Campus: CSU Long Beach -- April 19, 2004

Linguistics Professor at Cal State Long Beach Receives Fellowship from John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Alexandra Jaffe, an associate professor of linguistics at California State University, Long Beach, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to support the completion of her book titled “Language, Citizenship and Identity in a Bilingual Corsican School.”

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation provides fellowships for advanced professionals in all fields (natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and the creative arts). The fellowships are awarded to men and women who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. It is highly selective with about a 6 percent success rate for applicants.

“I’m very excited to be recognized like this,” said Jaffe, who has devoted much of her career to the study of the language and culture of Napoleon’s island birthplace. “This award will help me complete my next book, which I hope to finish by 2005.”

Jaffe’s 1999 book on Corsica titled “Ideologies in Action: Language Politics on Corsica” published in Berlin by Mouton de Gruyter was recognized with the first Edward Sapir Book Prize by the Society of Linguistic Anthropology under the American Anthropological Association.

Her interest in Corsica dates back to her dissertation research in 1988 and has continued through a yearlong stay on the island in 2000 with her husband and child.

“I visited Corsica to study their schools,” noted Jaffe, who speaks Italian, French, Corsican and English. “I wanted to find out more about bilingual schools and how they work to revitalize the Corsican language. Like many other minority languages, its use has fallen over the years, the victim of economic and cultural pressure from the dominant French. Most of the kids in bilingual schools speak French as their first language, although they often hear a good deal of Corsican outside of school and have passive knowledge of the language.”

In her research on bilingual schools, Jaffe was interested in the different ways Corsican and French were used in the classroom and what kinds of messages about Corsican identity were transmitted to the children. She found that those differences were subtle, since teachers did many of the same things in both languages. Still, she observed that teachers’ choice of Corsican for cultural topics, for school plays, and for core classroom projects, gave it a privileged place as a language of cultural identity.

Jaffe plans to return to Corsica this summer. “There are economic, cultural and political forces at work that lead to the diminishment of certain languages such as Corsican,” she explained. “These forces lead to language shift. There is no doubt that Corsican is not, at present, a source of economic power, or as the Corsicans say, it is not a language of bread. But the reason to preserve it is to help the Corsicans connect with their shared cultural identity. If economics became a social force that supported a shift to French, then schools can be a social force to shift students back to Corsican.”

Jaffe earned her bachelor’s degree in English and French literature from the University of Delaware and her master’s degree and Ph.D. from Indiana University.She went on to serve as an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi for five years.

Media Contacts: Rick Gloady, 562/985-5454, rgloady@csulb.edu
Shayne Schroeder, 562/985-1727, schroede@csulb.edu


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