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


October 8:  Lecture from Professor Marília Mendes Ferreira


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



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.


early November:  Lecture from Professor Asif Agha


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



Spring 2016


Lectures from Professor Ken Hyland and Professor Lourdes Ortega



Spring 2015


March 18:  Lecture from Professor Daniel Casasanto


Dr. Daniel Casasanto, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, presented an invited lecture:


"Whorfian Psychophysics:   Testing Linguistic Relativity without Using Language"



Date:  Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Time:  4 p.m.

Location:  60 Willard


Since before Whorf, inquiries into effects of language on nonlinguistic cognition have been plagued by circularity: Patterns in language (or language processing) have been interpreted as both a source of hypotheses about cognitive differences between groups and a source of evidence for these differences. To avoid circularity, it is
necessary to test for between-group differences predicted by language without using language in the test. How? In this talk, Casasanto will describe a psychophysical paradigm developed to ask Whorfian questions without using words in the stimuli or responses -- overtly or covertly. Results show that people who talk differently about time and musical pitch in their native languages form predictably different mental representations in these domains, according to their performance on nonlinguistic perceptuo-motor stimulus reproduction tasks. Unlike previously documented Whorfian effects, these effects persist under verbal interference, and do not depend on the use of language online during the tasks. Beyond showing correlations between language and thought, training interventions show that experience with language can play a causal role in shaping nonlinguistic mental representations.


Daniel Casasanto is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago and director of the Experience and Cognition Laboratory. He studies how the diversity of human experience is reflected in our brains and minds: how people with different physical and social experiences come to think, feel, and act differently, in
fundamental ways. To study cognitive diversity across cultures, his lab conducts research on five continents, using methods that range from observing children at play to brain imaging and neuro-stimulation. Casasanto has received the National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health, a James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar Award, and the Association for Psychological Science’s Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions. He has authored over 100 scientific publications, and is a founding editor of
Language and Cognition, an interdisciplinary journal from Cambridge University Press.


April 13:  Lecture from Professor Elinor Ochs



Dr. Elinor Ochs, Professor of Anthropology at UCLA, presented a public lecture:


"How Post-Industrial Families Talk" (by Elinor Ochs and Tamar Kremer-Sadlik)


Date:  Monday, April 13, 2015

Time:  4:30 p.m.

Location:  220 Hammond


The nuclear family is both crucible and product of capitalism and modernity, carried forth and modified across generations through ordinary communicative and other practices.  Focusing on post-industrial middle-class families, this review analyzes key discursive practices that promote "the entrepreneurial child" who is able to display creative language and problem-solving skills requisite to enter the globalized knowledge class as adults.  It also considers how the entrepreneurial thrust, including democratization of the parent-child relationship and exercise of individual desire, complicates family cooperation.  Family quality time, heightened child-centeredness, children's social involvement as parental endeavor, children's autonomy and freedom, and post-industrial intimacies organize how family members communicate from morning to night.



Elinor Ochs is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Language, Interaction and Culture at UCLA.  Drawing upon fieldwork in Madagascar, Samoa, Italy and the United States, she primarily documents how children become socially and culturally competent speakers and actors.  She has examined the quotidian interactions of typically developing children and children with autism spectrum disorders.  She also directed a nine-year study of American middle-class family communication, connectedness, emotion, health, eating, leisure, housework, childcare, consumerism and household possessions. Recent co-authored and co-edited publications include Fast Forward Family:  Home, Work and Relationships in Middle Class America (2013), Life at Home in the 21st Century:  32 Families Open Their Doors (2012), and The Handbook of Language Socialization (2011).  Ochs' research has been widely reported in the public media, and she has received honors as a MacArthur Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, President of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, and President of the American Association of Applied Linguistics.




Fall 2014


September 17:  Lecture from Professor Gale Stam


Dr. Gale Stam, Professor of Psychology at National Louis University, delivered a lecture entitled:


"Gestures and Learning"


Date:  Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Time:  4 p.m.

Location:  262 Willard Building


Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge or skills through movement, our senses, experience, study, or instruction. We first begin learning about the world through our senses and the movements of our bodies as we interact with our environment--Piaget's sensorimotor period (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969), in a sociocultural context (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986), surrounded by the language of our culture.  Later, when we enter school, we begin learning in a more formalized environment, where particular subjects are taught.  In this environment, the focus has been on learners' speech and writing.  However, recent research (McNeill, 1992, 2005; Kendon, 2004) on speech and gesture has shown that they are a single-integrated system and that gestures provide us with information about where learners are in the learning process (Goldin-Meadow, 1999, 2000; Goldin-Meadow, Wein and Chang, 1992; Goldin-Meadow and Alibali, 1995).  In addition, empirical studies on having learners gesture as they learn math concepts (Cook, Mitchell & Goldin-Meadow, 2008; Goldin-Meadow, Cook & Mitchell, 2009; Gerofsky, 2011). and vocabulary in a second langauge (Tellier, 2008; Macedonia & Knösche, 2011) show that the learners learn the concepts better and retain the knowledge for a longer period of time than learners that do not gesture.  This talk will discuss the importance of paying attention to learners' gestures, the importance of having learners gesture in the learning process, and the importance of teachers' being aware of their own gesture use in the classroom.



