Welcome Week draws to a close


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The new academic year has formally begun with students either arriving on campus or returning for another year of study and co-curricular activities within Modern Languages & Cultures. Much of the week was devoted to ensuring that new first-year students are ready and fully equipped to start the intellectual work of the new term.

Professor Matthew Philpotts addresses new students at the start of term

Professor Matthew Philpotts addresses new students at the start of term

In addition to subject-specific talks, students have been given the opportunity to visit the library, meet with key staff, and settle into their new lives on campus.On the last day of Welcome Week, new students were introduced to their academic advisers and, in a new initiative to encourage staff and students to spend time together, undertook brief tours of important parts of the South Campus, identifying people, offices, and buildings that will make the first year at Liverpool run as smoothly as possible. Staff and students were encouraged to tweet images of some of the things they encountered, using the hashtags #MLCWW1 and #MLCWW2.

Staff & students gather for refreshments at the end of Welcome Week

Staff & students gather for refreshments at the end of Welcome Week

With staff and students limbering up for the first classes of the academic session on Monday morning, the week came to a close with a light lunch, where new first-year students could chat informally with their tutors, and also take the opportunity to join the subject-specific student societies who each had a stall at the lunch venue.

Summertime research: Dr Andrew Plowman


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plowman1As we move into Welcome Week, colleagues in Modern Languages and Cultures continue to tell us of the research they conducted over the summer. For example, Dr Andrew Plowman, Senior Lecturer in German, took the opportunity offered by a few quieter weeks in the summer to complete an article on Günter Wallraff’s diaries of his conscription in the early 1960s to the Bundeswehr, the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany, which was founded in 1955. The article draws on Dr Plowman’s long-standing reserach in autobiography and life-writing as well as a more recent interest in the representation of soldiers and the military in recent German literature.

Günter Wallraff made his name in West Germany between the 1960s and 1980s as a reporter and writer who went ‘undercover’ to expose backward conditions and conservative attitudes in many areas of life in the Federal Republic, and he is still notorious today for the controversy he stirred up when he impersonated a Turkish ‘Gastarbeiter’, or ‘guest worker’, and recorded his experiences in his book Ganz unten (Lowest of the Low) in 1985. In the course of recent research into literary representations of the Bundeswehr in German culture, Dr Plowman discovered that Wallraff’s account in the popular left-wing youth magazine twen in 1964 of his conscription and his attempt to apply to become a conscientious objector once he was already a soldier was his first publication. Further investigation threw up the intriguing finding that Wallraff went on to publish amended versions of his text several times in his career, each time with different accompanying texts.

Dr Plowman’s article explores the relationship between the different versions of Wallraff’s Bundeswehr diaries by setting them in the context both of controversies around the Bundeswehr in the years after its establishment and of the development of Wallraff’s career as a writer.

Until the 1990s, there is a surprising lack of engagement with the Bundeswehr on the part of writers in the Federal Republic and Wallraff’s diaries of his conscription thus stand out as a compelling historical, literary and autobiographical document of the Bundeswehr.

Dr Plowman’s research aims to show how Wallraff’s amendments to the successive versions of his text respond to the aggravation of controversies around the Bundeswehr, particularly at the time of the student movement of 1968. But it also shows how Wallraff’s account of how he was conscripted, sought to object and published his diaries of his experiences also became an important part of his personal mythology. The successive versions of his diaries are an important site of his self-fashioning as a critical and controversial figure to which he returned many times to defend his often contentious methods and to signal shifts in the direction of his work.

Dr Rosalba Biasini attends Associazione Internazionale dei Professori di Italiano conference



From 30th August to 3rd September, Dr Rosalba Biasini attended the twenty-first AIPI (Associazione Internazionale dei Professori) conference at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest.


The conference was hosted by the ELTE Italian Department, a lively division that includes a doctoral programme with a number of keen and committed graduates. The AIPI is a long- established, international organisation that brings together tutors and lecturers of Italian across the whole discipline of Italian Studies, from literature to linguistics, from history to pedagogy. Dr Biasini has been an AIPI member since 2012 and has since attended all their biennial conferences, contributing to the panels dedicated to Italian language teaching.


Front cover of the 2014 AIPI conference proceedings, to which Dr Biasini contributed a chapter

In Budapest, Dr Biasini delivered a paper on the use of translation as a didactic tool with beginners’ learners, analysing an approach to teaching grammar that she is experimenting with her own classes at the University of Liverpool. These reflections are part of Dr Biasini’s research on translation and language learning and, following the paper she presented at a previous AIPI conference (Bari 2014), she published a chapter in the 2014 AIPI conference proceedings.

The conference was also attended by Dr Marina Spunta, external examiner in Italian at Liverpool. Dr Spunta, Senior Lecturer in Italian at the University of Leicester, presented an engaging paper during the session, dedicated to the presence of the river as a symbol in Italian literature, focusing on Gianni Celati and Peter Handke.

