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Spanish professor awarded Fulbright grant to study Croatian Marta Fairclough to research learning patterns of “heritage language” speakers

Prof. Fairclough

A U.S. Fulbright Scholar grant has been awarded to Marta Fairclough, associate professor of Spanish linguistics and director of the Spanish as a Heritage Language (SHL) Program in the Department of Hispanic Studies.

Dr. Fairclough will use the grant to research Croatian as a heritage language at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. She will spend about six months in Zagreb, Croatia, starting in January 2013 to study the Croatian language in an academic context, examine the acquisition process of a heritage language and document her experience firsthand. She defines “heritage language” as a language learned by individuals raised in homes where the dominant language of the region is not exclusively spoken.

“My parents were born in Croatia, and my first language is Croatian,” said Professor Fairclough. “As a heritage speaker of Croatian, I can understand it and speak it fairly well, but my literacy skills are limited. I was born and raised in Argentina, but I spent most of my life in the U.S., where I completed my Ph.D.

“I believe the Fulbright experience will give me the opportunity to document my firsthand learning experience and contribute to my heritage language students' experiences and more broadly to this fascinating emerging field of research.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of more than 155 countries worldwide. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

Dr. Fairclough expects her in-depth analysis of heritage language practices will offer insights into the issues of language, culture and identity shared by many minority language speakers in today’s globalized world. Her research also may shed some light on the importance of teaching and learning heritage languages at home and at school.

“Professor Fairclough’s project represents a promising and novel approach to studying heritage language learning in a formal context by following and analyzing her own learning of Croatian,” said Maria Carreira, a professor of Spanish, California State University, Long Beach. “As a heritage speaker of the Croatian language and an expert in language acquisition in classroom settings, Marta Fairclough is ideally qualified to carry out this study.”

Dr. Fairclough received her Ph.D. in Spanish linguistics and her M.A. in Spanish and French from the University of Houston. She is the author of two books and numerous articles in academic journals. Her book, “Spanish and Heritage Language Education in the United States: Struggling with Hypotheticals,” is considered to be the first book-length study of grammatical acquisition by heritage language learners.

“To date, it remains unparalleled in scope and quality among classroom studies of language acquisition. Marta’s recent work on placement and assessment also uniquely qualifies for her proposed project and attests to her finely honed analytic skills and command of statistics and testing,” said Dr. Carreira.

~ Melissa Carroll