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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre

This Cambridge Distinguished Lecture on Second Language Learning and Teaching Language by Professor Alison Phipps, University of Glasgow, is part of a series of Second Language Education Group (SLEG) events. 

All SLEG seminars are free and will take place in person in Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge For additional queries about this seminar, please contact Phung Dao:


As a social scientific enterprise second language learning and teaching values precision, enumeration, coding and precision. It has benefited from the ways positivism has helped to clarify and isolate phenomena and has, since Firth and Wagner’s seminal work, wrestled with its social construction and the many ways in which language has been described, determined and represented through what we might call western, normative scholarship.

In this lecture, I will examine and situate myself, respectfully, within the long tradition critical of this approach, but which also symbiotically benefits from its work and determinations. I will present the theoretical work of scholars engaged in decreating and decolonising these approaches and the exciting new publications emerging in recent years which seek to give much greater credence and value than has been henceforth the case, to the linguistic scholarship undertaken in low to middle income countries and in indigenous contexts. I will draw on my own recent studies in arts and languages, working as an anthropologist, but also on the work I have undertaken within the normative frameworks offered by UNESCO and its reports on arts, culture, languages and intercultural dialogue.

Through this often tense relationship with the critical and the normative, which I inhabit I will demonstrate the value of multipolarities; of the multilingual stance and the importance of interruptions to and within second language learning contexts. I will do this focusing especially in those whose learning is profoundly interrupted by the search for safety and refuge, and through recourse to poetry and the arts. In so doing, I will argue for an approach to language education in general and SLA in particular that proceeds using methods which are interculturally dialogic, trauma-informed and conflict transformational, and that for this to be possible, the arts are required in equal measure to the social scientific.

About the presenter

Alison Phipps is UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow and Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies. She was De Carle Distinguished Visiting Professor at Otago University, Aotearoa New Zealand 2019-2020, Thinker in Residence at the EU Hawke Centre, University of South Australia in 2016, Visiting Professor at Auckland University of Technology, and Principal Investigator for AHRC Large Grant ‘Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the body, law and the state’; for Cultures of Sustainable Peace, and is now co-Director of the Global Challenge Research Fund South South Migration Hub. She is Ambassador for the Scottish Refugee Council. She is an academic, activist, educator and published poet. 

Monday, 6 February, 2023 - 17:00 to 18:30
Event location: 
Room: 1S3 DMB, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

What we do

Cambridge Language Sciences is an Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. Our virtual network connects researchers from five schools across the university as well as other world-leading research institutions. Our aim is to strengthen research collaborations and knowledge transfer across disciplines in order to address large-scale multi-disciplinary research challenges relating to language research.