French nationalism

Honors Fellows Wrap Up Summer Research

Group photo

Eleven Dietrich College Honors Fellows are poised to begin their senior year with a head start on piloting psychological studies, conducting field research and laying the groundwork for film and writing projects.

Over the past three months, the fellows have examined citizenship and belonging in South Korea, the impact of La Loi Toubon on French nationalism and coming of age as a Vietnamese American, among other topics.

Recently, they presented their works-in-progress to each other and faculty members including their advisers and fellowship program directors Jennifer Keating-Miller, Brian Junker and Joseph E. Devine.

“This summer’s group was particularly impressive,” said Devine, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While their topics were interestingly diverse, they displayed shared qualities of high enthusiasm, confidence and preparedness that served them well this summer and will surely continue to do so over the coming academic year.”

Read more.

On France

Devine - Paris panorama

Over the past week and a half, thanks to my Dietrich College Honors Fellowship, I was able to travel to France to do hands-on research for my project.

I’m so grateful to have been able to go back to France. Last summer, I left Pittsburgh to spend six weeks in Aix-en-Provence, a small town in the southeastern French Provençal region. I was extremely nervous before leaving, but after coming back six weeks later, I knew that I made the right decision. I had an amazing time in Aix, made wonderful friends and was already ready to go back. I had no idea that I would be able to come back to France just this summer.

To apply the research I’ve been doing for the past few months to the “real world” was exciting and a bit unnerving. For this trip, I analyzed the linguistic landscape of two French cities: Paris and Aix. While doing this research, I took pictures of all kinds of signage (on cafés, in front of stores, at museums, etc.). My particular interest in signage has to do with the work I’m doing about La Loi Toubon, which was passed in 1994 to assure that the French language be used on all public and commercial signs throughout France to prevent the increasing usage of the English language.

Devine - Paris


Before going to Paris, I expected to see a lot of signs in different languages. I was proven right. Everywhere I looked, there was a new opportunity to take a picture. This made sense to me, because Paris is a large tourist attraction, especially during the summer. Not only did I see different languages around me but I also heard so many different languages on the streets – French, English, Spanish, Chinese and probably more. This made me realize how diverse Paris is. I made an effort to go to as many neighborhoods as I could, but I ended up going to the typical tourist spots, all of which had a diverse set of signage.

Devine - Paris signageDevine - Mont St Michel

Mont St. Michel

One day, we took a day trip from Paris to Mont-St-Michel, which for me looks like the French version of Hogwarts. Mont-St-Michel is a small island in the northwestern Normandy region of France, and is also a large tourist attraction. There is a large abbey perched on the top, and leading up to it are different shops, restaurants and cafés. I didn’t expect to see so many different languages on signage in such a small town.

Devine - Mont St Michel signage

Devine - Aix

Going back to Aix was very cathartic. It was strange to be back in a place so familiar at a different time of year without the same people that I spent six weeks with last summer, but was so happy to have the opportunity to go back. I definitely experienced Aix in a different way this time around. I noticed so many more things about Aix that had to do with my research. I didn’t expect to see a lot of signs in English, but found a very interesting collection while spending time in Aix.

Devine - Aix signage

All in all, my trip to France was simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. I was experiencing France in a whole new way – instead of just being a tourist or a student abroad, I was a researcher. I was conducting my own research and finding new conclusions based on the signage that I was documenting.

On a much more somber note:

I had originally written this post on my flight back from Paris to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, July 13th. I had intentionally chosen to not be in France for Bastille Day, mainly to avoid crowded areas and any potential risks. I was so saddened and horrified to hear about the attack in Nice on Bastille Day. Bastille Day is a French holiday when the nation is supposed to unite and celebrate the foundations of the republic’s democratic ideals. What upset me so much about the attack was that the caution that I took to not be in France for Bastille Day was proven correct – the fact that I even needed to think twice about being in France for this national celebration is really upsetting. I’m thankful that I made it back to Pittsburgh safely, but am so sorry for France.

Annnnnnnnd break

Devine 2
Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Is this article relevant? Should I stop? Should I keep going?

Over the past week or so, I found myself asking myself these questions repeatedly. I felt somewhat lost, apprehensive and uncertain about my work. I was worried that I was losing momentum because of my anxiety, so I reached out to the heads of the Fellowship program and my faculty mentor. I was given advice that I can apply to my current research and for future projects – the questions that I was asking myself were completely normal, and it was okay to doubt myself once in a while.

With the help of a large iced coffee and a good Spotify playlist, I’ve been able to sit down and focus on my work. After sorting through my anxieties about the relevance of my research, I’ve regained momentum and confidence, and I am better able to grapple with the questions that I constantly ask myself. Currently, I’m reading about the ethnic conflict and tensions between English and French immigrants in Canada, and am finding interesting correlations between language policy in France and Quebec based on ethnic and national unity and identity. I’m becoming more comfortable talking about my research with others, and am becoming more confident in my knowledge about French language policy.

Perhaps one of the most helpful pieces of advice I was given was how important it is to clear my head once in a while. Sitting down and reading for hours at a time can be a mundane task. I’m interested and passionate about the work I’m doing, but I’ve realized that my productivity during the day increases when I take some time off from my work. Whether it be Skyping with a friend who is abroad or going to a Pirates baseball game, I’m learning more about the importance of finding balance between work and taking time off.

Adapting to Change

Devine 1

I’m a girl who likes routine. So the prospect of starting my own research for the summer was exciting but also daunting. Over the past summers, I’ve always been given a plan or some sort of instruction for my jobs; now it’s up to me, with the help of my adviser, to instruct myself.

After speaking with my adviser, we were able to choose three topics to research over the next coming months. I will start with exploring the relationship between language policy and nationalism to contextualize two case studies I plan to research.

I originally planned on using one case study (the French Toubon Law of 1994) to further explore the relationship between language policy and nationalism. La Loi Toubon was passed to regulate the usage of French in public spaces and commercial areas (such as on the radio, on television, etc.). This was largely in response to the increasing usage of English in French society, and was consequently installed to protect French national unity and centralize French power.

After speaking with my adviser, we decided to analyze and research another piece of legislation to further analyze the relationship between language policy and nationalism in a different context. In the 1970s in Quebec, the Charter of the French Language declared French to be the official language of Quebec (a province in Canada). I hope to study the history of French involvement in Quebec, and how French speakers in Quebec use their language as a way to create a unique national identity.

I am really eager to continue my research, and am looking forward to adapting to this change of pace for the upcoming summer.