Academic Study Days are a great opportunity for students in Year 12 to spend a day exploring a specific academic area at St Catz, meet with some current students, experience a taste of academic teaching, and enjoy lunch in the dining hall.
St Catz are running their Modern Languages Study Day on Wednesday 31st May, 10.30am-4.15pm.
Students attending this exciting Study Day will have the opportunity to sample a range of languages that are available at the University of Oxford. As part of this day, students will be able to choose two language sessions to participate in from a choice of:
Post A-Level Spanish,
Post A-Level French,
Beginners’ Czech, and
All students will also have the opportunity to participate in a Linguistics taster session.
In this week’s blog post, current French and Linguistics student, Josh Winfield, talks about his time in Montreal, a trip funded by his college. Over to you, Josh!
In March 2022, I was lucky enough to secure a travel grant from my college (St Hilda’s) to go to Montreal for 10 days. This blog aims to recount: what I found in Montreal, both from a touristic and student point of view; why I would recommend Montreal as a potential location for the year abroad; and to explore how Oxford colleges can help with course-related study trips.
If you were to look at the last ten years’ worth of year abroad archives, you would not be blamed for thinking that France is the only option for this exciting part of your degree course. When writing this blog, there were only a few students in the archives who had gone elsewhere. Whilst France is the potential obvious choice, considering its proximity to the UK, and the focus of French language courses on metropole French, I will aim to highlight some of the many advantages of Montreal as the location for your year abroad, or at least to inspire you to travel there as a student of French!
I have been interested in the French speaking region of Canada for a long time, particularly Quebec, using the question over its sovereignty as the focus of my Independent Research Project for my A-level French exam. However, I had never had the opportunity to actually visit it. When I started my course, I was shown the extensive list of bursaries that Oxford students could be eligible for, and as one of these, the travel grant (which is not just a Hilda’s thing, many colleges offer travel grants1) This generous funding allowed me to journey to Montreal, and paid for my accommodation. There are many funds available for undergraduates, with different colleges having differing amounts available, but for course-related travel, a well thought-out application is normally quite successful.
The language of the region
This is obviously one of the most important factors in the choice of the year abroad location, especially how much you are able to use it and learn.
Montreal, and the broader Quebec region are quite unique in the fact that they are both officially bilingual. And, whilst the news and nationalist politicians might make you believe that the speaking of English is minimal here, this is contrary to my experience, in fact the city operates as a melting pot for both French and English communication. 26%2 of the Montreal population acquired neither French nor English as their maternal language, and both Spanish and Chinese are commonly spoken here, making French a lingua franca amongst speakers. This phenomenon means that it is very easy to use French in day to day life, and that there is no presupposition as to which language you are going to speak. When I was there myself, at least 80% of the time I was greeted in French and spoken to in French as if I was a native speaker. This makes it very accessible for learners, and gives you the confidence to use the language more often.
Furthermore, the dialect in Quebec is very interesting (particularly for me as a Linguistics student too!). The accent is not only different to the standard metropole French in terms of pronunciation and slight lexical differences, but it is also not unusual to hear (even native French speakers) switch from French to English in a sentence for certain words, and even phrases. Despite the difference, after a few days there (and some YouTube videos) I got used to this, and didn’t have any trouble understanding people.
Worth considering too, is that the written language is almost exactly the same, making signs and menus easy to read for French students. What I have just discussed about the language may be off putting to some people , particularly the presence of English, but as a student with a disability myself, I am comforted by the fact that in a worst case scenario, doctors, hospital staff, and the majority of the public speak and can understand English. (Plus all the visa applications can be in English which is a huge bonus!)
The atmosphereof the city
Despite the fact that the city was just resurfacing from years of strict COVID regulations when I visited, the city life was still vibrant. There is a plethora of restaurants, night-time activities, sights to see and museums. At every turn there is something historically fascinating to see, an amazing piece of architecture, or just natural beauty. With a thriving Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal and International Quarter, Montreal defends its position as one of the most diverse cities in Canada.
The city is passionate about inclusion and diversity3, and feels very safe, with the Economist naming it the 4th safest city in North America4. There is also a large Gay Village, which hosts many aspects of LGBTQ+ life, including Drag Shows and Montreal Pride. As well as the city life, or is worth mentioning that Montreal has some beautiful natural areas. In the centre of the downtown, Mont Royal (the city’s namesake) occupies a near 700 acre park, boasting beautiful views of the entire city. All around the city there are green areas, allowing you a break from the city feel of Montreal.
Travel and pricing
Inner city travel in Montreal is cheap, easy and fast. Operating on three lines, the majority of the city is only 15 minutes away from a metro stop. For a one way journey it was (when I visited) $1.60, $3 for a return. The metros are clean, open and easy to use. I used it the whole time I was there, and found it easier than the tube in London. In more general terms about cost of living, the city is of equivalent cost to Oxford and London pricing. However, when you take into consideration the exchange rate, the cost of living is not necessarily something to put you off (I also did live like a tourist for my time here – residential areas will no doubt be cheaper). With a student visa, most people are allowed to work up to 20 hours whilst studying which can help with the cost of your time there.
