Introduction to the Language and Cultures of the Spanish-Speaking World

Curriculum Guideline

Effective Date:
Course Code
MODL 1153
Introduction to the Language and Cultures of the Spanish-Speaking World
Modern Languages
Language, Literature & Performing Arts
Start Date
End Term
Semester Length
15 weeks
Max Class Size
Contact Hours
Lecture: 2 hrs/week Seminar: 2 hrs/week
Method(s) Of Instruction
Learning Activities

Methods of instruction may include, but are not limited to, the following: lectures (including one or two guest lectures) supplemented by audio-visual learning aids, small group work, class discussions and debates, student-generated question and answer sessions, independent study of specific topics, and field trips.

Course Description
This course provides an introduction to a wide range of language and cultural practices and issues specific to the Spanish-speaking world, and the critical tools from diverse methodologies needed to analyse and understand them. The course, which focuses on the interaction between the Spanish language and the cultures that underlie it, is designed to increase students’ ability to navigate more meaningfully within these cultures, and potentially use Spanish more effectively. Written, audio and visual cultural texts are examined. The course is taught in English and prior knowledge of Spanish is not required.
Course Content

This course examines cultural and language practices and issues within the cultures of the Spanish-speaking world from an interdisciplinary perspective and within a theoretical framework. The course is divided into three parts. Part one is a basic introduction to the terms and concepts required to examine and understand critically the complexity and contradictions of culture. Part two is dedicated more specifically to the relationship between language and culture. Part three focuses on specific aspects of culture and language, each unit starting from a cultural category/concept or a cultural practice and examining it within its contexts, visual or linguistic manifestations, and along with other related cultural practices and issues.  

Part 1. Basic theoretical framework:

  • The nature and different definitions of culture
  • The contributions of various disciplines to the understanding of culture
  • Production and transmission of, and negotiation within culture(s)
  • Culture and reality: construction and interpretation
  • Critical perspective and self-reflection
  • Cultural concepts such as: center/periphery, tradition/modernity, post modernity, appropriation, hybridity/mestizaje, high/low culture, popular culture/mass culture, identity, space, time, agency, cultural memory, representation, imaginings, accommodation, text, intertextuality, discourse, narrative, alterity, nationalism, meaning-making, hegemony.

Part 2.  Language and culture:

  • The Spanish language as a cultural product.
  • Spanish as mother tongue and self-identity.
  • The origins of Spanish, its cultural heritage, and its evolution.
  • Spanish within its social contexts; language attitudes and misunderstandings; differences between Spanish and its dialects; indigenous languages; languages in competition: the survival, loss, shift or spread of Spanish and the languages that share its geographical space.
  • The etymology of Spanish words; the use of expressions; language propriety; slang, the language of youth, women and men; the language of gestures.
  • The differences in ways of thinking as expressed in Spanish, in English and other languages; idiomatic expressions, proverbs, metaphors and cultural values, beliefs and attitudes.
  • What is lost in translation, especially, between Spanish and English.
  • Sense of humour and the Spanish of jokes.
  • Spanish and globalisation: borrowings into Spanish and from Spanish.
  • Sense of space and time as expressed in Spanish.

Part 3.  Cultural units:

At least 5 units should be included. Units will be built around interrelatedcategories, such as: sense of place, time, national identity, cultural commonality and difference, sense of self and others, sense of belief, aesthetic and social awareness. The following are examples of units with suggested material including novels, articles, poems, movies, legends, and songs:

Flamenco and cante jondo: dance, music and lyrics. The Gypsies in Andalucía. The 700 years of Arab occupation and contributions: Arab roots of the Spanish language and the cultural legacy of the Arabs. The place of flamenco today, as for example, in the films of contemporary Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura. Flamenco’s resurgence and its Canadian reinterpretation in the cafés or on the stage in Vancouver.

Material: Books: John Crow’s Spain: The Root and the Flower: An Interpretation of Spain and the Spanish People, Claus Schreiner’s Flamenco: Gypsy Dance and Music from Andalusia. Poems: Federico García Lorca’s Gypsy Ballad. Movie: Carlos Saura’s Carmen or Flamenco. Audio and book: Duende

El toro y la virgen, or the cultural iconography of opposites: old and new, male and female representations, religion, death, attitudes and beliefs. Ancient rituals, modern manifestations: the Virgins of the Holy Week processions in Seville and bullfights. Lorca’s murder: politics and machismo. Picasso’s bull and women in his interpretation of the Spanish Civil War. The sense of death in Mexico or skeleton on a bicycle (José Guadalupe Posada’s macabre and satirical broadsheets). Rituals and ancient traditions in contemporary Mexico: The Day of the Dead.    

Material: Poem: García Lorca’s At 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Books: Hemingway’s The Dangerous Summer and Chipp Herschel’s Picasso’s Guernica: History, Transformation, Meanings. Videos: Death in Granada, La isla de las almas and Los canadienses. Painting: Picasso’s Guernica. Prints: Posada’s broadsheets.

M estizo culture or the hybrid nature of Hispanic America. The indigenous roots of the Spanish language and cultural blending. The clash of civilizations: the legacy of the Conquest and forging an identity. The dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe syncretized with the Aztec goddess, Tonantzin.Santería (catholic and African syncretism) in Cuba and curanderos (healers). Cultural identity crisis: indigenous roots. Diego Rivera’s murals and Frida Kahlo’s hybrid self-representations.

