The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Seminar #66: Languaging: the case for biosemiotics

Posted in Seminars by matthewegbert on May 21, 2010

Life and Mind Seminar next week, Wed. May 26
Arundel 401 (ARUN-401)
4:30 – 6pm
All welcome!

Title: Languaging: the case for biosemiotics

Stephen J. Cowley

As behaviour, language spreads over brain, body and the world. What we ordinarily do can be explained by neither an autonomous ‘language system’ nor manipulation of inner or material linguistic symbols. Rather, language is hybrid: while having a local aspect language is also non-localizable (Cowley, 2010). It is, at once measurable and traceable to a community’s history. Accordingly, its phylogenetic, ontogenetic and microgenetic manifestations are most suitably traced to languaging (cf. Maturana, 1988; Becker, 1988; Linell, 2009). In recent years, there has been a boom in theoretical and empirical work that addresses the question of how people language. New importance has been given to the pico-scale (of tens of milliseconds). For current purposes, three points are stressed. Languaging is (1) biocognitive; (2) uses particularities; and (3) allows situation transcending modes of ‘thought’.  With this in place, I turn to contemporary biosemiotics.  While overlapping with enactivism, I use De Jaegher and Di Paolo’s participatory sense-making to bring out differences.  It is stressed that biosemiotics (1)  traces its ontology to relations –not the observable;  (2) invokes semantic biology to explain how autopoiesis uses natural artefacts (including DNA); and (3) allows life –and language –to  treat autonomous agents (including humans) as resources that serve in expanding into a space of possibilities.  It is concluded that these principles are of value in understanding how linguistic activity integrates virtual, dynamical and material features whose origins and functions draw on quite different histories.


Becker, A. L. 1988. Language in Particular:  A Lecture. In Tannen, D.  (ed.), Linguistics in Context. Norwood, N.J.:  Ablex.

Cowley, S. J. (2010.) Naturalizing language: linguistic flow and verbal patterns. Voprosy Vazykoznanija. Published in Russian as Коули С.Дж. Натурализация языка: языковой поток и вербальные структуры //Вопросы когнитивной лингвистики. 2010. № 1. С.5-21.
Linell, P. 2009. Rethinking Language, Mind and World Dialogically: Interactional and Contextual Theories of Sense Making. Information Age Publishing: Charlotte, NC.

Maturana, H. R. 1988. Ontology of observing: The biological foundations of self consciousness and the physical domain of existence. In Texts in cybernetic theory: Edited by R. Donaldson. American Association for Cybernetics.


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