Literature and Languages

Languages Summer School at Sidney Sussex College - places available!

German flag

Image credit: fdecomite

Sidney Sussex College is running a residential summer school for Language-based subjects on 18-20 August this year. If you are in Year 12 and considering an application to study languages at Cambridge, please do apply for this opportunity!

This course is suitable for students interested in studying:

Through sample lectures, classes and small group tuition you will have the opportunity to see what it is like studying languages at university level, find out more about languages and cultures themselves, and mix with other students from all over the country who share your interests. You will also experience the College environment, which will be helpful whichever Cambridge College you eventually apply to.

There is no charge for the summer school. If you are eligible for free school meals, Sidney Sussex may be able to help with travel costs.

If you are interested in attending the summer school, please email Carly Walsh at Sidney Sussex College for further details.

Date posted: 

Monday 28 July 2014

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On interviews

Woman reading

One of the things that interviewers look for is genuine interest. Image credit: THX0477

We interview most people who apply to Cambridge (more than 80%). It is in interviews that subject specialists are able to work with you directly, see how you think and work, and really explore your academic potential for the course that you've applied for.

We hope that you will find the following new Cambridge University film useful, and we particularly hope that it will put any summer work that you are doing to develop your interests into context!

Date posted: 

Sunday 27 July 2014

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Shakespeare Festival

King's garden

The College gardens are regularly used for outdoor theatre in the summer.

In the nice weather, you might enjoy some outdoor Shakespeare if you're visiting Cambridge. The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival is on at the moment and four new plays are about to start their run:

  • Othello in Trinity College Gardens (28 July - 16 August)
  • Twelfth Night in St John's College Gardens (28 July - 16 August)
  • The Merchant of Venice in Robinson College Gardens (28 July - 23 August)
  • The Taming of the Shrew in Homerton College Gardens (28 July - 23 August)

Performances start at 7.30pm, and if you bring proof that you're a student in full-time education, you can get a concession ticket for £11. Please see the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival website for full details and booking.
 

Date posted: 

Thursday 24 July 2014

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Trainers, pumps, plimsolls or daps?

Plimsolls? No, daps. Credit: dave

How do you refer to the appropriate footwear for a PE class?  Trainers, pumps, plimsolls, or daps?  The word you use almost certainly reflects where you live, or where you grew up. 

Researchers in Linguistics can use lexical variation (our choice of words or phrases), phonological variation (the way in which we pronounce certain words), and syntactic variation (the way in which we construct sentences) to draw maps of dialect variation, such as those produced by the Multilingual Manchester project.

King's teacher and researcher Bert Vaux and his colleague Scott Golder created a dialect survey whilst he was at Harvard in 2002 which went viral when it was featured in the New York Times last year. Bert says:

"What's been most exciting about the newest viral episode is the demonstration over a pool of several million test subjects that it is possible to identify the regional origins of English speakers just from subtle lexical 'tells.'"

You can hear Bert discussing the latest success of the survey and the conclusions he drew from it on National Public Radio (NPR) in the U.S. in February.

If you'd like to contribute to Bert's ongoing research, you can take the Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes now.

Date posted: 

Friday 18 July 2014

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Trinity College's Robson History Prize (Year 12)

Sea

What is to be gained by studying the histories of seas or oceans?
Image credit: AvidlyAbide

If you are interested in History (including historical aspects of a wide range of courses from Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic to Economics, Philosophy and Theology) why not think about some of the questions that Trinity College has set for their Robson History Prize? There's a wide choice of 59 titles, so you are bound to find a topic that you would enjoy studying.

Here are just a few of them:

  • What was the role and influence of Queens in Anglo-Saxon England?
  • Was the Hundred Years War really a single conflict?
  • What were the causes of the European ‘witchcraze’ in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?
  • What sort of a revolution was the French revolution?
  • How did the Atlantic slave trade affect state formation and economic growth in West Africa?
  • Why was the Spanish civil war so bloody?
  • ‘The Attlee government’s failure to create a socialist commonwealth was as much due to ideological shortcomings as economic constraints.’ Discuss.
  • To what extent do market forces pose a threat to the accuracy of popular history?
  • Is the goal of Aristotle’s Politics to arrive at a theory of the best state?

If you would like to work on an essay to enter in the competition, the deadline is 1 August and do make sure that you read the full details (including the full list of titles) on Trinity College's website before you start. If you don't have chance or don't want to do that, do have a look at the titles nonetheless as there's plenty of inspiration for research and thought.

