The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Seminar #5: Why and how language is distributed

Posted in Seminars by Tom Froese on December 4, 2006

Our next Mind and Life seminar will be on Wednesday 6/12 at 15:00 in room ARUN401 (notice change of room).

Our invited speaker is Stephen J. Cowley from the School of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire.

He will be speaking on: *** Why and how language is distributed ***


Language spreads in space and time as human biomechanics connect with culturally-based virtual patterns. It constitutes a changing meshwork of activity. Instead of treating language as something that is .known., therefore, I use a distributed model. I ask why and how linguistic events come to be co-ordinated in spite of their different evolutionary, cultural, developmental and emergence histories.

Like the objects found in an ancient settlement, language gives a heterogeneous set of benefits to individuals and groups. Specifically, affect-based signals enable neural mediators to function as infant behaviour locks into what a community treats as valued patterns. Infants find themselves motivated to use historical constraints and, as they do so, their agency is transformed. Culture makes us ecologically special (Ross, in press). Babies draw on a .sense of people. (Legerstee, 2005) which enables their actions to drive the (re)production of ideas. Like us, they come to (act as if they) believe that hybrid signals make systematic use of .words.. We reify the verbal or take a language stance. As a result, we can use virtual patterns in imagining, measuring and modeling both .languages. and possible worlds.

Activity links a motley assortment of evolutionary, historical, developmental and .lived. events in micro, mezzo and macro scales. Biomechanics (and neural activation) connect slow verbal events with the sluggish dynamics of culture. As in all social mammals, however, signaling is rooted in strategic use of affect. Where humans differ is that the results of natural selection (and the evolution of development) give rise to biomechanics that VERB with patterns derived from cultural selection.

The most dramatic function of language is, I believe, neither cognitive nor communicative but, rather, developmental. Thus, within weeks, exposure to a talking caregiver transforms the infant.s agency. The dyad learn to use affect-laden signals in activity whose dynamics are managed under dual control. By the start of the second year, the infant is developing linguistic powers that are necessary for the rise of a virtual .self.. In evolutionary time, the spread of language seems to have given us willful or human-style autonomy.

Ross, D. (in press). H. Sapiens as ecologically special.: what does language contribute? To appear in Language Sciences.

Legerstee, M. (2005) An infants sense of people. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

All welcome.



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