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Winners of the Markheim Prize in French 2020

24 May 2020

Congratulations to this year’s winner, Kanak Shah, and runner-up, Georgina Ramsay, who were awarded their prizes based on the results of a French translation paper taken by our finalists. As is the case every year, the texts were particularly challenging: for the translation from English to French the students had a passage from Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, and for the translation from French to English they had a passage from an essay by Paul Preciado.

In addition to their cash prizes, Kanak and Georgina were each sent a bottle of champagne, so they could celebrate by raising a glass over a Zoom call with the Provost and French tutors. ‘Usually we invite the winner(s) to a drink on the gallery and dinner on High Table,’ explained Fellow in French Prof. Seth Whidden. ‘The coronavirus version was a really nice hour-long Zoom celebration.’

Both Kanak and Georgina study English and French, and have enjoyed the combination. ‘I think the best part of studying French at Oxford has been the way it's supported my English (and vice versa),’ said Kanak. ‘As the French course is so literature-heavy, I've essentially done a really wide-ranging literature degree, and discovered links between both sides of my course that have really enriched my experience. I initially chose English and French because I was starting to appreciate the value of being able to read in two languages whilst at school, for the breadth of cultural exposition that occurs as a result, and the course hasn't disappointed. I also wanted to be able to live abroad for a year – it was such an important year for me personally as well as for my French. 

‘Overall, I've found the workload to be manageable as our tutors Rebecca and Seth plan our course so carefully, making sure that we know at each stage which papers we are doing, and leaving room for change if something isn't working out. There have definitely been joint-schools related challenges, such as studying for FHS (Final Honour School) English papers in second year almost three years ahead of the exam (due to the year abroad) and juggling time-sensitive English coursework alongside French without letting the latter fall by the wayside. But overall, the benefits of studying two subjects alongside one another have outweighed the difficulties.’

‘I chose to study English and French because they were my two favourite subjects at school and choosing between them seemed impossible,’ said Georgina. ‘I was delighted when I found out that I could study them together and I have not been disappointed. A particular highlight for me was my year abroad in French Guiana, where I was able to appreciate the richness of the Francophone world. I have also enjoyed the range of texts that I have been able to study, varying from medieval literature to postcolonial literature. I am particularly glad to be studying English and French at Queen’s as my tutors on both sides of my degree have always been really accommodating, which has really helped me to balance the demanding workload of a joint honours course.’

Both students plan to continue their studies at graduate level. Kanak has an offer for the Criticism & Culture MPhil at Darwin College, Cambridge, which she hopes to start in October. ‘Although the Master’s is run by the English faculty, I'm hoping to maintain my French via courses at the language centre,’ she explained. ‘I'm definitely planning on moving back to Paris at some point, having spent my year abroad there; I'm not quite sure yet what kind of work I'd do, possibly teaching, but I know that living there again is definitely the plan.’

‘Over the course of my undergraduate degree I have developed an interest in the intersection of race and gender in literature from the Caribbean, US and global African diaspora,’ said Georgina. ‘I plan to pursue a Master’s in World Literature, which will also allow me to continue to make use of my French skills.’

Photo: Georgina (left) and Kanak just before handing in their first piece of English coursework in December.

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