Gale Stam is Professor of Psychology at National Louis University in Chicago, Illinois.  She is an alumna of the McNeill Lab Center for Gesture and Speech Research at the University of Chicago.  Her research interests include language and culture, language and cognition, gesture, and first language and second language acquisition.  She has published articles on changes in thinking for speaking, the importance of looking at gesture in second language (L2) acquisition, gesture and lexical retrieval in a L2, and language teachers’ gestures. She has also co-edited two volumes on speech and gesture, Integrating Gestures: The interdisciplinary nature of gesture (with Mika Ishino, 2011) and Gesture: Second language acquisition and classroom research (with Steven G. McCafferty, 2008).


September 22, 2014:  Lecture from Professor Annela Teemant


Dr. Annela Teemant, Professor of Second Language Acquisition at Indiana University--Purdue University Indianapolis, presented this lecture:


"Linking Teacher Use of Critical Sociocultural Pedagogy to Student Achievement"


Date:  Monday, September 22, 2014

Time:  2:30-4:00 p.m.

Location:  Foster Auditorium (Paterno Library)


Radical--not minor--pedagogical changes are needed in today's K-12 classrooms to improve achievement for low-income multicultural and multilingual minority students of color in urban settings.  In this presentation, I describe and document the efficacy of an instructional coaching model for urban teachers called the Six Standards for Effective Pedaogy (Tharp. Estrada, Dalton, & Yamauchi, 2000; Temman, Leland & Berghoff, 2013).  The Six Standards represent critical sociocultural practices (Freire, 1994; Vygotsky, 1978), which mediate teacher and student identities, use of power, and agency in the teaching-learning process.  Quasi-experimental, correlational, and qualitative findings demonstrate significant and sustained teacher growth and student achievement gainsn for both native and non-native speakers of English.


Annela Teemant is an Associate Professor of Second Language Education (Ph.D, Ohio State University, 1997) at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.  Her scholarship focuses on developing, implementing, and researching applications of critical sociocultural theory and practices to the preparation of mainstream teachers of English Language Learners.  She has been awarded four U.S. Department of Education grants focused on ESL teacher quality.


November 5: Watz Memorial Lecture from Amazonian Linguist Daniel Everett


Dr. Daniel Everett, Dean of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Global Studies and Sociology at Bentley University, presented the 2014-2015 Gil Watz Memorial Lecture:


"On the role of culture in the emergence of language"



Date:  Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Time:  4:00-5:30 p.m.

Location:  Foster Auditorium (Paterno Library)


In this talk I argue that culture is causally implicated in the construction of human grammars and languages. I define culture partially as a set of shared, ranked values. The talk will draw on data from Piraha, a language of the Brazilian Amazon, as well as ideas from my forthcoming University of Chicago Press book, Dark Matter of the Mind: The Apperceptive Shaping of our Words and World, as well as Language: The Cultural Tool.



Daniel L. (Dan) Everett holds an ScD in Linguistics from the Universidade Estadual in Campinas, where he served as Professor of Linguistics.  He has held academic appointments at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Manchester, UK, and Illinois State University. Since 2010, he has served as the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Bentley University in Waltham, MA.  Everett has lived in the Amazonian jungle for nearly eight out of the last thirty years, studying more than a dozen Amazonian languages. He has published more than 100 scientific articles and eight books, including Don't sleep there are snakes: Life and language in the Amazonian jungle and Language: The Cultural Tool. He is currently working on Dark Matter of the Mind for the University of Chicago Press and How Language Began, for W.W. Norton. A documentary about his life and work, The Grammar of Happiness, was released in 2012.



CLA Travel Grants


Travel grants are available through the Center for graduate students for travel to/from conferences.
Download the Center for Language Acquisition travel grant application

Students may also apply for Department of Applied Linguistics travel grants.
Download the Applied Linguistics travel grant application

Notice: The Center and Applied Linguistics forms used for submitting requests for travel funding have both been updated. Please review the latest form, and verify that you are using this version when submitting a travel request.



Gil Watz Dissertation Grants


The Center for Language Acquisition, in conjunction with the College of the Liberal Arts, provides up to five dissertation research awards per academic year for doctoral students working on a dissertation in applied linguistics. For more information click here.



Gil Watz Visiting Scholars Program


For informatiion about the Watz Visiting Scholars Program, click here or contact Jim Lantolf, Director of the Center for Language Acquisition at JPL7@PSU.EDU.


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