Nessa Wolfson Colloquium

The Nessa Wolfson Colloquium is an annual event to honor the memory of Nessa Wolfson, the founder of the Language and Literacy in Education group at GSE, and to welcome new and returning students to the Educational Linguistics Division each year; it is the longest continuously-running colloquium series at Penn GSE.

About Nessa Wolfson

Nessa Wolfson earned her Ph.D. in Linguistics at Penn and was lecturer, then professor of Education at GSE from 1976 up to her passing in 1990. She was founding director of the Programs in Educational Linguistics, TESOL, and Intercultural Communication, and also founding chair of the Language in Education Division (now the Language and Literacy in Education Group), beginning in 1983 until her death. Well-known and respected in the field of TESOL and sociolinguistics, both nationally and internationally, she was as well the first tenured woman professor at GSE.

 After her death, which came too soon for both her family and her professional colleagues, her husband Harvey Wolfson and the Language in Education Division created the Nessa Wolfson Colloquium to recognize her scholarly and program-building contributions and keep her memory alive at GSE. The concept of the NWC is to bring to ELX and GSE each year a distinguished scholar in Nessa's field -- TESOL and sociolinguistics -- to give a talk and meet informally with students. Emphasis is placed on scholars who knew and mentored Nessa, who worked with her as colleagues, who were her own students, who draw inspiration from her research and writings, or whose work represents the same high standards of originality and vision as hers. 

 The Educational Linguistics Division (ELX) holds the NWC early in the fall semester each year, in order to welcome new students to the ELX/GSE intellectual community and at the same time to bring together and reaffirm ties to ELX alumni and colleagues locally, nationally, and around the world. We in ELX and at GSE are grateful to the Wolfson family for making this possible and for participating with us in it each year.


The Educational Linguistics Division of the Graduate School of Education is proud to invite you to the 27th Annual Nessa Wolfson Colloquium

Second Language Acquisition in Uncertain Times:
Disciplinary Contraints, Transdisciplinary Hopes

Dr. Lourdes Ortega
Georgetown University

September 15, 2017
9:00am - 2:00pm

Coffee Hour: 9:00am - 10:00am
Lecture: 10:00am - 2:00pm

Hall of Flags, Houston Hall

Abstract: We live in uncertain times in an uncertain world. While UNESCO strives with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals to commit world powers to end poverty, promote peace, share wealth, and protect the planet, we are witnessing serious deterioration of solidarity and respect for human diversity, coupled with one of the worst tides of authoritarian populism in the West. Many multilinguals – even more so multilinguals in marginalized communities – are vulnerable in the present climate. Researching bi/multilingualism is the business of second language acquisition (SLA) researchers. How well equipped is SLA to respond to the present challenges? In this talk I unpack four constraints that have hampered SLA’s capacity to generate useful knowledge about multilingualism. One is a disciplinary identity that is built around timing (i.e., a so-called late start in biological age terms) and the ‘language two’ of learners (i.e., at the exclusion of the other familiar languages of the emergent bilinguals that SLA studies). The second constraint is the (mostly implicit) adherence to an essentialist ontology of language (i.e., either a Saussurean/Bloomfieldian or a Chomskyan understanding of language) that considers it a system separate from the act of communication. A third constraint is a teleological view of development benchmarked against an ideal monolingual native speaker model. The fourth and final constraint I will discuss is the disaffection for ethics, power, and ideologies, which are considered inappropriate disciplinary content. On the other hand, I will also point at hopeful signs that suggest SLA’s research habitus is changing and may soon be better suited at supporting equitable multilingualism. In a world of social, political, economic, and human uncertainty such as the one we live in, the field must find some ways forward in preserving disciplinary identity and coherence while becoming more transdisciplinary in its capacity to respond to the needs that so many multilingual individuals, families, and communities are experiencing.

Lourdes Ortega is a Professor in the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University. Her main area of research is in second language acquisition, particularly sociocognitive and educational dimensions in adult classroom settings. Before moving to the USA in 1993, she was a teacher of Spanish at the Cervantes Institute in Athens, Greece, and she has also taught English as a second language in the United States, in Hawaii and Georgia. Lourdes was co-recipient of the Pimsleur and the TESOL Research awards (2001) and has been a doctoral Mellon fellow (1999), a postdoctoral Spencer/National Academy of Education fellow (2003), and a senior research fellow at the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies (2010). She was Journal Editor of Language Learning (2010-2015) and is a member of the Board of Directors of the University of Michigan’s Language Learning Research Club (2016-2020). She has published widely in journals such as Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, Applied Linguistics, Journal of Second Language Writing, Language Learning, Language Learning & Technology, Modern Language Journal, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, and System. Her books include Understanding Second Language Acquisition (2009, translated into Mandarin in 2016), and co-edited collections on Technology-mediated TBLT (with Marta González-Lloret, John Benjamins, 2014) and The Usage-based Study of Language Learning and Multilingualism (with Ande Tyler and colleagues, Georgetown University Press, 2016). She is currently busy co-editing (with Annick De Houwer) The Handbook of Bilingualism for Cambridge University Press.

Past Speakers


Kendall King

Professor of Second Language Education, University of Minnesota

Who and What is the field of Applied Linguistics overlooking? Why it matters, and how educational linguistics can help

Click Here to Watch This Colloquium



Professor, Graduate School of Education, Stanford University

Curricularizing Language: Unexamined Assumptions and Interacting Mechanisms

Click Here to Watch This Colloquium


Marcyliena Morgan

Professor, Department of African & African American Studies, Harvard University & Executive Director, Hiphop Archive

The Compliment as a Social Strategy: Speech Genres and Hustle in Hiphop

Click Here to Watch This Colloquium


Angela Creese

Professor, Professor of Educational Linguistics, University of Birmingham (UK)

Beyond the Multilingual Moment: Perspectives on Competence in Language Teaching and Learning

Click Here to Watch This Colloquium


Ofelia Garcia

Professor, Urban Education & Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literature and Languages, City University of New York

Languaging, Identifying and Schooling: Global Perspectives

Click Here to Watch This Colloquium


Awad Ibrahim

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa

One Is Not Born Black (?): Race, Language, and the Semiotic of (Hip-Hop) Identity

Click Here to Watch This Colloquium


Diane Larsen-Freeman

Professor of Education and Linguistics, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor “Language and Language Development as Complex, Dynamic Systems”


Dr. Elaine Tarone

Professor in the Second Language Studies, University of Minnesota.

"Alphabetic Literacy Level and Oral L2 Processing."


Valerie S. Jakar

Lecturer in Sociolinguistics/ Applied Language Studies at the David Yellin Academic College of Education, Jerusalem, Israel
"Effecting change while maintaining identity: The challenges of TESOL"

Click Here to Watch This Colloquium