Joint Honours: What are they?

At the University of Oxford you can study Modern Languages in combination with a number of other subjects: Classics, English, History, Linguistics, Middle Eastern Languages, and Philosophy. In this post, Georgina Ramsay, who studies French and English at The Queen’s College, tells us about what motivated her to do a Joint Honours degree. More information about Joint Honours Degrees can be found through the course listings on the University admissions pages. Over to Georgina…

It wasn’t until I was applying to university that I came across the term ‘joint-honours’ but I was definitely glad when I did. I had always assumed that I would apply to study English at university but following GCSEs, the first year of A-Levels and then attending the UNIQ Summer School I started to really consider the possibility of studying French. As excited as I was by the prospect of continuing to improve my French skills I was still conflicted between my two favourite subjects.

Taylor Institution (Modern Languages Library), Oxford

It was whilst researching degree courses that I realised that it was possible for me to continue with both English and French as there were some universities, including Oxford, that offered joint-honours degrees. I narrowed down my options, taking into account the split between the two subjects (some institutions place more emphasis on one subject) and what I liked about the Oxford course was that there was a 50:50 split.

English Faculty Library, Oxford

As an avid reader and bibliophile I had wanted to study English Literature because I liked the window it gave me into the world, history and different cultures. However, these reasons also applied to why I wanted to study French. A-Level French had been my first introduction into reading literature in another language and I had really enjoyed it. I realised that in studying French I would have access to a whole new world of Francophone literature.

After now having completed a full academic year I am certain that deciding to apply for both English and French was the right decision. I am now in my second year and I am still realising more and more the connections that can be made between the two sides of my course. For example, last year on the English side of my course I was really interested in postcolonial literature and looked at works by Frantz Fanon, a Martinican writer. I also studied Aimé Césaire in my French classes where I also learnt more about France’s colonial history. As a result I was able to see Fanon’s influence on Césaire and ultimately each side of the course was enriched by the other – which was what I had hoped for when I decided to apply.

Next week Georgina will tell us some things to consider when applying for a Joint Honours degree.

PS. We maintain that Modern Languages has a prettier library. 😉

Post-WW2 Italian Literature: Calm in the face of a storm?

This post was written by Kirsty Bailey, a second-year French and Italian student at Exeter College

Picture the scene. It is post-WW2 Italy, and two Italian Jewish writers, Primo Levi and Natalia Ginzburg, are writing about their wartime experiences. Levi was a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp, while Ginzburg’s husband was killed for his anti-Fascist activism.

You might expect, in these circumstances, that Levi’s memoir, Se Questo è un uomo (If This is a Man, 1947) would be emotionally charged, with an angry or despairing narrator. While the work does pack an emotional punch, leaving the reader horrified at what the camp’s inmates were forced to endure, Levi’s narrative style is surprisingly measured – he remains calm; even detached. He seeks to analyse the situation, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. He never laments his own personal struggles, but reflects on the experiences of the prisoners as a collective:

Bisogna risalire la corrente; dare battaglia ogni giorno e ogni ora alla fatica, alla fame… O anche, strazzare ogni dignità.” (“One has to fight against the current; to battle every day and every hour against exhaustion, hunger… Or else, to throttle all dignity.”)

The narrative style of Ginzburg’s autobiographical work, Lessico Familiare (Family Sayings, 1963) is similar to Levi’s, in that the narrator never expresses outrage or despair over the atrocities of the war. Her work, as suggested by its title, is rooted in her family and friends, rather than the larger workings of history. She remains detached from her own personal emotions – even when her husband dies, she worries more about his friend, Cesare Pavese (a fellow twentieth-century Italian writer), than her own grief:

“Era stato il suo migliore amico. Forse annoverava quella perdita fra le cose che lo straziavano.” (“He had been his best friend. That loss may have been one of the things which tortured him”).

A sense of detachment and restraint can therefore be found in both Levi and Ginzburg’s works, despite their emotive subject matter. Their respective narrative voices succeed in remaining calm in the face of a terrifying, terrible storm – making for intriguing narratives well worth a read.

