Category Archives: Hispanic

Spanish Flash Fiction Competition – the results are in!

This year’s Spanish Flash Fiction Competition ran from December to March and received almost 400 entries. We were amazed at the entrants’ command of, and enthusiasm for, Spanish, and the imagination and grasp of narrative techniques evident in the submissions. Stories ranged from a tale about a vegetarian lion to one about a zombie Christmas. We would like to thank everyone who submitted an entry.  The judges were throughly entertained, and choosing the winners was no easy task. Congratulations to the winners below and, to everyone who took part – please do continue to use your languages creatively!

Years 7-11 Category

The winner for this category was “Traición?” by Ivo Reeve. Besides the author’s excellent command of Spanish, we were especially impressed by how well wrought the text is: how Ivo managed to balance poetic language with military description. All of that in a piece of veritable historical flash fiction. We also want to commend the two runners-up for this category: “El monstruo brillante” by Chloe Cheng and “No la sorprendió cuando vinieron…” by Elizabeth McDonald, who both showcased excellent command of Spanish and true literary sensitivity. Finally, we want to give an honorary mention to Savannah Culpepper’s piece, “Una noche, Jesús y yo…”, for its deft use of humour and ingenuity.

Years 12-13 Category

The first prize in this category goes to “Las bufandas” by Charlotte Collerton (Year 12), a seemingly simple yet powerful and tender story. We would like to congratulate Charlotte for her excellent command of idiomatic Spanish, but also her poetic sense of rhythm that permeates both the form (vocabulary and sentence structure) and the content of the text (the action of knitting, the rhythm of seasons and sequence of generations). There was one close runner-up: “El día que lo tosió…”  by Hannah Corsini (Year 12), which truly impressed us with her originality and her use of bold yet successful metaphors. The text itself, which describes sickness through literary terms and references, made us think of a Quixotic “literary sickness” or “literatosis”, as it were: seeing everything in the world through the lens of literature (we are afraid to report no cure has been found against this “terrible disease” yet…). Lastly, we would like to give an honorary mention to two entries: “El francotirador” by Jacob Murray (Year 12) and “El estimado rey” by Oliver Pearey (Year 12) for their underlying philosophical message and their successful use of narrative tension in such brief texts, including a final plot twist that leaves readers pondering and quesstioning their own assumptions.

We hope to feature some of the winning entries on this blog in the coming weeks. ¡ Felicidades !

How much is too much reality?

In May The Oxford Centre for Comparative Criticism and Translation, and St Anne’s College hosted a discussion between two of the best-known novelists writing in Spanish today, Javier Cercas and Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Beginning as an introduction to their recent publications, the conversation evolved into an exciting reflection on the role of storytelling in a post-truth age…

Javier Cercas at the Gothenburg Book Fair 2014. Photo by Albin Olsson, from Wikimedia Commons

Javier Cercas gave an insight into his 2014 novel, El Impostor (The Impostor), which tells the story of Enric Marco Battle, a trade unionist who became famous in Spain as a survivor of the concentration camps Mauthausen and Flossenbürg. Battle became a spokesperson for Spanish survivors of the Holocaust and was a prominent voice against Fascism. However, in 2005 it was revealed that Battle had deceived the public about his experience of the war and had never been held in a concentration camp. He was, in effect, an impostor.

Vásquez introduced his 2015 novel, La forma de las ruinas (The Shape of the Ruins), which traces two political assassinations in Colombia’s history: that of General Rafael Uribe Uribe, a senator and civil war veteran killed in 1914; and that of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a leader of the Liberal party and presidential candidate at the time of his murder in 1948. Vásquez’s novel includes a character called Carlos Carballo, a conspiracy theorist who believes the two crimes are linked, not only to one another, but also to the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez at the Hay Festival 2016. Photo by Andrew Lih (User:Fuzheado), from Wikimedia Commons

Both novels, then, might to some degree be considered historical fiction, taking their storylines from history but marrying this with the imagination to create a version of the past that is closer to what we might expect from fiction. However, the two writers use their novels to problematise this genre, questioning the role fiction can play in an era of alternative facts.

The writers consider the figure of the fantasist, asking what motivates a fantasist to invent alternative scenarios and why such figures are believed. This begs the question, is the novelist a kind of fantasist? And if you can have a factual novel, what is it that makes it a novel, a work of the imagination?

Vásquez suggests that fantasists are fascinated by stories, by creating narrative out of the past as a way to meet their personal objectives. They are detectives of a kind, and the novel is a means of probing reality and humanity. As Ford Madox Ford said, the novel is a ‘medium of profoundly serious investigation into the human case.’ Cercas, meanwhile, draws a distinction between the different fantasists presented in the two novels: on the one hand, Battle, who distorts history to amplify or falsify his own role within it; on the other, Carballo, who cannot accept that history doesn’t make sense and is ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ (a reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth), and therefore looks endlessly for connections in an effort to find the meaning in history.

What do both fantasists tell us about our relationship to narratives of the past though? Perhaps that history becomes more palatable when it is presented in the form of a story. Between the lack of a story and a lie, we prefer the lie and, to go a step further, when we are dealing with the worst elements of history, we try to mask it with narrative.It is for this reason, Cercas suggests, that General Charles de Gaulle aimed to convince French people that they had all been ‘résistants’ during the war, for, he said, ‘Les Français n’ont pas besoin de la vérité’ [French people do not need the truth].

In the current climate, we find other words for lying, referring to distortions of the truth as ‘alternative facts’. Social media allows us to create alternative chains of events and, for the first time, we have the impression of being able to choose the version of reality we want to hear. Consequently, people who are adept at manipulating storytelling have power. Vásquez points out that the German writer and philosopher Novalis asserted that ‘novels arise out of the shortcomings of history.’ The novel goes where history cannot, reframing history as a narrative that can be edited, manipulated, and used to dominate the political moment. This is because, in the words of the poet T. S. Eliot, ‘humankind cannot bear very much reality.’

