and the Dynamics of Signaling.
Don Ross - University of Alabama
at Birmingham and University of Cape Town
In this paper I will
survey current work in the behavioral sciences that aims at integrating
our understanding of linguistic behavior into more general models
of evolution, cognition and social dynamics.
The survey will be
structured around the game-theoretic concepts of signaling
and coordination. I will open the paper by motivating the
primacy of this conceptual framework. Dynamic and evolutionary game
theory enables us to formally model intentional behavior in a way
that collapses artificial dichotomies between cognition and behavior,
and between social coordination and individual planning and optimization.
Rather than presupposing that there are clear distinctions between
linguistic and non-linguistic communication and between syntax and
semantics, the game-theoretic perspective allows us to investigate
processes by which these phenomena might emerge endogenously, and
along continua in phase-spaces as with most biological and social
kinds. Game theory unifies the various sciences that study language,
allowing us to avoid the limitations in perspective that come from
giving explanatory priority to any one of traditional linguistics,
psychology, anthropology, economics or neuroscience.
Following these methodological
reflections, I will then apply the framework I have motivated to
survey two broad areas of empirical study.
The first of these
is the distribution and evolution of different modes of signaling
behavior in animals (including people). I will argue that both theoretical
modeling and ethological data support the hypothesis of two-phase
shifts in the complexity of signaling behavior, one induced by the
evolution of sexual reproduction, and a second induced by the evolution
of sociality. I will then ask whether a third phase-shift is implicated
in the evolution of culture, and motivate an affirmative answer
to this question. This will provide the basis for a naturalistic
and ethological – as opposed to logical and a priori –
distinction between syntactic and semantic phenomena (again, along
a continuum rather than in binary opposition).
The second empirical
phenomenon to which I will apply game-theoretic modeling is ontogenetic
development of signaling capacities in social and enculturated animals.
To what extent must such animals be pre-adapted for signaling, and
to what extent do social and cultural dynamics that extend beyond
the individual organism give rise to and maintain complex signaling
capacities endogenously? This, of course, is the naturalistic way
of addressing the question of `innateness’ that has provoked
so much attention and controversy in modern linguistics. I will
thus close the paper by returning to philosophical themes, asking
which of the `grand’ questions of linguistics look like pseudo-problems
in the game-theoretic and ethological framework, and which are recovered
and reconceptualized by it.
and the digital code
Nigel Love - Department of
Linguistics, University of Cape Town, 7701 Rondebosch, South Africa
In this paper I shall
consider the implications for the game-theoretic project outlined
by Ross of its reliance on the fundamental idea that natural languages
are, or are partly, or are at any rate to be likened to, digital
codes (see e.g. Ross 2004).
This will involve attempting
to specify what exactly is being claimed here, and how far the claim
is tenable, either empirically or logically. Not only is the claim
itself hard to pin down, in so far as it can be precisely characterised
it falls foul both of a wide range of readily observable phenomena
pertaining to language use and to our common experience as language
users, and of logically necessary conditions on any viable conceptualisation
of natural language. While the heart may for certain purposes be
meaningfully and usefully conceived of as a pump, nothing analogous
applies to language, which cannot ultimately be understood in terms
of an artefact (in this case the concept of a digital code) for
which language itself is a prerequisite. Or so it will be argued.
The next step is to
examine the provenance of the digital code notion. The main argument
here is that it could only be entertained against the background
of a culture whose metalinguistic engagement with language has led
it to entertain two key ideas: (i) that the world of language (langage)
is articulated in terms of discrete languages (langues); and (ii)
that discrete languages may be understood as systems of recurrently
instantiated abstracta susceptible to being inventoried and analysed
in respect of their role as devices, precisely, for the encoding
and decoding of information. These ideas will be deconstructed.
There remains the question
what affect these considerations, if valid, may have on the enterprise
of giving a game-theoretic account of the phylo- and ontogenetic
evolution and development of linguistic capacities and behaviour.
The conclusion is that the enterprise has nothing to lose, and a
great deal to gain, by a demythologisation of its fundamental thinking
about linguistic phenomena.
D. Ross, ‘Metalinguistic
signalling for coordination amongst social agents’, Language
Sciences 26, pp. 621-642, 2004.
properties of language, or why language is not a (digital) code
Alexander V. Kravchenko - Language Center, Baikal National University
of Economics and Law, 11 Lenin Street, Irkutsk 664003, Russia
The rationalist (Cartesian)
heritage in linguistics with its methodological inadequacies continues
to obscure the essential properties of natural language as an empirical
phenomenon (Kravchenko 2002). There is a strong tradition to treat
language as the product of an activity subject to rational analysis
in terms of (formal) logic, crucial to which is the notion of coded
equivalence as the underlying principle of linguistic semiotics.
