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 28th Annual Nessa Wolfson Colloquium

Linguistic Innovation and the Transformation of Stylistic Regimes in China

Dr. Qing Zhang
School of Anthropology, University of Arizona
School of English Studies, Tianjin Foreign Studies University

Friday, September 14, 2018
9:30am - 1:30pm

Coffee Hour: 9:30am - 10:00am
Lecture: 10:00am - 1:30pm

Amado Recital Hall, Irvine Auditorium

Abstract: “Letting some people and regions get rich first,” a declarative by Deng Xiaoping 30 years ago, offers perhaps the most potent example for the power of language in social change in contemporary China. This talk argues for an integrated approach to language and social change as mutually constitutive. Building on research that tracks the emergence of Cosmopolitan Mandarin (CM), an innovative linguistic style alternative to the conventional Standard Mandarin, also known as “common speech,” I demonstrate that CM constitutes an emergent stylistic resource for dismantling the Maoist socialist stylistic regime that valued conformity and egalitarianism. By examining the formation, use, and social evaluation of CM, I demonstrate that it brings about social change in two ways. First, through its use by particularly groups of social actors to produce new distinction, CM participates in the increasing socioeconomic diversification of Chinese society. Second, through its valorizations vis-à-vis the conventional standard language, CM participates in shaping the configuration of a postsocialist stylistic regime.

Qing Zhang is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and affiliated faculty member in East Asian Studies and Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona. She trains undergraduate and graduate students in linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics as well as graduate students in the Joint Ph.D. Program in Anthropology and Linguistics. Her research examines the constitutive role of language in contexts of sociopolitical change and globalization. Specifically, her work investigates linguistic practice and rapid socioeconomic transformations in the People’s Republic of China. Her research treats language not merely as reflecting or responding to societal changes but as being among the very forces and resources that reconfigure the contemporary social-political landscape of China. Her works have been published in journals such as Language in Society, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Journal of Language and Politics, and in edited volumes on language and globalization, language policy and ideology, and new discourses in contemporary China. Her book, Undoing Commonness: The Emergence of Cosmopolitan Mandarin in Contemporary China (Routledge, 2018), offers a model for an integrated approach to language variation and change embedded in broader sociopolitical processes.

Nessa Wolfson Colloquium 2018 Flyer

Past Speakers


Qing Zhang

Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Arizona
School of English Studies, Tianjin Foreign Studies University  

Linguistic Innovation and the Transformation of Stylistic Regimes in China 

Click here to watch this colloquium


Lourdes Ortega

Professor of Linguistics, Georgetown University

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


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

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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

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Angela Creese

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

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

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Ofelia Garcia

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

Languaging, Identifying and Schooling: Global Perspectives

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Awad Ibrahim

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa

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

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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