Where are your manners?

by Maddison Sumner, a second-year student in French and Linguistics at Lady Margaret Hall

Linguistics is not often a subject that you can study before you come to university, but that does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that it isn’t one of the most interesting and fulfilling subjects that you can study. Usually, if you’ve figured out that words and language and the way they work are all things that you’re interested in, you can find lots of online resources that give you some background knowledge that you can bring with you to university should you decide to undertake a degree with some sort of linguistics in it. I am going to show you just one of my favourite parts of linguistics here.

If I asked you: ‘What did you have for breakfast?’, what would you answer? You’d tell me what you had for breakfast this morning, wouldn’t you? Why did you assume that I meant this morning, and not yesterday afternoon? Or the morning of March 8th, 2006? And what if you told me that you really needed some apples, and I said to you ‘there’s a shop around the corner!’ Why would you be annoyed with me if you got to this shop and found out it wasn’t a grocery shop but a shoe shop? It’s because as humans, we have what a linguist named Grice named Conversational Maxims. There are a few, but one of them is basically that we assume everyone we speak to will be relevant with their contribution to the conversation. When I asked you about breakfast, you assumed I was talking about a morning, because we eat breakfast in the morning, and you assumed I was talking about this morning specifically, because that would be relevant – I would have specified if I wanted to know about 2006! The same goes for the shop situation – I wouldn’t have even contributed to the conversation if the shop wasn’t going to be relevant in solving the problem you presented when you told me you needed apples. All of this is a part of linguistics called Pragmatics, which deals with meaning in context. It’s really interesting and fun to research if you’re intrigued – I would suggest looking up the pragmatics of politeness!

As you can see, linguistics isn’t just all about grammar and verb tables (although, if you love grammar and verb tables, there’s plenty of stuff for you to dig into as well!). Linguistics is an incredibly diverse subject and is so fun to study if you take the time to look at it in some detail.

Writing the Great War

There have been many events commemorating the centenary of the First World War and its key moments. A new book edited jointly by an Oxford academic, Toby Garfitt, and a young researcher from France, Nicolas Bianchi, takes a fresh look at some of the literary responses to the conflict on both sides of the Channel. The volume is deliberately bilingual, and is entitled Writing the Great War/Comment écrire la Grande Guerre? This was very much a collaborative, interdisciplinary project, bringing together specialists from departments of English and French Studies in Britain, France and Belgium, and the preface is by the distinguished war historian Sir Hew Strachan.

The subtitle, ‘Francophone and Anglophone Poetics’, makes it clear that the word ‘Writing’ in the main title is essential. Just how do you write such an overwhelming and unprecedented experience? French authors favoured prose, with some major exceptions, but how far could and should prose negotiate the line between realism and invention? English authors favoured verse, but that verse needs to be appreciated in a wider context of writing. There is a proliferation of voices, registers and styles, with traditional genre-distinctions often breaking down. How can one reconcile the complexity of experience and perception with literary form or political ideology? What is the place of irony and humour? What types of character are developed? What do we know about non-European, non-white perspectives on the war as revealed in poetry and songs from across the world?

You may know, or think you know, about Owen and Sassoon, Apollinaire and Barbusse and Céline, but what explains their different perspectives? What about their personal letters, what about the process of writing and correcting? This book offers a stimulating challenge to readers on both sides of the Channel to broaden their understanding of texts, contexts, and critical studies (the bibliography is particularly full and helpful).

A tour of Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt

This post was written by Martha MacLaren, a fourth-year German and History student at Somerville College.

Walking down Broad Street at the weekend, I was hit by the familiar smell of German sausages and mulled wine, and the hubbub of the Oxford Christmas market brought back memories from my year abroad. In Salzburg, a beautiful cathedral city on the edge of the Alps, I lived right on the central square where the Christkindlmarkt was held every year – that smell wafted through my window whenever I dared to open it to the below-freezing temperatures in frosty December!
Christkindlmarkt is the Austrian equivalent of the German Weihnachtsmarkt. The latter translates as Christmas market, but the Austrian reflects the tradition of the Christ Child who visits children with presents on 6th December. Christ means Christ, and Kindl is the diminutive of Kind (child) – so ‘little-Christ-child market’. In Austria, an “l” is often used instead of a German “chen” – “Mädel” instead of “Mädchen”, for example. You can see why it’s easier to yodel in Austrian German!


