Center for Language Acquisition at the Pennsylvania State University






The Center for Language Acquisition (CLA) is a research unit in the College of the Liberal Arts at The Pennsylvania State University. 






Fall 2015


December 3:  Lecture from Professor Asif Agha


Dr. Asif Agha, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, will present an invited lecture.


“Tropes of Slang”


In my presentation, I discuss a class of speech registers whose members have traditionally been called “slang” or “argot” in a large and long-standing literature. Despite the size of this literature, the characteristics of these registers have remained obscure to those who purport to study them. The thing called “slang” has traditionally been reduced to the lexical repertoires that happen to count as samples of the thing without attention to either (a) the reflexive processes through which such repertoires come to be differentiated from other discursive behaviors or (b) the social-interpersonal processes through which they undergo change in form and significance for different members of a language community. I examine these reflexive social processes by considering examples from a large number of languages and historical periods, and offer a comparative framework for studying the forms of social life that such discursive behaviors enable or displace. 


Asif Agha is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology, and in the Graduate Groups in Anthropology, Linguistics, History and Sociology of Science, South Asian Studies, International Studies, and the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.



October 21:  Lecture from Professor Lois Holzman


Dr. Lois Holzman, Director and co-founder of the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy, will present an invited lecture.


"Performing Other—The Life of a Languager"


In his essay on the development of personality in children, Vygotsky wrote that the preschool child “can be somebody else just as easily as he can be himself.” Vygotsky attributed this to the young child’s lack of recognition that s/he is an “I.” Performing as someone else— simultaneously being who you are and other than who you are—is an essential source of development at the time of life before “I.” The “performance turn” among researchers and practitioners in human development and learning provides strong evidence that it is also a source of development after “I”. Implications for how we understand, relate to, research and “teach” language will be discussed.


Lois Holzman is director and co-founder of the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy and chair of the biennial Performing the World conferences, which support the emerging social change approach known as performance activism. As researcher and author, she has brought the ideas of Lev Vygotsky to the fields of psychotherapy, and youth, organizational and community development, in addition to their traditional location with education. With colleague Fred Newman, the late public philosopher and founder of social therapy, Holzman developed social therapeutics as a methodology in which human development and community development are inseparable, and linked to play, performance and practical philosophy. Among her many writings on these topics are Vygotsky at Work and Play; the Psychology Press Classic Text Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionary Scientist (with Newman); and Schools for Growth: Radical Alternatives to Current Educational Models. She is series editor for Palgrave Macmillan's Studies in Play, Performance, Learning and Development, and recipient of AERA’s Cultural-Historical SIG Lifetime Achievement Award. Lois received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology and psycholinguistics from Columbia University. Long a critic of the medical model of mental health, Holzman currently co-leads community outreach for the Global Summit on Diagnostic Alternatives (Dx Summit), an international group seeking to advocate for and disseminate alternatives to current diagnostic systems of mental illness. She blogs at Psychology TodayMad in America, and A Psychology of Becoming.



October 8:  Lecture from Professor Marília Mendes Ferreira


Dr. Marília Mendes Ferreira, Associate Professor at the University of São Paulo, will present an invited lecture.


"Contributions of Cultural Historical Activity Theory to Academic Literacy"


Academic literacy in English has become a high valued commodity due to the internationalization of universities and the increasing pressure upon postgraduate students and academics, especially from non-English speaking countries, to publish in well-ranked international journals. There are several perspectives that study academic literacy: from more textual approaches like corpus linguistics  (Hyland, 2004, 2008) and English for Academic Purposes (Swales & Feak, 2004) to more sociological ones like Academic Literacies, based on the New Literacies movement (Lea and Street, 1998; Lillis and Curry, 2010) and with a geopolitical view (Canagarajah, 2002). The aim of this talk is to discuss the contributions of a cultural historical activity theory perspective to the topic and how it sheds light on several issues like concept formation, mediation, dialectical thinking, and practice. These issues will be discussed based on data from an academic writing course in English for Brazilian graduate students, which was implemented using Davydov´s pedagogical approach (Davydov, 1988).


Marília M. Ferreira is Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at University of São Paulo, Brazil. Her research interests include teaching-learning foreign languages from a Vygotskian perspective, academic literacy and developmental teaching. She has published on writing instruction from a developmental teaching perspective, on contributions of sociocultural theory to teaching- learning foreign languages and on the instruction of dialectical thinking in academic literacy classes. She has founded and directed the Center for Academic Literacy at this university. She co-edited a book on current Brazilian research on teaching-learning foreign languages based on Vygotskian thinking and is currently co-editing a book on academic writing instruction.



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