Although the basic
theoretical tenets of the bio-cognitive philosophy of language,
or autopoiesis (Maturana 1978; Maturana and Varela 1980; Varela,
Thompson and Rosch 1991; Kravchenko 2003) have not yet gained noticeable
recognition in linguistics, the new framework possesses a greater
explanatory power as it assumes the connotational rather than denotational,
i.e., based on the notion of coded equivalence, nature of language.
A short discussion of the key notions of representation, sign and
signification, interpretation, intentionality, communication, and
reciprocal causality is offered. As an example, the bio-cognitive
approach allows to view intentionality as the capacity of a living
system to modify its state of reciprocal causality with the world
on the basis of experience acquired with time for the purpose of
sustaining the ecological system which enables reciprocal causality
between the organism and the world. Representations as mental structures
borne of experience are sign entities whose biological function
is that an organism, by interacting with them, adapts to the medium
by managing information. Such understanding of natural language
calls for a revision of currently shared beliefs, particularly the
belief that language is a kind of (digital) code, for if natural
language is treated as cognitive/adaptive behavior (a description
of an organism’s interactions with representations which are
in a causal relation with the changes in the environment), then
linguistic signs appear to be not signs of components of the medium
(which is the central claim of traditional 'reificatory' semantics)
but of representations which themselves are signs by definition.
Consequently, an analysis of language from the autopoietic angle
allows deeper insights into the essence of language as a kind of
biologically based, cognitively motivated, circularly organized
semiotic activity in a consensual domain of interactions aimed at
adapting to, and, ultimately, gaining control of, the environment.
Kravchenko, A. V. (2002)
”Toward a bio-cognitive philosophy of language”. Perspectives:
Journal for Interdisciplinary Work in the Humanities, 1:5 (http://www.brookes.ac.uk/~
Kravchenko, A. V. (2003).
Sign, Meaning, Knowledge. An Essay in the Cognitive Philosophy of
Language. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang GmbH, 2003.
Maturana, H. R. (1978).
“Biology of Language: The Epistemology of Reality”.
In G. Miller and E. Lenneberg (eds.). Psychology and Biology of
Language and Thought. NY: Academic Press. 28-62.
Maturana, H. &
F. Varela (1980). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of
the Living. Boston: D. Reidel.
Varela, F. J., E. Thompson
& E. Rosch (1991). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and
Human Experience. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
egocentric utility: On the origins of protoconversation and (pre)verbal
learning by altercentric participation
Stein Braten - University of Oslo
Human newborns demonstrate
a readiness to mirror facial expressions and gestures, and young
infants’ impressive speech perception attests to highly efficient
mechanisms at play during nonverbal and verbal interaction. In contrast
to the Piagetian attribution of an egocentric point of departure
for children’s development of language, requiring decentration
as the child matures, we believe we have now found evidence of infant
capacity for altercentric mirroring and self-with-other resonance
soon after birth (Braten 1998; Braten & Trevarthen 2004; Stern
2000, 2004ab; Trevarthen 1998). It is probably supported by a mirror
neurons system adapted in hominin phylogeny to subserve mother-centred
participation (Braten 2002), facilitating the ontogenetic path to
speech in the culture into which the infant is born. This path comprises
inter alia these steps: Mutually attuned protoconversation in the
first months of life, and speech perception entailing that already
by six months the infant has begun to “turn a deaf ear”
to sound distinctions that make no sense in the ambient language
(Kuhl 1998). This is soon followed up by the babbling onset of well-formed
syllables and production of vowels approaching those of the native
language, co-inciding with joint attention and acknowledgment of
self-other agency at about nine month. Early reading of intention
and (pre)verbal learning are likely to be supported by mirror neurons
revealed in macaque experiments (Fogassi et al. 2005), decentred
in phylogeny to compensate for the hominin infant loss of the instructive
and protective advantage enjoyed by other back-riding primate infants
(cf. Falk 2004). Subserving verbal learning by (m)other-centred
participation, this altercentric capacity is supportive of verbal
conversation to come with its reciprocal and participant characteristics.