Dr Biasini was extremely pleased with this experience, as AIPI conferences always prove to be an excellent environment for exchanges and networking, as well as for discovering more about the learning of Italian language and culture in different countries. During the inaugural lectures, the Italian ambassador to Hungary, Maria Assunta Accili, recalled in her speech that in Hungary a high number of students decide to study Italian as a foreign language in secondary schools as well as in universities, a sign of the evergreen interest in Italian language and culture around the world.

Summertime research: Dr Robert Blackwood



The start of term might just be around the corner, but colleagues in Modern Languages & Cultures are still squeezing the most out of their research time, including Dr Robert Blackwood, Reader in French sociolinguistics, who is currently undertaking fieldwork in Toulouse. Like most colleagues in the department, Dr Blackwood has spent the summer catching up on various research activities, including correcting proofs for a forthcoming book chapter, co-written with Dr Luk Van Mensel from the University of Namur in Belgium. Dr Blackwood has also worked on revisions to a further chapter for an edited volume on Romance sociolinguistics.

Place-making in both French and Occitan in Toulouse

Place-making in both French and Occitan in Toulouse

As one of the Associate Editors of the new journal Linguistic Landscapes, it has been Dr Blackwood’s turn this summer to see another issue through to production. This has meant reading the proofs of the articles, liaising with the authors and the publishers, and supporting the work of the editors.

It is in Toulouse, though, that Dr Blackwood has done the most significant research of his summer, collecting data on the presence of Occitan in the public space of France’s fourth city. This has been the latest fieldwork in a series that has taken in cities and major towns identified with one of France’s regional languages, including Rennes in Brittany, Ajaccio on Corsica, Lille in northern France, Marseille, Nice, and Monaco. In this first stage of data collection, Dr Blackwood is evaluating the extent to which Occitan – the area’s regional language – is used to create a sense of place. At this very early stage, it is too early to draw any meaningful conclusions, but what has emerged during the fieldwork is the striking absence of Occitan in domains associated by private enterprise. Unlike on Corsica, in Brittany, or in French Catalonia, businesses do not appear to have embraced Occitan in the marketing of their products.

Dr Marieke Riethof discusses Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and its impact on democracy in Latin America


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Dr Marieke Riethof, Lecturer in Latin American Politics, has published an article on Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment on 31 August 2016.

Photo for MLC blog post Marieke

She argues that the impeachment debates reveal competing visions of democracy between those who believe they are following a democratic legal procedure and those who see it as a political manoeuvre to remove an unpopular president.

“The impeachment crisis reveals two conflicting visions of democracy in Brazil, signaling turbulent times ahead for the country’s political future”.

Dr Riethof has also published a short article on the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory website on the implications of Rousseff’s impeachment for democracy in Latin America. Using recent public opinion data, she detects a shift in support for democracy, not only in Brazil but also in the rest of Latin America.


This piece follows on from a series of articles Dr Riethof has published on the Brazilian crisis, two of which first appeared on The Conversation and were republished in Newsweek (see her Conversation profile for a full list). She was also interviewed in May for the ABC radio programme “The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff” and the Christian Science Monitor interviewed her in August for the article “Why Rousseff’s exit may not usher in the change that Brazilians want”.

Dr Riethof’s research has focused on analysis of the political trajectory of the Brazilian labour movement, a close ally of Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT). More recently, her work has focused on Brazilian foreign policy, human rights, environmental politics and renewable energy.



Summertime research: Dr Tom Whittaker


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It might be September already, but colleagues in Modern Languages & Cultures continue to undertake their research. This summer, Dr Tom Whittaker, Senior Lecturer in Film & Spanish Cultural Studies, has been busy working on a monograph entitled Deviant Noise: Quinquis, Criminality and Sound in Spanish Film. The book is the first English-language study to explore cine quinqui, an enormously popular genre of crime and delinquent films made during Spain’s transition to democracy, in the late 1970s and 1980. In films such as Deprisa, deprisa/ Fast Fast (Carlos Saura, 1980) and Yo, El Vaquilla/ I, El Vaquilla (José Antonio de la Loma, 1985), delinquents (popularly known as quinquis) played theatrical versions of themselves, often re-enacting the bank robberies and crimes they actually had committed in real life.

Juan José Moreno Cuenca ('La Vaquilla') in Yo, El Vaquilla

Juan José Moreno Cuenca (‘La Vaquilla’) in Yo, El Vaquilla

In rethinking the commonly held relationship between sound and image in Spanish film, this book explores both cine quinqui and Spanish youth subcultures primarily through their sonic expression. From the rough-hewn vocal performances of real-life delinquents to the music of rumbas, it shows how sound in the quinqui film is characterized by its deviant and transgressive nature.

In doing so, the book explores the social location of the quinqui delinquents  as ‘noise’, an unwanted and excessive sound which intrudes on spaces where it does not socially belong. In drawing on theories of Sound Studies and Cultural Criminology, Dr Whittaker’s book ultimately shows how as ‘deviant noise’, the sound of the quinquis drew attention to the fragile borders between criminality and order during these years, at a time when the broader culture of criminal justice in Spain failed to live up to its promises of a progressive democracy.