It seems, therefore, that our present moment is defined by narratology, by storytelling. What do you think – are we facing a battle for the story?

A Chilean Year Abroad: from terremotos to chilenismos

This post was written by Hector Stinton, a third-year Spanish & French student at Keble College.

As an undergraduate reading French and Spanish, I have chosen to spend my year abroad working in Santiago de Chile (August 2017 – June 2018) and Paris (July – September 2018) as a British Council English teacher and Assistant Film Producer, respectively. In the summer before starting the Spanish half of my year, I set myself three main objectives: to enhance my understanding of Hispanic culture, to improve my Spanish, and to challenge myself professionally.

Being embedded in life and work in Chile has given me great insight into Latin culture. For example, in England, flying or wearing our flag is uncommon and has nationalistic associations, even on St George’s Day; whereas in Chile, La Estrella solitaria is seen far more frequently, especially on Independence Day in September. Dig a little deeper, however, and you find that it is still a legal obligation, though rarely enforced, to fly a flag from every house or tower block – a hangover in the constitution written by Pinochet, demonstrating his pervasive legacy. At the other end of the spectrum, and typifying the wry sense of humour, the beverage of choice – a litre of sweet fermented wine with pineapple ice-cream – is called a terremoto (‘earthquake’), despite the fact that tremors regularly raze towns and villages, and have left the capital without any pre-modern architecture.

It is said that if you can speak Castilian in Chile, you can speak it anywhere in the world, since Chilean Spanish has a fearsome reputation for its thick accent, fast delivery, and plethora of peculiar idioms and neologisms, known as chilenismos. Separated from Peru and Bolivia by the Atacama Desert to the north, from Argentina by the Andes to the east, and surrounded by ocean to the south and west, Chile’s geography has seen its language develop hermetically. Even when Chile became more accessible, wars with her neighbours, and continuing mutual suspicion, have made the distinct speech a point of national pride. For this reason, Chilean vocabulary has been particularly enriched by its immigrant and native communities: ya (‘yeah’) from the German ja, ¿cachai? (‘you know?’) from the English ‘to catch one’s drift’, cancha (‘field’) from the Quechua kancha. The grammar, too, prefers the Italian ai or ei ending to the Iberian as or es when using the informal tu form in the present tense, and rejects completely the peninsular vosotros ‘you plural’. Acquiring all these subtleties, and many more besides, has made me a more complete linguist.

Professionally, working at the biggest language school in Santiago, the Instituto Chileno-Británico de Cultura, has presented its own set of challenges. On Friday evenings, I teach an advanced one-on-one student who happens to be the philosophy chair at the top university, and is preparing to deliver a series of lectures at Yale. A few hours later, on Saturday mornings, I go from feeling more like a tutorial student with the aforementioned academic, to helping a class of six-year-old girls colour and annotate big A3 sheets with titles like ‘My Zoo’ and ‘My Favourite Food’. ‘Variety’ is certainly the watchword at the ICBC, because every day I engage with and adapt to a huge range of different ages, backgrounds and abilities.

Thus far, I would go as far as to say I’m meeting or exceeding the objectives I set myself at the beginning of the year, thanks to an opportunity in Chile made possible by the British Council and Instituto Británico. Now I might even have time for some of my secondary objectives: learning to dance, learning to cook, and learning Portuguese…

What do Shakira and the works of Cervantes have in common?

This post was written by Sarah Wadsworth, a first-year Spanish & Arabic student at St Anne’s College.

“What’s the hardest thing about studying Golden Age Spanish?” my friend says, repeating the question I asked her, pretending to think. She laughs. “The fact that all the words sound the same. They all begin with ‘al’!”

Gross overestimation it undoubtedly is, but in considering the lexicon of just one Spanish text – in this case, Cervantes’ novela Rinconete y Cortadillo – I can see where she’s coming from. Words like ‘almojarifazgo’, ‘alcabala’ and ‘almofía’ abound even in this short story that we study in first year. It’s something we have both noticed, the prevalence of a little syllable which in turn speaks to a wider history of language transference.

IND119216 Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra (1547-1615) 1600 (oil on panel) by Jauregui y Aguilar, Juan de (c.1566-1641); Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, Spain.

For almost 800 years, there was Arabic social and cultural hegemony from Andalusia to Toledo and even into southern France at the Moorish empire’s peak in the 8th century. Though the Reconquista (‘Reconquest’) would eventually return power to the Catholic monarchs with the surrender of Granada in 1492, the effects of centuries of linguistic transference were already evident, a consequence of history that still echoes in so many Spanish words. The influence of Arabic is visible both in the esoteric terms mentioned above and in more vernacular language, as is demonstrated by the Spanish word “hasta” (meaning “until”) and its Arabic cognate “حَتَّى” or “ḥatta”. The place names Andalucía and Almería are also of Arabic origin; they are just two of the hundreds of Arabic names for various regions, cities, towns and villages across the Iberian Peninsula.

Bras’lia – DF, 17/03/2011. Presidenta Dilma Rousseff recebe a cantora Shakira Mebarak. Foto: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR.

From the Moorish characters of numerous Spanish ballads to the magnificent architecture of the Alhambra, it is a past that continues to resonate in both Spanish literature and the language itself. But the modern twist on the tale? Given the emigration of Arabic speakers to Latin America from the 19th century onwards, there are now significant Middle Eastern communities in the New World too, like that in the Colombian city of Barranquilla. There are those with roots in both cultures who have risen to fame – the singer Shakira is just one notable example. The linguistic connections between Arabic and Spanish seem as potent today as they were more than 600 years ago.

 

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)