Spanish Teacher Heads to Barcelona on Research Grant

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Photo courtesy of Marguerite Morlan

Spanish teacher Marguerite Morlan is headed to Barcelona on the Fulbright research grant. She will be studying sociolinguistic patterns to see how they impact political sentiment.

Nikki Iyer, Feature Editor

Spanish 3, 4, and AP 5 teacher Marguerite Morlan is headed to Barcelona, Spain on the Fulbright research grant where she will study bilingual sociolinguistic patterns, and how they impact political sentiment. 

Morlan was the valedictorian of both her high school in Wisconsin, and of USC’s business school, where she also majored in Spanish. As a student, she expected to enter the corporate world, and was on track to work at an accounting firm. 

“As I got on into college I started doing a lot of service experiences. I worked with a nonprofit, an educational nonprofit, for all four years of college, initially just to make some money while I was studying, but then I realized I really loved it and education was a really important cause to me. I did service trips abroad in El Salvador and Mexico and I just felt like I had this calling like to do something more of my life. To do something where I was helping and serving others instead of just strictly going into a job to make money,” said Morlan. 

Her accounting internship at the time was supposed to lead her into a full time career in that field, but after working for a Teach for America program, and gaining experience in teaching bilingual preschool students language, she realised she wanted to return back to the classroom , teaching high school students. The Teach for America program sparked Morlan’s interest in bilingualism.

“My preschool students could speak Spanish and english perfectly well but why do they speak Spanish with some of their friends but english with other friends? It’s something that I see with my own colleagues, like sometimes with certain colleagues I’ll speak in Spanish more, and certain colleagues I’ll speak English with more…and sometimes I do 50/50 and I’m like why am I speaking English in this conversation but Spanish in this conversation,” said Morlan. “So I’ve just always been really curious about that, like what makes a bilingual person choose to speak in one language or another.”

I will be studying linguistic and cultural identity among Catalan-Spanish bilinguals in Catalonia, Spain. I am particularly curious about how political, cultural and social factors influence a bilingual person’s decision to speak in Spanish vs. Catalan”

— Morlan

Coming from Wisconsin, Morlan has no Spanish-speaking roots or ancestry. However, when she took Spanish class in high school, Morlan felt more connected to the arts of Spanish speaking countries than with English culture.

“I just really loved [Spanish]. I was always very robotic and so academic growing up and I was just reading these poems and they taught me how to feel, they taught me how to be a human being. I just connected with the arts of the Spanish speaking world much more so than I ever did with literature from my english classes or english music even…I just thought it [Spanish speaking culture] was really beautiful and I connected with it on a different level.”

Morlan is choosing to study in Spain due to the current political movement and the linguistic identity associated with it. Currently Catalonia is attempting to secede from Spain, due to their strong nationalism, their economic prosperity individually, and the limiting autonomies Spain is putting on Catalonia. Morlan wants to explore how political sentiment is impacted by bilingualism, and vice versa. 

“I will be studying linguistic and cultural identity among Catalan-Spanish bilinguals in Catalonia, Spain. I am particularly curious about how political, cultural and social factors influence a bilingual person’s decision to speak in Spanish vs. Catalan. In other words, why do bilinguals choose to speak in Spanish in certain contexts but in Catalan in others when the majority of this region’s population is able to communicate proficiently in both languages? What does language choice say about how these individuals identify culturally, socially and politically?” said Morlan. 

“This topic is especially salient in this region at the moment because many Catalan people currently support the movement for Catalonia to gain independence from Spain. I am eager to explore how language choice can at times serve as a political statement and a symbol of autochthonous identity,” said Morlan.

Her host school in Spain is the University Pompeu Sabra in Barcelona. She will be observing Catalan sociolinguistic studies with master and doctoral students who are in multicultural classrooms, including Catalan and international students from across Spain.

This topic is especially salient in this region at the moment because many Catalan people currently support the movement for Catalonia to gain independence from Spain. I am eager to explore how language choice can at times serve as a political statement and a symbol of autochthonous identity”

— Morlan

Morlan will analyze patterns of language usage, when each student can speak Catalan, Spanish, and English. She will look into how having classes in a certain language will change how Catalan students identify, and how they view the Spanish students in their classes. Her findings will include quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, observations, and interviews.

Morlan expresses her appreciation for her students, and how they made her decision to leave SJHHS for the semester so difficult.

“My biggest doubt was just leaving my students two thirds of the way of the school year. It’s not something I would ever, ever do. And this grant was originally supposed to be for the entire year so I would’ve done it before the year even started but I didn’t receive the grant initially. I was selected as an alternate so I was on the waiting list. And especially with COVID going on I never thought in a million years that I would get it because it’s such a competitive grant,” said Morlan.

Following the research grant, Morlan plans to return to SJHHS for the 2021-2022 school year in early August.