Sausages such as Bratwurst and Käsewurst (sausage with cheese inside – delicious) were sold for about half of the £6 you’d pay for them here – and not in a hot dog bun, but with a Semmel, a bread roll. They’d probably be served with Sauerkraut und Senf (pickled cabbage and mustard), which is as disgusting as it sounds! Glühwein (mulled wine) was a favourite, and you needed it to warm your hands, especially after ice skating on the outdoor rink on Mozartplatz. Kaiserschmarrn, thick and fluffy torn up pancakes, were cooked on a griddle and served with Apfelmus (apple sauce) or Zwetschkenröster (stewed plums). There’s another word – Zwetschke – that’s different from the German (Pflaume).
Beautiful decorations, organic chocolate and fancy soaps abounded, alongside the classic Mozart-themed touristy gifts. Salzburg is very proud of its most famous cultural export! The tasteful lights and Christmas tree topped off the scene, with the cathedral and fortress forming the backdrop. I can’t wait to go back, but this year I’ll content myself with Oxford’s buzzing market as term comes to an end.

Language Competitions: French film and Spanish fiction!

We have just launched our annual competitions in French and Spanish. Details are below. If you have any questions please contact schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk. We look forward to reading your entries! Bonne chance! ¡mucha suerte!

Spanish Flash Fiction Competition

Did you know that the shortest story in Spanish is only seven words long? Here it is:
‘Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí’ (Augusto Monterroso, “El dinosaurio”).

Write a story in Spanish of not more than 100 words, and send it to schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk by noon on Friday 30th March 2018 with your name, age and year group, and the name and address of your school. A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning entry in each category (Years 7-11 and 12-13), with runner-up prizes of £25. The judges will be looking for creativity and imagination as well as good Spanish! The winning entries will be published on our website.

French Film Competition

The Department of French at Oxford University is looking for budding film enthusiasts in Years 7-11 and 12-13 to embrace the world of French cinema. To enter the competition, students in each age group are asked to re-write the ending of a film in no more than 1500 words. You can work in English or French. We won’t give extra credit to entries written in French – this is an exercise in creativity, rather than a language test! – but we do encourage you to give writing in French a go if you’re tempted, and we won’t penalize entries in French for any spelling or grammar mistakes.

The judges are looking for plausible yet imaginative new endings, picking up the story from the point specified (see below). There are no restrictions as to the form the entry might take: screen-play, play-script, prose, prose with illustrations. We’d also love to see filmed entries (e.g. on YouTube): feel free to experiment!

For the 2018 competition we have chosen the following films for each age bracket:

  • Years 7-11: Une vie de chat (2010, dir. Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol)
  • Years 12-13: Des Hommes et des dieux (2010, dir. Xavier Beauvois)

A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning student in each age group, with runner-up prizes of £25.

Your re-writing must pick up where the film leaves off, from the following points:

  • Une vie de chat: from 49:20, when Nico says: ‘Allez, accroche-toi bien Zoë’.
  • Des Hommes et des dieux: from 1:38:50, where Christian says ‘J’ai longtemps repensé à ce moment-là…’

Here are the trailers, to give you a taster:

 

DO’S AND DON’TS!

  • DO keep to the word limit (1500 words)! Going over will lead to disqualification.
  • DO use your imagination, and present your re-writing in any format you like – essay, screenplay, short film, storyboard, etc…. There is nothing stopping you from watching the ‘real’ ending and then modifying it as you see fit. Indeed, you might find this helpful. We’re looking for creative, entertaining and inventive new endings, which address as fully and plausibly as possible the strands of the story that are left unresolved at the end-points we’ve specified above.
  • DO send in (through your teacher) individually named submissions. If you work in a group, the entry must still be sent under one name only: this is just to ensure as much as possible parity and fairness between entries, and to avoid any distinction between smaller and larger groups. There is a limit of 10 entries per school per age group.
  • DO make sure you give your teacher enough time to approve and forward your submission!
  • DON’T worry about which language you write in – and if you write in French (which we encourage, if you would like to), remember we do not penalise grammatical errors or spelling mistakes.
  • DON’T forget to include a filled-in cover-sheet, signed by your teacher. Without this, your entry will not be judged.
  • DON’T worry if you’re at the lower end of your age-range (especially Years 7 and 8). We particularly encourage entries from younger students, and we’ll take your age into account when judging your entry.

