them instead of trading for classes (that was the situation with the second one, but I'm not sure if it was the money that made her better, or just her experience/education). Do you think that makes a difference?
Should I try again? Do any of you want to be my teacher? :( I have high standards, but I'm a good student, I promise!
I hope you enjoyed my Diglossia lesson. Does this clarify any problems you've had learning Portuguese? I look forward to your comments/stories. :)