L2 Development As Cognitive-Emotive Process


  • Matthew E. Poehner The Pennsylvania State University
  • Merril Swain University of Toronto




cognition, dialectic, emotion, Mediated Development, perezhivanie, Zone of Proximal Development


The aim of this paper is twofold. On a conceptual level, we argue that the cognitive and emotive exist in dialectic relation to one another and that as such both are ever present in psychological activity, including L2 development. Related to this first point, we seek to orient researchers and practitioners to ways in which interactions with learners may simultaneously attend to both aspects of this cognitive-emotive dialectic to optimally promote learner development. We begin with an example that demonstrates the intertwining of cognition and emotion, thus setting the scene for what follows: a discussion of the concept of perezhivanie as the most explicit and detailed discussion of the cognitive-emotive unity in Vygotsky’s writings. We follow this with an overview of more recent work within SCT that has elaborated upon Vygotsky’s ideas and that further specifies the genesis of the emotive as an inherent component of human psychology and one that is always in relation to the cognitive. With this as background, we turn to the research of Reuven Feuerstein, whose clinical work with learners with special needs aligns closely with SCT principles and includes the emotive as both an element of learner functioning that must be attended to during cognitive intervention as well as a legitimate focus of mediation in its own right. Data from a recent project involving Mediated Development, an interactional framework derived from Vygotsky’s writings and influenced by the work of Feuerstein, are discussed as illustrative of what may be revealed when mediator focus in joint engagement with a learner is on the cognitive-emotive unity. We conclude that the concept of perezhivanie, understood as a cognitive-emotive dialectic, orients us to understanding how each shapes the other, and how either may gain prominence during particular moments in development. Our understanding of perezhivanie suggests that mediation of grammatical errors, lexical choice and pragmatic violations has been one-sided, and should include the mediation of, for example, sharing behavior, frustration and feelings of competence. We end by suggesting several ideas for future research.

Author Biographies

Matthew E. Poehner, The Pennsylvania State University

Matthew E. Poehner is Associate Professor of World Languages Education and Applied Linguistics at The Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on uses of Vygotskian Sociocultural Theory in second language teaching, assessment, and learning. His work has appeared in The Modern Language Journal, TESOL Quarterly, Language Testing, and Language Teaching Research. He is co-author (with J. P. Lantolf) of Sociocultural Theory and the pedagogical imperative in L2 education, winner of the 2015 Kenneth W. Mildenberger Prize.

Merril Swain, University of Toronto

Dr. Merrill Swain is Professor Emerita in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.  She has taught and conducted research at OISE/UT for 40 years. Her interests include bilingual education (particularly French immersion education) and second language learning, teaching and testing. Her present research focuses on the role of collaborative dialogue, ‘languaging’, and the unity of cognition and emotion in second language learning within a Vygotskyan sociocultural theory of mind framework. She is a recipient of the American Association for Applied Linguistics’ 2004 Distinguished Scholarship and Service Award. In 2011, she received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Vaasa in Finland. Dr. Swain’s most recent book, co-authored with Linda Steinman and Penny Kinnear, is Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Education: An Introduction through Narratives (Multilingual Matters). Dr. Swain is author of over 150 published articles, as well as many book chapters.


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How to Cite

Poehner, M. E., & Swain, M. (2017). L2 Development As Cognitive-Emotive Process. Language and Sociocultural Theory, 3(2), 219–241. https://doi.org/10.1558/lst.v3i2.32922