Where can I or my school/college get hold of the films?

The DVDs are readily and affordably available via Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk or http://www.amazon.fr). The films may also be available through legal streaming services (e.g. Amazon Prime, Google Play, or Blinkbox).

How do I send in my entry?

We’d like all your school’s entries to be submitted via your teacher please. Ask your teacher to attach your entries to an email, along with a cover sheet, which you can download here, and send it to french.essay@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk by noon on 31st March 2018. NB, to avoid missing the deadline, we suggest that you aim to give your teacher your entry and completed cover sheet by 24th March at the latest.

Good luck!

Chilean Spanish: A Surprise and a Delight

by Hector Stinton, a third-year undergraduate in French and Spanish at Keble College

Embalse el Yeso (‘Yeso Dam’) in the Andes.

Chilean Spanish is the most idiosyncratic Hispanic variant, and it’s partly why I applied to work as a teacher in Santiago for my year abroad. Its earliest phonetic influence was from Andalusian conquistadores, who brought to America yeísmo (/y/ and /ll/ pronounced the same) and seseo (soft /c/ and /z/ pronounced as /s/, itself unpronounced word-finally), but it developed into a more distinctive accent with the conversion of /j/ into aspirate /h/ and the elision of /d/ in words like ciudad. Chile’s geo-political isolation made its patois evolve rapidly and hermetically: separated from its neighbours by the Andes and the Atacama until the 19th century, and with relations soured by conflict and suspicion since then, Chileanese became a point of national pride.

A huaso (‘cowboy’) at a rodeo during the Fiestas Patrias in Ñuñoa, Santiago

As in other Latin countries, the diminutive –ito/a is used to express affection and diminish the urgency, directness or importance of something, e.g. making something annoying seem more pleasant, and the voseo (use of vos as a second person singular pronoun instead of tuteo) forms the bottom two of the four grades of formality, below and usted. Interestingly, however, among friends, Chileans prefer the Italianate –ai or –ei ending to the Iberian –as or –es when using in the present tense. More unusual still is the replacement of nuestro ‘our’ with de nosotros, and the rejection of vosotros in favour of ustedes for ‘you plural’.

But above all, Chilean-speak is known for its plethora of peculiar idioms and neologisms, known as chilenismos; look in any Spanish dictionary, and you will see they predominate over all other vernaculars. There are three broad categories: Argentine / Rioplatense / Lunfardo (argot from Buenos Aires and Montevideo) terms carrying either covert prestige or criminal Coa undertones (hacer perro muerto ((literally, ‘to do a dead dog’)) – ‘to dine and dash’); Mapudungun / Quechua loanwords (copihue – Chile’s national flower, huaso – ‘cowboy’); and French / (Swiss-)German / English / Croat loanwords (confort – ‘loo paper’, lumpen – ‘lower class’, cachar – ‘to catch one’s drift’, corbata – ‘tie’). Together, they further enrich the Chilean dialect, which never fails to surprise and delight.

Some Chilenismos

hacer perro muerto – to dine and dash
huaso – cowboy
confort – loo paper
cachar – to catch one’s drift

Feeding time at the fish market in Coquimbo (pelicans, stray dogs, sea lions)

Oxford Interviews: A Helper’s Perspective

Being invited to an interview at Oxford can be both exciting and daunting. While we hope that candidates will look forward to the chance to show us their intellectual potential, the last thing they should have to worry about is logistics – the when and where of the interviews themselves. Fortunately, when they arrive in Oxford they find that there are a multitude of helpers to make them feel at home. We rely heavily on our current undergraduates during the interview period to show candidates around the colleges, take them to their interviews, and generally put them at ease. This week, we hear from fourth-year German student at St Peter’s, Isobel Cavan, who gives us a helper’s perspective:

When I came to Oxford for my interviews, I can remember wishing that my four hour train journey could be just a bit longer so I could somehow re-read all the books I’d mentioned on my personal statement! I was incredibly nervous, but when I got to the college that was hosting me I was met by a really friendly second-year student, who showed me my room, where I could get food, and where all the information about interviews would be posted. He even carried my bag up four flights of stairs! He told me the best thing to do was to try and enjoy the whole process, and although it’s easier said than done, it really is true.

