Some 240 million people worldwide speak it. First-rate and even Nobel Laureate writers have used it to scribe poetry and fiction. And the University of Georgia is the only public university in the South where students can earn a doctoral degree in it.
It’s Portuguese. The mellifluous tongue spoken in Brazil, Portugal and a number of other countries around the world engages a small but active program in the department of Romance Languages in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. And now a new undergraduate major, premiering next spring, will allow students to make connections between Spanish America, Spain, Brazil and Portugal to compare literary, linguistic and cultural traditions.
The new major in Ibero-American Comparative Studies adds to an already intensely active Portuguese program focusing on the rich language used by more than half of the population in South America. Students still have time to register for the new major, said faculty member Susan Quinlan, who has research interests in Luso-Brazilian literature, contemporary Brazilian women’s literature and literary theory.
“We think this will add a lot to what we offer in the Portuguese language area,” said Quinlan. “In the South, we’re the only public institution that offers the Ph.D. in Portuguese, and we are one of only 10 or so programs in the country that offer doctoral and master’s degrees in Portuguese.”
The department also offers an undergraduate major in Romance Languages with an emphasis on Portuguese, said Robert Moser, like Quinlan an associate professor of Portuguese, and whose research centers on the figure of the dead and related expressions of haunting and mourning in Luso-Brazilian literature. He is also a translator of Brazilian playwright Augusto Boal. As of 2007, there were about 215 undergraduate and graduate students in Portuguese.
“UGA is consistently in the top five in the nation in terms of numbers of students studying Portuguese,” he said. “Only Brigham Young, the University of Texas and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are probably larger.”
The interest in Portuguese at a university in Georgia might surprise some, but the state, in fact, has a large number of native speakers of the language, especially in Cobb County and the area just north of the city of Atlanta.
The new major and interest generated by it also usher in three new courses: Introduction to Ibero-American Language, Literature and Culture (PTSP 3010); Topics in Afro-Lusophone/ Hispanic Identity (ROML 4860); and Ibero-American Senior Seminar (PTSP 4900).
“We truly believe that the increasing number of students who major in Romance Languages with Portuguese and minor in Portuguese is a reflection of the quality of teaching and a genuine interest in the students,” said Amélia Hutchinson, a lecturer in the program. “We have many exchange programs in Brazil and Portugal, where students can study for a semester or summer.”
The doctoral program might seem small by some standards-there are currently six students enrolled-but that number is about right, given the small number of openings for Portuguese professors in academia each year.
While some students see the language as “exotic” and believe it’s more difficult than the far more popular Spanish, in fact Portuguese is a beautiful language with its own rich literature and can be acquired without trouble by most students, the professors in the program say.
“Because of how central Portuguese is in the Americas, we think it deserves more attention,” said Quinlan. Hutchinson, in fact is co-author of Ponto de Encontro: Portuguese as a World Language, a new textbook for beginning and intermediate students of the language. One of the book’s other five authors also has a UGA connection. Former UGA faculty member Anna Klobucka, now of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, is first author on the volume.
To see how students respond in general to studies of the language, Moser conducted a survey in the spring of 2006 of students taking Portuguese around the country. At UGA, some 90 percent said their experience was very positive or positive.
Since 2002, the program has graduated nine master’s students and eight with doctoral degrees. The program also co-sponsored a Lusophone Fair at UGA in 2003-an event that exposed the university community to the cultural and artistic diversity of the Portuguese-speaking world.
The new major in Ibero-American Comparative Studies is the first time students will be able to look critically at the connections between the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds, said Quinlan.
“The idea is to create young Latin Americanists in the purest sense of the word,” she noted. “We badly need students with a broad expertise that spans both worlds.”
In addition, the Portuguese programs at UGA have a close working relationship with the Brazilian Consulate in Atlanta, and students go there for internships, too.
For more information on the new major in Ibero-American Comparative Studies, go to the program’s web site at http://www.rom.uga.edu/documents/Ibero-American.pdf.