Not only may the speaker co-process his own production from the
listener’s stance. The listener may co-articulate the speaker’s
production as if she or he were a coauthor. Such virtual co-articulation
from the other’s stance, as manifested when a listener completes
the speaker’s aborted sentence or answers a half-spoken question,
is supported by the capacity for other-centred mirroring and resonance
that we see at play in protoconversation and response to motherese
(Braten 1988; 2002, 2003; Trevarthen 1998; Stern 2000, 2004a)
The main questions
to be addressed, then, concern the possible phylogenetic background
and neurosocial support of the efficient ontogenetic role played
by altercentricity in verbal learning and conversation.
In an appendix, the
Prisoner’s Dilemma is shown to be resolvable when altersentric
feelings, rather than egocentric motivation, are assumed to be at
Braten, S. (1998) Infant
learning by altercentric participation: the reverse of egocentric
observation in autism, in: S. Braten (ed.) Intersubjective Communication
and Emotion in Early Ontogeny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1998, pp. 105-24.
Braten, S. (2002) Altercentric
perception by infants and adults in dialogue. In: M. Stamenov &
V. Gallese (eds.) Mirror Neurons and the Evolution of Brain and
Language, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamin Publ. Co. 2002,
Braten, S. (2003) Participant
perception. Virtual otherness in infants and adults. Culture &
Psychology 9 (3) 2003:261-276,
Braten, S. & C.
Trevarthen (1994/2000) Beginnings of cultural learning, in this
bilingual collection of essays in Infant and Adult: S. Bråten:
Modellmakt og altersentriske spedbarn. Bergen 2000:213-218.
Braten, S. & C.
Trevarthen (2004) From infant intersubjectivity and other-centred
participation to cultivated narratives of meaning in common sense.
Prologue to Theory Forum Symposium in The Norwegian Academy of Science
and Letters Oct.3-5 2004, in: Foundations of (pre)verbal intersubjectivity
in light of new findings. Pre-proceedings ed. S. Bråten, Oslo
Falk, D. (2004) Prelinguistic
evolution in early hominins: Whence motherese? Behavioral and Brain
Science vol.27 (4) August 2004:291-541.
Fogassi, L. et al.
(2005) Partietal Lobe: From Action Understanding to Intention Understanding.
Science vol. 308 29 April 2005: 662-667.
Kuhl, P.K. (1998) Language,
culture and intersubjectivity, in: S. Braten (ed.) Intersubjective
Communication and Emotion in Early Ontogeny. pp. 307-315. Cambridge
Stern, D. N. (2000)
Introduction to paperback edition of The Interpersonal World of
the Infant. Basic Books.
Stern, D. N. (2004a)
The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. New York:
Stern, D. N. (2004a)
Applying developmental and neuroscience findings on other-centred
participation to the process of change in psyhotherapy. Theory Forum
Symposium in The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters Oct.3-5
2004, in: Foundations of (pre)verbal intersubjectivity in light
of new findings. Pre-proceedings ed. S. Bråten, Oslo 2004:8.
Trevarthen, C. (1998)
The concept and foundations of infant intersubjectivity. in S. Braten
(ed.) Intersubjective Communication and Emotion in Early Ontogeny.
Pp.15-46. Cambridge U Press.
Evolution and Grounding of Language in Multi-Agent and Robotic Systems
Angelo Cangelosi - Adaptive Behaviour and Cognition Research Group,
School of Computing, Communication & Electronics, University
to modeling adaptive behavior and cognition, such as artificial
life and multi-agent systems, are advantageous when studying the
evolution of language and communication (Cangelosi & Parisi
2002). In these models, the level of description of the communicating
agents and their environment varies significantly. This constitutes
a continuum from ungrounded, abstract agent models to grounded multi-agent
and robotic approaches. This work focuses on the use of adaptive
grounded agents where (i) symbols are directly grounded in the agents’
own sensorimotor and cognitive abilities and (ii) the communicative/linguistic
behavior evolves through the interaction of agents in their physical
and social environment. In such grounded adaptive agent models,
the perceptual, motor, cognitive and linguistic capabilities of
the agents are controlled by evolving neural networks. Various models
and simulations on the evolution and emergence of linguistic communication
will be discussed. For example, a simulation studies the evolutionary
origins of linguistic categories, such as nouns and verbs, and their
grounded in sensorimotor abilities (Cangelosi, 2004). The techniques
of categorical perception and synthetic brain imaging are used to
analyze the sensorimotor bases of linguistic structure. Analyses
on the agents’ neural network controllers show that the neural
processing of verbs is consistently localized in the regions of
the networks that perform sensorimotor integration. Nouns, instead,
are associated with sensory processing areas. The general implications
of such modeling and analysis techniques for multi-agent research
on language evolution will be discussed. In a related multi-agent
model on the emergence of syntax, the role of Baldwin effects in
the interaction of language learning and evolution is studied (Munroe
& Cangelosi, 2003). Simulation results indicate that when there
is a high cost associated with language learning, agents gradually
assimilate (in their genome) some explicit features of the language
they are exposed to (e.g. lexical properties). When the structure
of the language is allowed to vary using a process of cultural transmission,
Baldwinian processes cause the assimilation of a predisposition
to learn, rather than any structural properties associated with
a specific language. Finally, a critical appraisal of the grounded
modeling approach to language evolution will be presented. It will
also discuss recent extensions of such grounded agent approaches
to evolutionary and epigenetic robotic simulations of language evolution
(Marocco et al, 2003).
