Marjorie Johnson ’10

Pardon her French

When we speak in our native tongue, we have mannerisms that indicate our gender. Marjorie Johnson ’10 wants to know if those tendencies carry over when individuals learn a second language.

Johnson headed to Paris, France, in October to research the topic, thanks to the Walter J. Jensen Fellowship for French Studies. The double major in French and philosophy won the fellowship from the Phi Beta Kappa Society last spring. It’s designed to help educators and researchers improve education in standard French language, literature, and culture and in the study of standard French in the United States.

As the country’s lone recipient, Johnson earned a $14,000 stipend that will allow her to pursue her master’s degree at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (the School for Advanced Study in Social Sciences).

“I love the French academic system, because it puts a lot of the planning on the students,” Johnson said. “Students’ success in France is a function of their own motivation and effort.”

Johnson’s research thesis is “Des Américains bilingues en France: la transformation de la parole sexualisée,” (“Bilingual Americans in France: The Transformation of Gendered Speech).”

Johnson’s parents speak French. Her father, Galen Johnson, is a professor of philosophy at URI and the director of the University’s Center for the Humanities. Her mother, Becky, is a French and Spanish teacher at South Kingstown High School as well as an accomplished violinist. Marjorie Johnson plays the piano and upright bass and is an award-winning poet.

“All of us speak in a way that reflects our gender,” said Johnson, who taught several sections of French at URI last year. “I am fascinated to explore why that is. Is it something that carries over when we learn a second language? Is it a product of how we are raised? I want to know how much of our speaking patterns are determined by the social expectations that surround us.”

—Shane Donaldson ’99