José Antonio Valedelomar and Berta Socuéllamos  in Deprisa, deprisa

José Antonio Valedelomar and Berta Socuéllamos in Deprisa, deprisa

As well as working on this monograph, Dr Whittaker has also been busy checking the final proofs and compiling the index of the book Locating the Voice in Film: Critical Approaches and Global Practices (co-edited with Dr Sarah Wright), which will be published in December with Oxford University Press.

‘Making Languages Work – Towards a Closer Co-operation between Schools and Universities’ – 14 September 2016


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The Department of Modern Languages and Cultures invites teachers and other stakeholders from schools, universities and beyond to attend the afternoon symposium ‘Making Languages Work – Towards a Closer Co-operation between Schools and Universities’ on Wednesday 14 September 2016 from 12.00-16.15.

As the prospect of Britain leaving the EU throws the problems of inward-looking, insular policies into the spotlight, the need for intercultural sensitivity and foreign language skills is becoming more and more apparent. British school leavers and graduates need to be prepared to enter the global job market, where international agility and multilingualism are the norm and English as the lingua franca leaves few, if any, competitive advantages for monolingual English native speakers.

The symposium will be used to outline the situations and expectations in Secondary and Higher Education and to forge closer cooperation between foreign language teachers in schools and in universities.

The following themes will be addressed in the first instance:

  • How can we identify the invisible language repertoires and raise the educational attainment of pupils with multilingual backgrounds?
  • How can we facilitate the recognition and accreditation of all existing language skills?
  • How can university language students support and enrich the curriculum through placements, ‘adopt-a-class’ schemes and residence-abroad partnerships?
  • How can the university language departments, with their focus on literary studies, film, linguistics and translation, support school teachers in their response to the new curriculum?

This symposium will offer the opportunity to share ideas, to develop frameworks for closer collaboration and partnerships and to create new opportunities for students to learn new languages and to further develop and employ their existing multilingual repertoire.

The full programme and registration details can be accessed here.

United Nations’ Chief of Russian Translation visits Modern Languages & Cultures


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Vladimir Parshikov, Chief of Russian Translation at the United Nations’ Geneva Office, recently visited Modern Languages & Cultures to deliver a presentation to staff and students on working as a translator for the United Nations. The presentation and the discussion that followed outlined the conditions of service for UN translators and provided helpful tips on the kinds of skills sought among suitable candidates, including advice on undertaking summer internships at one of the UN’s eight international offices.

Mr Vladimir Parshikov, Cheif of Russian Translation at the UN's Geneva Office

Mr Vladimir Parshikov, Cheif of Russian Translation at the UN’s Geneva Office

Mr Parshivok – a lifelong Beatles fan – graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations in1978 and in 1979 completed the UN Language Training Course in Moscow, after which he was assigned to work as a junior translator at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. At the age of 25 he became the youngest senior translator in UN history.

UN translators and revisers are the cream of the crop in translation. If you decide to become a translator, why not aim for the top?

Speaking about the rewards of his, Mr Parshikov noted that a career at the United Nations is a constant challenge in itself. He argued that the key to success is continuous training and self-education, and there are lots of possibilities for this offered by the UN. In terms of advice to potential translators, Mr Parshikov urged aspiring linguists never to feel that they already know everything but instead they should always try to learn something new. This, he argued, would lead to rewards – both psychological and material. Conditions of service for international staff at the UN are at least comparable, and in most cases are superior, to any of the best-paid civil services in the world.

Mr Parshikov’s PowerPoint presentation on translating for the United Nations has been made available to staff and students at the University of Liverpool; it is available through the School’s Academic Lead for Outreach, Dr Şizen Yiacoup.

Dr Lyn Marven publishes a translation of Boehning’s ‘Swallow Summer’


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Dr Lyn Marven’s latest translation, Swallow Summer by Larissa Boehning, has been published by specialist short story publisher Comma Press in Manchester. Swallow Summer (Schwalbensommer in the original German) is Boehning’s debut collection of short stories; the stories depict a range of young protagonists often drifting through life in settings ranging from Berlin to Tel Aviv and Tucson, Arizona, in laconic, understated prose.

Boehning's 'Swallow Summer', translated by Dr Lyn Marven

Boehning’s ‘Swallow Summer’, translated by Dr Lyn Marven

The story from which the title’s swallow image is taken follows a young girl whose father has just died unexpectedly; she strikes up a friendship – or is it actually a relationship? – with an older man who sells her a ‘Swallow’ moped and the two of them explore the abandoned industrial spaces of the former East Berlin. It is a story about loss, memory and transience, embodied also by the swallows who leave the country every year.

The collection posed a number of challenges for Dr Marven, from capturing casual dialogue by German, Israeli and American characters, through to specialist boating terms, and particularly in the imagery of the stories’ titles. The story about the swallows for example is called ‘Zaungäste’ in the original, literally: fence guest, someone who watches an event for free by standing outside the fence surrounding the venue and peeping through. It suggests an onlooker who is at one remove – observing rather than participating – as well as the idea of getting access to something for free. As the main character steals maintenance tools for her moped from the ruins of a GDR factory, Dr Marven translated the title as ‘Something for Nothing’.

Larissa Boehning was a DAAD writer in residence in Liverpool in 2011. She has also published three novels.