Date posted: 

Wednesday 16 July 2014

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Summer Reading (and Writing)

Pile of booksCredit: Pam loves pie

As you break up for the vacation, you may be resolving to read through the pile of books that has built up on your bedside table during a busy academic year. But how do you make your summer reading count? As the University of Cambridge advises its students:

Reading for a degree requires different reading skills to reading for pleasure. Developing understanding through reading needs to be an active process, whereby you engage with the text, question and develop your ideas in response to it.

Listen to Hanna Weibye (one of the King's Fellows in History) making a similar point, when she recommends that you read as widely and as critically as possible.

 

The University of Southampton, the University of Manchester, and the Open University all offer useful advice on how to read in an engaged way.

One way to read effectively is to... write! Once you've read a text, why not write and share a review of it? The Wellcome Trust blog offers advice on how to write a news story from a scientific paper.  The Guardian's Blogging Students advise on how to blog.

Date posted: 

Tuesday 15 July 2014

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Pierre Bourdieu: What affects our tastes?

Beach Scene by Renoir

For Bourdieu, cultural consumption  is 'an act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher'. Renoir image credit: freeparking

How much is taste shaped by education and social influences? Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher who looked into these questions, most famously in his 1975 book, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.

In the introduction, Bourdieu writes:

Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed.

Bourdieu collected information through questionnaires which asked people questions about their tastes in art, literature, music etc. For example, he compared preferences for different musical pieces and charted these against information about each particpant's social background:

Bourdieu's text includes diagrams and charts which plot his results and show correlations that he found in the data. A key idea in this book is that of 'cultural capital', that is, 'assets' that people acquire, such as education and cultural experience, which can affect social mobility regardless of financial means.

If you have the opportunity to look at Bourdieu's work, do have a think about this way of looking at taste. Do you agree / disagree / recognise aspects of it? Can you think of any examples in modern culture and society? What do you think of the way that Bourdieu collected and used his data? Does his work have wider implications for questions of taste, sociology and identity?

Further exploration:

Date posted: 

Friday 11 July 2014

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Virginia Woolf exhibition (London, 10 July-26 October)

Book cover

Orlando (1928) is a semi-biographical novel. Credit: crowbot

Virginia Woolf is amongst the most well-known writers of the twentieth century. Do you know what her writing is like?

There is a Virginia Woolf exhibition over the summer (10 July to 26 October) at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It explores Woolf's achievements as a novelist, intellectual, campaigner and public figure.

If you plan to visit the exbibition, you may like to read some of Woolf's work in advance. If you're not sure where to start, here are some suggestions to choose from: 

  • Novels such as Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), or The Waves (1931)
  • Collections of short stories e.g.  A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1944)
     

Date posted: 

Sunday 6 July 2014

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Viktor Shklovsky: making things strange

Horse

In Tolstoy's Kholstomer (Strider), a horse is sometimes the narrator.
Image credit: Phil Roeder

In his 1917 essay, 'Art as Technique', Russian writer Viktor Shklovsky argues that often we don't notice things because they are familiar to us. However, art (a term that Shklovsky uses in a broad sense to include literary writing) can present things in a strange or unfamiliar way, which makes us look at them for longer:

Habitualization devours work, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the fear of war. "If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been." [Shklovsky is quoting Tolstoy's diary] And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar," to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object.

You might like to read the full text of 'Art as Technique', which was published in English translation in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, ed. by L,T. Lemon and M, J. Reis, pages 3 - 24.

What do you think of Shklovsky's description of the purpose of literary writing? Does his argument apply to all literary texts? Are there genres where you would expect to find this technique more frequently? Can you think of any examples in texts you have read / are reading where something is presented in a strange way that makes you notice it? And can you think of any limitations to Shklovsky's argument?

Further reading:

Date posted: 

Sunday 29 June 2014

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Language learning

Screenshot from Duolingo

Screenshot from Duolingo. Credit: Kristian Bjornand

One of the challenges of learning a foreign language is that you're constantly learning new vocabulary and grammar, yet you also need to meet words that you've previously learnt regularly enough for them to stick in your mind and become part of your active vocabulary.

Here are some resources that you may find useful and enjoyable:

Reading in your language is an important habit to get into. It is not easy, but the more you do it, the more enjoyable it becomes. Do ask your teacher to recommend texts that you could try at your current language level, and look at magazines / newspapers as well.

Parallel text book cover

Credit: Damian Cugley

There are a range of ways to approach reading, and it's good to vary what you're doing. Sometimes you might read a short passage and look lots of words up, other times you could read to get the gist, and only interrupt yourself to look occasional words up. You may also like to explore parallel texts, as these have the language you're learning on one side and the text in English on the other, which can be very helpful.

Date posted: 

Thursday 26 June 2014

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