Good news, bookworms! After an extended hiatus while this year’s cohort of undergraduates settled into the academic year, the Virtual Book Club is back, this time with an episode focussing on Spanish. This episode features a discussion about an extract from El castigo sin venganza (Punishment Without Revenge), a seventeenth-century play by Lope de Vega.
The discussion is led by doctoral researcher Rebecca, with undergraduates Lottie and Hector. They consider how the extract deals with questions of masculinity, honour, and morality, and ask how our reading as a twenty-first-century audience might differ from that of an early modern audience. Sixth formers interested in the Medieval and Modern Languages course at Oxford might be interested to know that the course offers the opportunity to study literature throughout the ages, from the medieval to the present. This episode is designed to offer a glimpse into the early modern period, and how some of the central questions asked by writers at that time continue to resonate in new ways today.
If you would like to receive a copy of the text, which will be provided in both the original Spanish and an English translation, or if you would like future Virtual Book Club updates, please email us at email@example.com
A couple of weeks ago, we posted about our upcoming German open day, a chance for you to learn about the German course at Oxford. This week, we continue the theme by bringing you news of our open days in Spanish and Portuguese (Thursday 28 February at The Queen’s College), and Russian and other Slavonic Languages (Saturday 2 March at Wadham College).
As with the German open day, these events are a fantastic opportunity for you to explore what an Oxford degree in those languages looks like. They offer a mixture of academic tasters so you can get a feel for the content of the degree, information about applying to Oxford, and interactions with tutors and current students, who will be happy to answer any questions you have about languages at Oxford.
Highlights of the Spanish and Portuguese open day include: an introduction to Portuguese in 15 minutes, an introduction to other peninsular languages (Catalan and Galician – for more on Galician, see our post here); a spotlight on Portuguese-speaking Africa; and a Spanish Translation workshop.
Highlights of the open day in Russian and other Slavonic Languages include: a mini lecture on ‘Home from home: Russian writers in interwar Paris’; a mini lecture on ‘Russian Grammar in Time and Space’; and a parallel discussion for parents and teachers.
The open days are open to anyone in Year 12 who is interested in studying those languages at Oxford, including if you are interested in picking up the language from scratch (with the exception of Spanish, which we do not offer from scratch). Sessions will be suitable for learners who have no prior knowledge of the language, as well as those hoping to apply post-A Level. There are a limited number of places for accompanying parents and teachers. The events are free of charge but a place must be booked through the faculty’s website.
The full programmes are below, or available to view at https://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/schools/meet-us
This year, instead of our usual French Film competition, we will be running a Flash Fiction Competition in both French and Spanish. If you are in Years 7-13, you are invited to send us a very short story to be in with a chance of winning up to £100. Read on to find out more…
What is Flash Fiction?
We’re looking for a complete story, written in French or Spanish, using NO MORE THAN 100 WORDS.
How short can it be?
Well, candidates for the World’s Shortest Story include a six-word story in English by Ernest Hemingway:
‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’
Or a seven-word story in Spanish by Augusto Monterroso, called El dinosaurio:
‘Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.’
You don’t have to be as brief as that, but anything from six to a hundred words will do. Just not a single word more.
What are the judges looking for?
We’ll be looking for imagination and creativity, as well as your ability to write in French or Spanish. Your use of French or Spanish will be considered in the context of your age and year group: in other words, we will not expect younger pupils to compete against older pupils linguistically.
What do I win?
There are two categories: Years 7-11 and Years 12-13. A first prize of £100 will be awarded to the winning entry in each category, with runner-up prizes of £25. The winning entries will be published on our website.
How do I enter?
The deadline for submissions is noon on Sunday 31st March 2019.
If you would like to submit a story in French please do so via our online sumission portal here.
If you would like to submit a story in Spanish please do so here.
You may only submit one story per language but you are welcome to submit one story in French AND one story in Spanish if you would like to. Your submission should be uploaded as a Word document or pdf.
You will then be sent an automated email (check your spam folder if you can’t find this), which will include a link to validate your email address. Please click this link, which will take you to the Modern Languages Faculty website (you will be given an option to sign up to the newsletter. You do not have to sign up to the newsletter in order to enter the competition, although you are welcome to do so). Once you have clicked the confirmation link in the email, your entry has been submitted.