Material: Legends: The Story of Colors =La historia de los colores and The wonderful Chirrionera and Other Tales From Mexican Folklore. Poem: Claribel Alegrías Little Tamales from Cambray. Books: Miguel de la Torre’s Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America and Marlene Dobkin de Ríos’ Amazon Healer: The Life and Work of An Urban Shaman. Audio: Cuba: Les danses des dieux: musique de cultes et fêtes afro-cubains. Videos: The Devil’s Dream, Shaman of the Andes, Brujo, and Frida Kahlo: A Portrait of An Artist. Paintings: D.Rivera’s murals and F. Kahlo’s self-portraits.

La Llorona and the representations, appropriations and re-appropriations of female icons: la Llorona, Malinche, Guadalupe, and Sor Juana. Eva Perón, political icon, and her place in the imaginary of Argentina, and as interpreted abroad.

Material: Legend and song: la Llorona. Articles: Alejandra Elenes’ “Malinche, Guadalupe, and La Llorona: Patriarchy and the Formation of Mexican National Consciousness”, Rosario Castellanos “Once Again Sor Juana” and Naipaul, V.S. “Argentina and the Ghost of Eva Perón”.  Books: Jean Franco’s Plotting Women: Gender and Representation in Mexico and Tomás Eloy Martínez ‘s Santa Evita. Movie: Eva Perón (by Parker with Madonna).

Yerba mate drinking: the origins of the ritual, the production of mate tea, the indigenous Guaraní population of Paraguay where the tea is grown, their language, music of the Paraguayan harp, the present practice of mate drinking in the southern cone countries, the tradition and the economics of the ritual. The Argentinean gaucho and the foundational epic. Rituals and practices related to drinking and eating, the food and drinking practices that immigrants from Latin America and Spain have retained as part of their daily life here in Vancouver.

Material: Books: José Hernández’s Martín Fierro (excerpts) and John Schecter’s Music in Latin American Culture: Regional Traditions. Article: Thomas Turino’s “Music in Latin America”. Movie: Como agua para chocolate.

Arpilleras: popular art and resistance in Chile under the Pinochet regime. The “disappeared” (a word coined in Latin America), in Chile and Argentina. The economical and political factors, including American intervention, that led to the September 11, 1973 coup and subsequent dictatorship, the poetry of Nobel laureate and popular poet Pablo Neruda, the people’s suppression of memory (or amnesia) of these painful years, national healing, and  the election of a woman president (victim of the repression and a socialist). The role of women in resistance movements. The Chilean refugees in exile in Vancouver, and the influence of Pablo Neruda and the coup on the work of B.C. poet, Tom Wayman.

Material: Movie: The Official Story and Chile: Obstinate Memory. Books: Isabel Allende The House of the Spirits (or the film version), Rita Ardetti’s Searching For Life: The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina or Betty LaDuke’s Compañeras: Women, Art and Social Change in Latin America. Poems: by Pablo Neruda. Article: Tom Wayman’s “The Skin of the Earth: My Neruda.”

Tangos and quilombos: from the runaway communities of black slaves to the music and the language of the tango. African and immigrant cultures in Latin America. The telenovela or soap opera: identity, nation and family.

Material: Articles: John Charles Chasteen’s “Black Kings, Blackface Carnival, and Nineteenth-Century origins of the Tango”, Eduardo Arquetti’s “Playing Football and Dancing Tango: Embodying Argentina in Movement, Style and Identity”,D. Castro’s “Women in the World of Tango”, Nelson H. Ortega’s “Big Snakes on the Streets and Never Ending Stories: The Case of the Venezuelan Telenovelas” or Ana López “Our Welcomed Guests: Telenovelas in Latin America”. Poems: Nicolás Guillén’s The Ballad of the Two Grandfathers and Sensemayá. Videos: The Buena Vista Social Club, Tango in a Cold City and C. Saura’s Tango.

Chicha drinking and chicha music: mixing traditional indigenous music of the Andes with tropical music and electric guitar. The Andean region and the indigenous people: the legacies of the Incan empire, the survival of the Aymará and Quechua languages and culture, the bilingual education experiment in Peru. Carnival and the tîo (god of the underworld of Bolivian miners) and its appropriation as tourist attraction, tourism and exoticness, popular culture (Andean music, traditional weaving, and crafts) and mass culture (the invasion of electronic products and media and its local interpretations). Globalisation: multiracial and multilingual cultures. Material: Audio (ER): The Double-Headed Serpent Music Of the Andes: Inkuyo and Window to the Andes: Inkuyo. Songs by Manu Chao. Article: Carlos Monsiváis “Would So Many Millions of People Not End Up Speaking English? The North American Culture and Mexico.”

Learning Outcomes

Successful students will:

  • increase their knowledge of pertinent cultural aspects of the Spanish-speaking world
  • increase their understanding of how the Spanish language and the cultures that underlie it interact
  • increase their ability to navigate more easily and meaningfully within these cultures
  • increase their skills in learning, understanding and using Spanish more effectively
  • increase their appreciation of basic concepts needed to examine cultural issues in general
  • increase their appreciation of cultural practices distinct from their own
  • increase their awareness of the processes that inform these cultural practices
  • increase their awareness of, and sensitivity to, different modes of thought and belief
  • increase their critical awareness of their own points of cultural reference
  • increase their ability to examine issues from an interdisciplinary perspective 
Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be based on this general outline:

  • One term research project (paper or presentation) worth at least 25% of the final grade
  • One mid-term exam worth no less than 10% of the final grade
  • One final exam or final paper worth no less than 15% of the final grade
  • Other means of assessment - such as quizzes, journals, participation, oral/life history, interviews - to be presented to students in the course outline at the start of classes.
Textbook Materials

Textbooks and Materials to be Purchased by Students

  • Coursepack and/or textbook
  • At least one longer work, such as Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits or Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel In Monthly Installments, With Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies. Novels can be read in Spanish or English.

None (however, students are encouraged to also register in MODL 1151)