In conclusion, with three excellent universities5, a welcoming accessible environment to speak and learn French, and an exciting and different city life, why not consider Montreal for at least part of your year abroad (or perhaps a shorter trip with a travel grant!).
Linguistics is an increasingly popular area of study amongst our undergraduates, with some opting to study the subject as one half of a ‘joint schools’ degree (a degree where you combine two subjects e.g. ‘Modern Languages and Linguistics’), while others study it within their Modern Languages degree as an optional paper. But, for most people, linguistics is not something they will have had a chance to study at school and the subject will be brand new to them when they start at university.
So what exactly is linguistics? Fortunately, our colleague from the Faculty of Linguistics, Dr Jamie Findlay, has recorded an introduction to the subject. Check it out below and, if you like what you hear, perhaps consider incorporating linguistics into your degree…
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.
by Hector Stinton, a third-year undergraduate in French and Spanish at Keble College
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.
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 tú and usted. Interestingly, however, among friends, Chileans prefer the Italianate –ai or –ei ending to the Iberian –as or –es when using tú 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.
hacer perro muerto – to dine and dash
huaso – cowboy
confort – loo paper
cachar – to catch one’s drift
As well as studying a modern language on its own or with another language offered by the faculty here, you have the option to take a degree in one of the six ‘joint schools’ combining modern languages with another humanities subject. If you’re interested in how languages work, how they evolve over time, how we acquire them as children and what happens in our brains as we speak and listen, then you ought to seriously consider a degree combining modern languages and linguistics. Here’s the short film made by Oxford University to introduce the subject:
One of the things you can study as a modern linguist at Oxford is linguistics, either within the French course or as a subject in its own right. Linguistics is the analysis of how languages work, and how they change over time. One option in our degree is a course that traces French right back to its roots, and then examines how it gradually develops over the course of centuries into the language we recognize today. I thought you might like a little taste of this, with a trip back through the mists of time to the earliest peoples to have left their mark on the French language: the Gauls, the Romans and the Franks. First up, the Gauls. The Gauls were a Celtic people who settled France some time around 600 BC. They weren’t the first people to arrive in France: the cave paintings at Lascaux were painted fifteen thousand years earlier, and stone tools have been found in the Hérault département that date back one and a half million years. The Gauls came to dominate the culture and language spoken in the territory that would become France, however. Only the Basque language spoken in the far south-west and across the border in northern Spain preserves an echo of the speech of earlier populations. For French, the Gauls are our starting point. While the Gauls may be the ancestors of many modern French people (and many more, raised on the adventures of Asterix and Obelix, would very much like to think so), their language has left much less of an imprint on French than that of the invaders who were to conquer them, the Romans. Latin is the real root of modern French, as we’ll see in a later post, imported into France by the conquerors to be the language of trade and administration, and gradually filtering down to supplant the Gaulish language over the course of six centuries. Gaulish was not entirely wiped out, though: it survives as a language through Breton, one of the family of modern-day Celtic languages that includes Welsh and Gaelic. And if you look carefully you can find a few Celtic remnants scattered in the French spoken today as well.
According to Henriette Walter, there are no more than about seventy words in modern French that are of Gaulish origin. As you might expect, they mostly relate to a simple life of hunting, fishing and farming, and include terms for common animals and plants. Une alouette (a lark), le mouton (sheep), la tanche (tench, the fish) are some of the creatures that still have Gaulish names. La charrue(plough), le soc (ploughshare), la mine (mine), le sillon (furrow), le gobelet (beaker) and le druide (druid) are a few of the surviving words that testify to the Gaulish way of life. There’s also one single part of the body that still has a Gaulish name, which is l’orteil (toe), plus an old-fashioned word for poo, le bran, which survived at least into the last century. Many of the other Gaulish words describe the natural world, such as la dune(dune), la bruyère (heather), le galet(pebble) or la lande (moor). Among these, since we’re talking about roots, a good number are types of tree, including le sapin (fir), le chêne (oak), le bouleau (birch) and l’if (yew). It’s nice to think that yew and oak trees in particular, often the most magnificent and ancient thing you’ll see in a landscape, are also magnificent and ancient in their names if you say them aloud in French. Le chêne and l’if are words which link the speaker right back to the time of Julius Caesar, and of the Gaulish chieftain Vercingetorix who led the Gauls in revolt against him, and further back to other people who saw these things around them and spoke their names, pronouncing them in a way that may not sound much like the modern names, but which have evolved gradually in an unbroken chain down a hundred generations to us today.
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!
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