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Laura Sterponi

Associate Professor
Institute of Human Development &
Graduate School of Education
UC Berkeley


5643 Tolman Hall
UC Berkeley
Berkeley CA 94720

Tel: 510-642-0287
sterponi (at) berkeley (dot) edu

Language Practices in Autism


The study of the communication of and with children with autism is linked to my more general interest in shedding light on the cognitive and sociocultural underpinnings of communicative competence. Autism is a disorder that impacts with differing degrees of severity social interaction and communication.


I employ discourse analytic methods to illuminate the interactional matrix of key features of autistic communication, such as echolalia and pronominal reversal/avoidance. I hold that these linguistic phenomena associated with autism cannot be considered solely as epiphenomenal of an underlying disorder residing in the neurological substratum of the affected individual but need to be thought of as interactional outcomes. The turn design and interactional goals of those with whom the child with autism interacts can restrict the child’s own turns to form and content that do not reflect the child’s communicative potential. Conversely certain conversational patterns, or language games (à la Wittgenstein), can facilitate the child’s sustained involvement in interaction, his/her production of more complex utterances, and a higher level of attunement with his/her interlocutors.


Related publications (sel.):

·     Sterponi, L. & de Kirby, K. (in press). A multidimensional reappraisal of language in autism: insights from a discourse analytic study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

·     Sterponi, L., de Kirby, K. & Shankey, J. (2015). Subjectivity in autistic language: insights on pronoun atypicality from three case studies. In M. O'Reilly & J. Lester (eds.), The Palgrave handbook of child mental health. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp 272-295.  [PDF]

·     Sterponi, L., de Kirby, K. & Shankey, J. (2015). Rethinking language in autism. Autism, 19(5), 517-526 [PDF]

·     Sterponi, L. & Shankey, J. (2014). Rethinking echolalia: Repetition as interactional resource in the communication of a child with autism. Journal of Child Language, 41(2), 275-304 [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. & Shankey, J. (2014). Situating communicative (in)competence in (performative) context: Insights from autism. In S. Bornand & C. Leguy (eds.), Compétences et performance. Paris: Karthala. Pp. 205-236  [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. & Fasulo, A. (2010). How to go on: Intersubjectivity and progressivity in the communication of a child with autism. Ethos, 38(1), 116-142. [PDF]

·      Ochs, E., Solomon, O. & Sterponi, L. (2005). Limitations and transformations of habitus in child-directed communication. Discourse Studies, 7(4-5), 547-583. [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. (2004). Construction of rules, accountability and moral identity by high-functioning children with autism. Discourse Studies, 6(2), Special Issue: Discourse and Autism. E. Ochs & O. Solomon (eds.), 207-228.  [PDF]



Reading as Psychological Process and Social Practice


Beginning with my dissertation work in Applied Linguistics I have endeavored to formulate a complementary perspective to the cognitive and psycholinguistic (and more recently neuroscientific) approaches to reading, one that explores the phenomenological and sociocultural dimensions of reading.


I have articulated a model of reading in terms of modes of involvement with text. The spectrum for the modes of involvement ranges from sensorimotor, to interpretive, to emotional involvement. These modes of text involvement, which shape readers’ appropriation of meaning, are intricately structured by historically rooted social conventions, cultural ideologies and material affordances and contraints. Reading positions the reader in a web of socioculturally stipulated relations between bodies and minds on the one hand, and texts as artifacts and symbols, on the other. The model then offers a set of sociocultural dimensions as a matrix to stipulate the situated characteristics of involvement with text. In employing this model to study reading activities in different educational and historical contexts I aim to shed light on how such preeminent “activity of the mind” (Wittgenstein, 1953) takes form in a wide range of distinctive social practices.


Related publications (sel.):


·     Sterponi, L. & Lai, P.F. (2013). Literacy In J. Jackson (ed.), Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology. New York: Oxford University Press.  [PDF]

·     Hull, G., Stornaiulo, A. & Sterponi, L. (2013). Imagined readers and hospitable texts: Global youth connect online. In Alvermann, D.E., Unrau, N.J. & Ruddell, R.B. (eds.), Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Pp. 1208-1240  [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. (2011). Literacy socialization. In A. Duranti, E. Ochs, & B.B. Schieffelin (eds.), Handbook of language socialization. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell. Pp. 227-246.  [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. (2008). Reading and meditation in the Middle Ages: Lectio divina and books of hours. In L. Sterponi (guest editor), The spirit of reading: Practices of reading sacred texts. Special Issue of Text & Talk, 28(5), 667-689. [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. (2008). Introduction. In L. Sterponi (guest editor), The spirit of reading: Practices of reading sacred texts. Special Issue of Text & Talk, 28(5), 555-559. [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. (2007). Clandestine interactional reading: Intertextuality and double-voicing under the desk. Linguistics & Education, 18(1), 1-23. [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. (2007). Reading as involvement with text: Insights from a study of high-functioning children with autism. Rivista di Psicolinguistica Applicata, VII, 3, 87-114. [PDF]



Children’s Socialization into Moral Reasoning and Discourse


I examine morality-in-action, that is how moral evaluations are formulated and deployed in everyday interaction and how moral reasoning is intertwined with descriptions and accounts of actions, events, and individuals.


In particular, I have sought to shed light on how moral guidelines are indexed and deployed in everyday family interaction and how parents apprentice their children into moral reasoning and moral discourse. My research is part of an emerging trend of studies that approaches moral reasoning as situated activity. This perspective brackets off the category ‘morality’ in its philosophical sense, in favor of studying the range of mundane practices in which people judge everyday actions in relation to their sense of right and wrong, blameworthiness and culpability or virtue and merit.


Everyday moral reasoning is different from the thoughtful reflection that interviews or standardized tests using dilemmas can elicit. Moral reasoning has its roots and primary enactment in cultural practices such as family accountability. The study of these everyday practices is thus paramount to illuminate morality-in-action.


Related publications (sel.):


·      Sterponi, L. (2014). Caught red-handed: how Italian parents engage children in moral discourse and action. In C. Wainryb & H. Recchia (eds.), Talking about right and wrong: parent-child conversations as contexts for moral development. Cambridge University Press  [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. (2009). Accountability in family discourse: Socialization into norms and standards and negotiation of responsibility in Italian dinner conversations. Childhood, 16(4), 441-459.  [PDF]

·      Sterponi, L. (2003). Account episodes in family discourse: The making of morality in everyday interaction. Discourse Studies, 5(1), 79-100.  [PDF]

·      Pontecorvo, C., & Sterponi, L. (2002). Learning to argue and reason through discourse in educational settings. In G. Wells and G. Claxton (Eds.), Learning for life in the 21th century: sociocultural perspectives on the future of education. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Pp. 127-140.  [PDF]

·      Pontecorvo, C., Fasulo, A. & Sterponi, L. (2001). Mutual apprentices: The making of parenthood and childhood in family dinner Conversations. Human Development, 44, 340-361.  [PDF]


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