and links to papers:
Cangelosi A., Parisi
D. (2002). Simulating the Evolution of Language. London: Springer.
Cangelosi A. (2004).
The sensorimotor bases of linguistic structure: Experiments with
grounded adaptive agents. In S. Schaal et al. (Eds.), Proceedings
of the Eighth International Conference on the Simulation of Adaptive
Behaviour: From Animals to Animats 8, Cambridge MA, MIT Press, pp.
Marocco D., Cangelosi
A., Nolfi S. (2003), The emergence of communication is evolutionary
robots. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London –
A, 361: 2397-2421
Munroe S., Cangelosi
A. (2003). Learning and the evolution of language: the role of cultural
variation and learning cost in the Baldwin Effect. Artificial Life
Language and Dialogical Minds
Per Linell (Linköping University, Sweden)
The paper will discuss a dialogical theory of action, cognition
and communication (Linell, 2005b), and particularly its implications
for a theory of language. The background is that most mainstream
theories within the language sciences have been based on "monologism",
and often been strongly influenced by a "written language bias"
(Linell, 2005a). However, if human beings are strongly predisposed
to engage in social interaction, we can assume that language is
made, at all levels, to serve interactional purposes. Accordingly,
the brain is arguably designed to be "dialogical", e.g.
to manage and monitor interaction with the environment, including
other human beings, rather than to be primarily engaged in modelling
and representing the outside reality.
Linell, P. 2005a. The
Written Language Bias in Linguistics: Its nature, origins and transformations.
Linell, P. 2005b. Essentials
of Dialogism: Aspects and elements of a dialogical approach to language,
communication and cognition.
in Question: Linguistic Competence and the Extended Mind
Michael Wheeler (Department of Philosophy University of Stirling)
The extended mind hypothesis
states that cognitive processes are often distributed over brain,
body, and world. With this hypothesis on board, Andy Clark (e.g.
in 'Being There' 1997) has developed an account of linguistic competence.
On Clark's account, the human brain is essentially a pattern-completing
device, while language, in its primary manifestation, is an external
resource which is adaptively fitted to the human brain in such a
way that it enables that brain to exceed its unaided (i.e., pattern-completing)
cognitive capacities, in much the same way as a pair of scissors
enables us to exploit our basic manipulative capacities to fulfil
new ends. Two continuities are pivotal to Clark's account: (i) that
linguistic competence requires no fundamental reorganization of
the biological brain's pre-linguistic processing architecture; and
(ii) that decoupled language use (roughly, thinking by running through
sentences in one's head) is subserved by fundamentally the same
inner processing strategies that subserve coupled language-use (i.e.,
where intelligent behaviour is scaffolded by real-time interaction
with environmentally located and materially realised linguistic
entities). But where Clark finds continuity I find discontinuity.
Clark's key example is Elman's dynamical systems model of linguistic
processing. I argue, contra Clark, that Elman's model in fact indicates
that linguistic competence does require a fundamental transformation
in the brain's pre-linguistic mode of representation. Then I argue
that Clark's second continuity looks compelling only because his
favoured model of coupled language use is not an extended mind account.
