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Awards presentation for first Caius essay prizewinners

  • 02 October 2017

The winners of the 2017 Caius Essay Prize and Linguistics Challenge have been presented with their awards by the Master of Caius, Professor Sir Alan Fersht, at a ceremony in College.

The six students (pictured individually below) are the first winners of the prizes, which were launched earlier this year. The English Essay Prize and Linguistics Challenge are annual competitions aimed at students in Year 12, with prize money for the winners and their schools. Each competition carries a first prize of £600, to be split equally between the winning candidate and his or her school or college, and a second prize - also shared - of £400.

The criteria are deliberately innovative and accessible, and the aim is to encourage entries from applicants from any school or home background. For the English competition, entrants were asked to analyse new works from poetry or theatre to films and TV programmes, while the Linguistics award set students the task of exploring a language they use to communicate - interpreted in its widest sense.

First prize in the English competition went to Martha Fountain of The Abbey School, Reading, for her essay “There’s more to ‘The Mundane’ than meets the eye”. The judges, Caius English Fellows Dr Deborah Bowman and Dr Jason Scott-Warren, praised it as “a fluent and engaging essay mingling literary and televisual materials and dealing with them both very intelligently”. Martha, 18, said she had become interested in the concept of the mundane after staying up late one evening watching Netflix. "They were making a big deal about a programme called Netflix Live, which was 40 minutes of a guy commentating on people moving their lawn, the contents of a fridge, or people trying to get into a parking space. It was really funny, and I tried to work out what it was that made it entertaining because it's stuff we do everyday."

Inspired by the essay competition to return to the idea, Martha explored the current relevance of and interest of the mundane. "I think that especially in today's world where there is so much conflict and disarray, the fact that there is a programme focused entirely on mundane situations is reverse escapism. It used to be Star Wars and life in others worlds that people would escape to, but now because we can't predict our everyday life at all we need something mundane for our entertainment."

The Linguistics Challenge, judged by Dr Paula Buttery and Dr Andrew Caines, invited students to explore any form of language they use, from musical scores to hashtags and emojis, or even the slang by which they communicate with friends. The judges were so impressed by the Challenge entries that they opted to award a joint first prize and a joint second. One first prize went to Manon Lever of Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, Elstree, for her essay on “Welsh/English code-switching in my home”. The judges commented: “Your discussion of English-Welsh bilingualism was particularly clearly written and we enjoyed reading about the unique use of code-switching amongst your family.”

At home, Manon is spoken to in Welsh by her mother, but replies in English - with some exceptions. While learning Arabic at school, she explored the phenomenon of code-switching, in which speakers can switch between different varieties of Arabic depending on situation and audience, and recognised the similarities with her own situation. She said: "I can speak Welsh, but it just feels a bit unnatural. There are situations, though, where I would always use it: I can't talk to a baby or a dog without speaking in Welsh, for example. I would also use Welsh where I don't want other people to understand: if I'm talking to my mum on the Tube I might use it to say "I really like her shoes". And then there are certain expressions: we will only say 'Happy birthday" or "Merry Christmas" in Welsh. We spend all our Christmases in Wales and speaking English just doesn't bring back the same memories."

The Linguistics Challenge first prize was shared by Emma Tolmie, 17, of St. Olave’s Grammar School, Orpington, for her essay “Similarities between DNA and communication in rugby”. Studying an unusual combination of Biology, English and German for A Level, Emma was intrigued to find that the terms and transcription and translation are used to describe the processes by which DNA is converted into proteins. She found parallels with her own sport of rugby: "Both are similar in that DNA is a stored bank of information and so are our rugby tactics. DAN is transcribed when it becomes a different chemical, while in rugby a certain tactic is put into words.

"One of the interesting things about languages is that they're relevant in a lot of different ways. Rugby and biology are very different things, but they are linked by language. I liked the way that languages can be used to look at a lot of different aspects of life and society."

The English Essay prize and Linguistics Challenge will run annually, with a deadline in May. Keep an eye on our website for details of the 2018 competition.


The full list of 2017 winners and commended entries:

English Essay Prize 2017

First Prize: Martha Fountain, The Abbey School, Reading: There’s more to 'The Mundane' than meets the eye

Second Prize: Adem Berbic, Watford Grammar School for Boys: The alt-right, World Peace and you

Highly Commended: Jenna Anderson, Rainham School for Girls: To what extent is Bates Motel a worthy prequel to Hitchcock’s Psycho?

Highly Commended: Eleanor Clark, The Hemel Hempstead School: The Autumn Throne

Highly Commended: Yasmin Quaife, Hayes School, Bromley: Moonlight – an Oscar-winning masterpiece


Linguistics Challenge 2017

Joint First Prize: Manon Lever, Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, Elstree: Welsh/English code-switching in my home

Joint First Prize: Emma Tolmie, St. Olave’s Grammar School, Orpington: Similarities between DNA and communication in rugby

Joint Second Prize: Jamie Slagel, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, Elstree: An Experience with Philosophical Language

Joint Second Prize: Natasha Treagust, Canford School, Wimborne: What are the important properties of language used to communicate with people with learning disabilities in a medical setting?

Highly Commended: Lara Pieczka, Northampton High School: Periodic Table: Friend or Foe?

Commended: Kate Ramsey, Runshaw College, Leyland: More Than Just Words – The Linguistics of Headlines

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