Língua-lugar: the unifying and inclusive power of a scientific journal

Together with colleagues, Dr Nazaré Torrão and Prof. Eduardo Jorge de Oliveira created the first Portuguese academic journal in Switzerland, financed in part within the strategic partnership between UZH and UNIGE. One of their main ambitions: reaffirm Portuguese as a language of reflection, thought, and education that has also been shaped by issues of decolonization. During an interview, the two researchers take us behind the scenes of their project, revealing the unifying and inclusive power of the newly-launched journal.


This journal combines literature, history, and cultural studies. It emerged as a direct output of the conferences organised by Nazaré Torrão at the University of Geneva. As a lecturer of Portuguese, it was important to her that the knowledge emanating from those meetings could travel beyond Swiss borders. To this end, the choice of a journal was evident: it is free and easily accessible online. As a significant number of Portuguese speakers come from countries with economic difficulties, reminds us Nazaré Torrão, this was a prerequisite. Nonetheless, the format allows the participation of a large variety of actors. “I love working within a group,” she says. And she is pleased with the result.


A mix of expertise and generations

Several researchers from different horizons have joined the project. Two of them bring a historian’s perspective to the journal, while others add their cultural studies expertise. The participation of a curator adds even more specificity to this rich diversity. These different visions enhance the already very complementary expertise of Nazaré Torrão and Eduardo Jorge de Oliveira. While the former focuses especially on literature and culture in Portugal, Mozambique, and Angola, but also on prose, the latter concentrates on literature, culture, and art in Brazil, with a hint in Portuguese poetry.


Besides expertise, Dr Torrão is fond of the mix of generations: “I like having around people much younger than me and working with others.” This diversity of age and knowledge is reflected in the publications, which shed light on a variety of genres, places, and perspectives.


In addition to being a place of exchange for researchers, this project is also a laboratory for Master’s and doctoral students. By publishing their first articles, they can get familiar with the world of scientific publication. And “their participation is really important,” affirms Prof. de Oliveira.


A diversity of artists and places


Inclusivity and diversity are not limited to the editorial board. They constitute the core of the journal. To entrench Portuguese as a language of thought and reflection, it is not sufficient to present the work of famous authors and artists. “We manage to shed light on artists that would otherwise not be very well known,” explains Dr Torrão. For example, in addition to the interview with Lídia Jorge, an internationally famous writer, the first edition sheds light on the art of Irineu Destourelles, a very talented but presently less known visual artist.


Not only does the journal seek to represent a variety of authors and artists, but it also fully embraces the vast linguistic ecology of Portuguese. “We had the publication of a Cap-Verdian, a Brazilian, even a Swiss writing in Portuguese,” illustrates Nazaré Torrão. And for the editorial board, this mix is fundamental.


Within the international community, be it in Lusophone countries or others like the United States of America, “the journal was immediately well-received,” affirms Prof. de Oliveira. As he further explains, journals were initially platforms where fields of action were outlined. This definition fits Língua-lugar perfectly. Indeed, this project brings researchers, artists and authors from different geographic areas together around one language and fosters important collaborations. But Língua-lugar has an impact not just internationally; in Switzerland, too, it spreads its unifying power.


Portuguese acting as a glue in Switzerland


In this country, Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages after the national ones (German, French, Italian, Romansh). According to Prof. de Oliveira, “it plays a very important role in the linguistic diversity of Switzerland.” The birthplace of this journal being Switzerland was therefore a good way of reaffirming the educational potential of Portuguese here.


But within this vast Swiss diversity, there is often a separation, as Nazaré Torrão notes. To conduct such projects, the German-speaking researchers would more easily seek out within German-speaking countries, and the French-speakers within the French ones. For this journal, it is the other way round. The editorial board embraces this diversity, turning it into an advantage. Experts from different linguistic backgrounds, issued or not from immigration, gather to promote the richness and the complexity of Lusophone cultures. At the end of the day, it is this foreign language that participates in bringing two parts of Switzerland closer.


The editorial board has just published the third issue of the journal. Given its success, the researchers now take their project forward by organising conferences between Geneva and Zurich. Eduardo Jorge de Oliveira and Nazaré Torrão are thus planning to continue sharing knowledge and building bridges with the power of Portuguese language.