If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This post was written by Guo-Sheng Liu, a third-year student of Spanish and Portuguese at Lincoln College. Guosh is currently on their year abroad.
I had assumed a knowledge of Spanish would suffice when I embarked on a three-month long journey backpacking around Spain. I was wrong; I soon realised the importance of regional identities, languages and histories, all indispensable for understanding Spain’s complexities.
Though a minority language, Galician has been worth learning to me. For example, reading medieval Spanish and Portuguese was easier since modern Galician preserves some words now in disuse in its modern siblings. I also feel a connection to the language whenever I read lyric poetry beautifully composed in Galician-Portuguese (also known as Old Portuguese or Old Galician). On the contemporary end, the diversity of Galician dialects and the richness of vocabulary unique to Galician continue to surprise and sustain my interest.
While helping develop my thoughts on multilingualism in other places, the sociolinguistic situation in Galicia is, on its own, extremely fascinating. This includes the long, difficult struggle to preserve Galician as well as the great debates on orthography and normalisation (e.g. whether to embrace the hegemonic influence of Spanish) and on the nature of the language (is it the same language as Portuguese?). Galician is at a crucial junction as regards its survival; now is the perfect time to learn it.
Above all, perhaps, Galician is useful for understanding regional identity and history. Although Francoism (and its attendant repression of regional languages) ended decades ago, Spaniards today still grapple with comprehending the full extent of its socio-political legacy. A knowledge of Galician opens new ways to approach themes of collective memory and identity, struggles for freedoms, and current controversies over regional constitutions and politics.
Independence movements and some leftist groups exclusively use Galician for political reasons. And in my time spent in Santiago de Compostela, I have found locals most open to talking about their society when spoken to in Galician. Locals do not expect outsiders to speak their tongue; the pleasant surprise of your ability to do so translates into greater friendliness on their part and a deeper understanding of their society on yours. Galician culture and mindsets are certainly quite different from those of, say, Andalucia or Catalonia.
Compared to Catalan (let alone Basque!), Galician is even easier to learn if you already speak Spanish. This means you can start using the language sooner. The Xunta (regional government) also offers generous grants for its summer courses; I attended them twice for free, even receiving a stipend that covered accommodation.
Lastly, if themes of migration, feminism, independence, cultural identity / history, multiculturalism / multilingualism or ruralism sound appealing, Galician literature and film will be worth the effort of picking up the language.
Oxford has rich intellectual traditions, and Galician is no exception. Our university was the first one outside of Spain to offer Galician studies; language studies are open to all members of the university, while papers in its literature and linguistics are available to MML students.
More information on Galician at Oxford can be obtained at this webpage or by contacting the the current lectora, Alba Cid at email@example.com
This week we are delighted to showcase the winning entry in the Year 12-13 category of our 2018 Spanish Flash Fiction Competition. This story comes from Charlotte Collerton and is a poignant evocation of familial relations across generations, told in a simple but graceful style. The judges were impressed by Charlotte’s 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).
¡ Felicidades, Charlotte!
Ella empezó tejer la primera bufanda hace cuarenta años cuando estaba embarazada de su primer hijo. El invierno era constante y la bufanda se convirtió en manta para el bebé.
Ella tenía siete hijos y cada bebé tenía su propia bufanda como una manta para proteger de los inviernos atroces.
Con los años los bebés crecían y ellos creaban la próxima generación y las agujas de tricotar se reanimaban de nuevo.
Cuando ella colgó el guante la familia recogió todas las bufandas y cosió un chal de cada uno. El invierno era impotente contra la tibieza en su ataúd.
She started knitting the first scarf forty years ago when she was pregnant with her first child. Winter was constant and the scarf became a blanket for the baby.
She had seven children and each baby had her own scarf as a blanket to protect it from the severe winters.
Over the years the babies grew and they created the next generation, and the knitting needles were revived again.
When she passed away, the family gathered all the scarves and sewed a shawl from each one. Winter was powerless against the warmth of her coffin.
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 !
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 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.
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?
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…
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.
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.
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.
We have just launched our annual competitions in French and Spanish. Details are below. If you have any questions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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!
Data Protection: Like most websites, this site collects some user data in order to function properly.