Global player fails to attract English audience

August 15, 1997

As clearing gets under way, THES reporters look at what students can expect from the most and least popular subjects

PORTUGUESE would appear to be one of the least popular subjects taught at British universities, but practitioners argue that bald statistics belie the language's linguistic importance.

Official admissions figures for the past three years show that there are about 300 people studying Portuguese as part of a joint honours degree.

According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, no one has been accepted to study single honours Portuguese since 1994.

Yet the language is spoken by almost 200 million people. Many fail to realise that Brazilians speak what is essentially Portuguese and that the mother tongue was spread around the globe in Portugal's imperial days.

Juliet Perkins, lecturer in Portuguese and Brazilian studies at King's College, London, said: "Statistics give a very misleading picture about Portuguese. It is very difficult to get overall figures for the numbers studying the language because it is studied as part of combined degrees, and applicants are often subsumed into Hispanic, Iberian or Latin American studies.

"Portuguese remains a curiously unknown quantity to the public in general. This is an anomalous and regrettable situation for a language in far wider use than German, Italian or French and which opens up so many fresh and exciting educational possibilities."

Dr Perkins said that Portuguese is studied most often with other languages, while other students combine it with history, law, theology and business studies.

Many will study out of purely linguistic interest. Portuguese is quite different from Spanish and has, like many colonial languages, adapted to and married with indigenous tongues. It also has a strong literary heritage. Historic texts on European history, including the Reformation, can be seen through the eyes of Portuguese thinkers.

Dr Perkins said it should come as no surprise to discover that so many people take Portuguese with business studies. Brazil is emerging as a major economic force and it is possible that other former Portuguese colonies such as Mozambique and Angola could offer opportunities in the near future.

Given its global spread, Portuguese also offers educational and career possibilities for all manner of other disciplines, including geography, geology, ecology, botany and anthropology.

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