And the college hosting you will really try to help you enjoy it. Each college has a group of current students whose job it is to make you feel welcome, make sure you don’t get lost, and arrange a few fun things to do when you’re not doing your interviews. This might be showing films in the common room, or organising a group of people going for ice cream at G&D’s (the best place in Oxford for ice cream). It can be really helpful to be able to get out of your room and chat to people, most of them doing different subjects, and explore the town whilst you’re here.

Whilst the interviews themselves are never going to be the most relaxing half hour of your life, they’re actually pretty fun once you get into them. And if you have any worries, or just need someone to make you a cup of tea, there should be plenty of people around in the common room who’ll be happy to help. Four years after my own interviews, I’m really looking forward to helping out this year and making sure everyone knows where they’re going. Everyone helping will have been in your shoes not too long ago, and we understand how daunting it can seem. The colleges and tutors are all looking forward to meeting you, and I hope you have a great time at your interviews.

A Flavour of Portugal

by Clare Tierney, a second-year undergraduate in French and Portuguese at St John’s College

One of the most exciting parts of learning an ab initio language (learning a language from scratch) is the ab initio culture, I came to realise. Since starting Portuguese at Oxford in October 2016, I have delved into literature from the last 500 years, works of art, film, but, perhaps most important to me personally has been the food and drink. Much to my recently-gained chagrin, Portuguese cuisine is a bit of an unknown quantity in Britain. Nando’s could speak for Portugal, though few diners are actually aware of its Luso heritage, leaving Spain’s chorizos to single-handedly sum up food on the Iberian peninsula. But Portugal can most certainly hold its own when it comes to wining and dining.

The faculty wasted no time in acquainting us with Portuguese wine, putting on a tasting of both Portuguese and Brazilian, red and white during our pre-sessional course, which is an intensive introduction to the language. Here we discovered vinho verde. Relatively uncommon in England, this lightly sparkling white is delightful, and trips to Lisbon and Porto this past summer confirmed my positive opinion. None of the binge drinking nonsense in a restaurante tradicional: it’s 6€ a bottle when dining in, which is inviting excitable young Brits like us to drink with food, i.e. responsibly! Then we come to the Sagres beer, which is affiliated with the Lisbon team Benfica, and is both light and flavourful. What’s more, it is named after the coastal promontory on which Henry the Navigator had a chapel built in 1459. At the geographical extremity of their homeland, the discoverers would pray for safety on their voyages to map the world. Nothing could be more Portuguese than this, uniting sailing the seas, beer and football in a single product.

So what about food? The ingenuity of persecuted Jews during the Inquisition has stayed part of the country’s gastronomy in the form of alheira: a deep-fried medley of meats shaped, as sausages, to resemble their Christian oppressors’ pork equivalent. The pastel de nata or custard tart was also the invention of the religious community, though in this case it was the Catholic monks’ means of generating income. From their humble origin in 1837, they were named one of the ‘Seven Gastronomic Marvels of Portugal’ in 2011. The alheira sausage was too named, along with paella’s lesser known (but clearly award-winning) sibling arroz de marisco (the self-explanatory seafood rice). And this is still neglecting the expertly made coffee at 60 cents a cup in the centre of the capital city, not to mention the infinite list of of beans and fish with their equally infinite lists of accompanying seasonings and cooking methods ranging from garlic and on the grill, to frying in olive oil. A year abroad full of omega-3, caffeine and theological heritage awaits me and my stomach!

The Tutorial

posted by Simon Kemp

One thing we’re very proud of at Oxford is the tutorial teaching system. In most weeks of the undergraduate course you’ll write an essay on a topic to do with literature, linguistics, film or some other part of your course. You’ll hand it in for your tutor to read, and then you’ll have an hour, in a pair or trio, or occasionally just you, to talk through the topic with the tutor, exploring it from all angles, clearing up any questions or misunderstandings arising from the essay, and testing out your views. It’s a great way to really get to grips with a subject, and a chance to share ideas with a world expert in the topic. Here’s an example of a modern languages tutorial in action:

A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!