April 2013

Issue Home >>

Brazil has captured the imagination of UWI students, largely because of its fame in football, music and Carnival. Interest in the Portuguese language is growing, with both students of the Faculty of Humanities and Education (FHE) and students and members of the public at the Centre for Language Learning (CLL) clamouring for courses that would help them to go to Brazil and Portugal as tourists, study or do trade in Brazil, or reconnect to Portuguese roots.

The Faculty has hosted a Brazilian Film Week, and Brazilian films are featured in the annual Foreign Language Film Festival. UWI, St Augustine will next visit Brazil as part of its BRICS country tours, and so Brazil continues to play an important part in campus life. The new Minor in Brazilian Studies (see sidebar) complements the Major in Latin American Studies and other Majors.

The programme stands to benefit from a new staff and student exchange agreement between UWI and the Universidade do Porto (UPorto), one of Portugal’s most prestigious teaching and research institutions. The UWI has joined the University of Porto in a partnership with the European Commission that funds postgraduate studies in countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

The Mundus ACP II project is managed by UPorto. Prof Fátima Marinho, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at UPorto, came during the first week of Semester II, 2012-2013 to develop links, particularly with the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics (DMLL), and the Department of History. She gave two guest lectures on the Portuguese historical novel of the 19th and 20th centuries, and visited the Alma Jordan Library’s Portuguese and Brazilian Studies Display.

The future of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at The UWI is bright, with great international scope and prospects and its value today has to be credited to the foresight of Dr Lancelot Cowie, currently Director of the Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean (CENLAC). In 1987, when the Luso-Brazilian Studies language and culture programme started at St Augustine (the first UWI campus to introduce Portuguese language studies, and its own society and magazine), Dr Cowie was the visionary behind it, and the key figure in forging significant links with the Universidade de Brasília (UnB), located in Brazil’s capital.

Working with former Heads of Department, Dr Ena Thomas and Prof Barbara Lalla, Dr Cowie saw the need to develop links with more Latin American universities. Then PVC Principal G.M. Richards held discussions with Brazilian and Argentine envoys, focusing on collaboration in methodology, materials and curriculum development in the teaching of Portuguese, Spanish and English as foreign languages, and on joint research in the areas of wood technology, fibre optics, fuel alcohol, biotechnology and computer software development.

The Portuguese language programme started with support from the Embassy of Brazil in Port of Spain, which lent St Augustine the first teachers: Sonia Regina Reis da Costa, and later attaché Prof Yeda Pessoa de Castro, a Brazilian specialist in African languages trained at the National University of Zaire. The Embassy of Brazil continues its support with prizes for outstanding academic performance, donations of books and films, and cultural events and receptions hosted at the Embassy.

Portuguese is a heritage language that has been spoken in the Caribbean and Guyana for over 175 years by Madeirans and their descendants (whose history has been documented in two PhD theses in the Faculty of Humanities), and others. In Trinidad, informal classes actually started at the Associação Portuguesa Primeiro de Dezembro on Richmond Street in 1905, and in the 1980s, the NIHERST School of Languages was probably the first since to teach Portuguese formally.

Of the 16 teachers since 1987, 14 have been Brazilians, and UnB has been the main source. These include Elias Jorge Rodrigues Siqueira Nunes (now deceased), Angélica Costa Maha, Prof Maria Jandyra Cavalcanti Cunha, Helber Vieira and Miriam Kurcbaum Futer, current instructor. Since the Portuguese teachers have either been temporary or part-time, the programme has been supported by a cadre of examiners from Education, French, Linguistics and Spanish.

Prof Cunha came in 2004 to renew the language programme, and her students participated in the Inter-Campus Foreign Language Theatre Festival for the first time. Cunha also published research into Trinidad’s Brazilian community.

In 1999, the CLL started delivering Portuguese language courses to the University community and wider public (not for credit), and now has five part-time instructors, including three Trinbagonians.

Students majoring in Latin American Studies, Spanish and Linguistics have been among those reading Portuguese language courses, with total numbers over the last 25 years reaching 450.

Four students of the first UWI class of seven went on an exchange to UnB, which was reciprocated with four UnB students, two of whom stayed on as teachers (Mr Nunes and Ms Costa Maha). Students of Portuguese have visited the states of Roraima and Pará in Brazil, and students of other departments, including DCFA, have also gone to Brazil.

Six former UWI students have gone on to study at various institutions in Brazil with Dr Rachael Radhay completing her Master’s and PhD at UnB, and others completing their BAs in Spanish and Portuguese, translation and other fields at a number of other institutions.

Several other Trinbagonians have gone to Brazil to pursue their studies in areas such as dentistry, medicine, architecture and geophysics, or on cultural exchange trips through other universities, and to a number of conferences. The UWI has links with a number of other Brazilian universities, and plans to develop these and others.

St Augustine currently offers Portuguese and Brazilian Studies in the DMLL with two full-time teachers, Miriam Futer, instructor and Eliete Sampaio Farneda, visiting lecturer, both from Brazil.

One former teacher is the current coordinator of Visual Arts at the DCFA, Lesley-Ann Noel, who obtained her BSc in Industrial Design from the Universidade Federal do Paraná and a postgraduate diploma in furniture design from the Universidade Norte do Paraná. The current programme coordinators (Dr Anne-Marie Pouchet and the author) both did postgraduate work in Portuguese, the former at the Ohio State University, the latter at the Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.

The Minor in Brazilian Studies

The Minor in Brazilian Studies, launched in November 2012, is the brainchild of Ms Miriam Kurcbaum Futer, and the product of a dedicated team, in particular Mr Helber Vieira, the first Visiting Lecturer from the Government of Brazil, and Dr Nicole Roberts (current Head, DMLL), who together developed the courses, with Dr Anne-Marie Pouchet and Ms Futer completing the project. The team included Eric Maitrejean, Dr Maarit Forde, Prof Valerie Youssef (then Head of Liberal Arts), and the current coordinator.

Cave Hill has a similar programme and Mona has offered Portuguese language courses.

The first new course, PORT 1003 Introduction to Brazilian Culture, has met with rave reviews from students, all keen to know Brazil better. The other new courses focus on society and culture, Portuguese for business and Brazilian literature, and begin in 2013-2014. A BA in Portuguese Studies is in preparation.

Find out more at http://sta.uwi.edu/fhe/dmll/Portuguese.asp.

Dr Ferreira is a Lecturer in Linguistics and Coordinator for Portuguese and Brazilian Studies at the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics, Faculty of Humanities and Education, UWI St Augustine.