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Why Study Portuguese?

(excerpts from an article by A.R. Lopes, University of New Mexico)


Until recently, when interest in Latin America became paramount, very few individuals in the United States realized that Portuguese is not only the language of the small Republic of Portugal, which occupies the southwestern sea-coast strip of the Iberian peninsula, of the Azores, and of the Madeira Islands, but also of Brazil. Many were doubtless surprised, after a more thorough check, to find that in area Brazil is larger than the continental United States, excluding Alaska. And, more amazing was the fact that the population of this nation is greater than the total population of all the other South American Republics added together.

Aerial view of Brasilia, Brazil

Since Brazil is one of our "neighbors to the south," we rightfully should be interested in our relations with her. However there can be no warm or permanent friendship with Brazil without a complete understanding not only of the Portuguese language, but thorough familiarity with the social and cultural traditions of this great nation.

Brazilians are considerably annoyed when spoken to in Spanish, even though they understand the language due to the similarities between Portuguese and Spanish. Most professors of Portuguese in the United States are also called upon to teach Spanish.

Notwithstanding the apparent importance of Portuguese for purposes of strengthening our economic, military and cultural relations with Brazil, there exist other factors which, in themselves, seem sufficiently significant to deserve consideration.

Portuguese should be studied as a key to a wealthy literary tradition. Portuguese can boast of many men of letters worthy of note other than her two most renowned sons, Luiz de Camões and Gil Vincente. In addition, the vigorous young literature of Brazil merits study. Such Brazilian writers as Graça Aranha, Machado de Assis, Euclides da Cunha, as well as many others are known throughout Spanish America.

In view of the many evidences of the importance of Portuguese culture, institutions of higher learning have inaugurated classes in Portuguese.