On an Elman-like model of coupled language-use, the functional contribution
of the external factors in play is not of the right kind to support
an extended mind conclusion. All this suggests that we still don't
know how a genuinely extended mind account of linguistic competence
prospects: Ecological and social perspectives on talking together
Bert H. Hodges (Gordon College Wenham, MA 01984 USA)
Is social learning (e.g., acquiring
language) a matter of conformity (Tomasello, in press), creativity
(Chomsky, 1965), or something else? Although the ecological approach
to psychology (Gibson, 1979) has not focused on language, it provides
interesting perspectives on social learning and other issues related
to language. While it offers an externalist account of linguistic
activity, the focus of ecological accounts is on values (Hodges
& Baron, 1992) and “efforts after meaning and value”
(Reed, 1996). First, aspects of Reed’s account of cognition
and “entering the linguistic environment” are reviewed,
including the collective appropriation of affordances, the precocious
perception and enactment of “unfilled meanings,” and
children’s becoming persons through the active structuring
of their environment (e.g., gestural games, story-telling). Second,
Hodges and Baron’s ecological approach to values is introduced
(e.g., values are multiple, heterarchical, dynamical, and legitimating
constraints on action) and applied to cases of pragmatic rule violations.
These examples suggest that conversations are about seeking good
prospects, caring for others and self, and inviting responsible
action. Third, Asch’s (1956) famous experiments on social
influence and perception are reinterpreted, using an ecological,
values-pragmatics approach (Hodges & Geyer, in press). Although
usually understood in terms of conformity, we suggest the experiments
are better understood in terms of conversation, creativity, coordination,
and cooperation. Evidence suggests that participants may have engaged
in local errors to communicate larger truths, and more generally
acted in ways that were nuanced and complex in a dilemma psychologists
have considered only in digital terms. Finally, the relation of
our account to Ross’s (2005) discussion of self, narrative
coherence, and game-theoretic analyses is briefly considered.
Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence
and submission to group pressure: I. A minority of one against a
unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs, 70, no. 9 (Whole No.
Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the
theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception.
Hodges, B. H., & Baron, R. M.
(1992). Values as constraints on affordances: Perceiving and acting
properly. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 22, 263-294.
Hodges, B. H., & Geyer, A. L.
(in press). A nonconformist account of the Asch experiments: Values,
pragmatics, and moral dilemmas. Personality & Social Psychology
Reed, E. S. (1996). Encountering
the world: Toward an ecological psychology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University
Ross, D. (2005). H. Sapiens as ecologically
special: What does language contribute? Conference paper.
Tomasello, M. (in press). Acquiring
linguistic communication. In R. Siegler & D. Kuhn (Eds.), Handbook
of child psychology: Cognitive development.
externalism and coding
Phil Carr, Centre d’Etudes de Linguistique Anglaise (CELA),
Université Montpellier III
I begin by distinguishing radical
(strong) internalism, of the sort advocated (inconsistently) by
Chomsky (2000), from weak internalism. Under the former, which I
reject, linguistic knowledge is not internalised from the mind-external
world (despite the unfortunate use by Chomsky of the term ‘internalised’).
Under the latter, mental representations of at least some linguistic
objects are internalised. I suggest that weak internalism is consistent
with at least some varieties of externalism. I argue that any version
of externalism requires appeal to mutual linguistic knowledge. It
appears that some attempts at conceptualising mutual linguistic
knowledge rest on a notion of ‘encoding’ and ‘decoding’.
Following Burton-Roberts & Carr (1999) and Carr (2000), I suggest
that the idea that concepts are somehow encoded in phonic substance,
transmitted, and then decoded back into conceptual content is deeply
mystical, appealing as it does to the mystical notion of transmogrification
(as explictly claimed by Bromberger & Halle 2000), or to the
equivalent notion of transduction (as in Hale & Reiss 2000).
I follow Burton-Roberts (2000) in replacing this encoding notion
with a relation of physical representation, via phonic substance,
of conceptual content.
Thus far, I concur with Love’s
(2004) critique of the notion ‘code’ in language study.
But I then seek to reply to Love’s objections to the idea
that we possess linguistic items which remain more or less the same
despite differences in their physical representation (though this
is not Love’s formulation, exactly). Love raises a series
of simple, but perplexing, cases which appear to undermine the idea
that there are definable units out of which complex linguistic expressions
are built. Externalism, whether of the sort proposed by Ross (2004),
or any other sort, cannot proceed unless Love’s sceptical
objections to the idea of shared systems can be countered. Love’s
objections are not, I believe, entirely adequately countered by
Clark (2004). I hope to go some way to countering them in this paper.
In repyling to Love, I appeal to
recent work on exemplar theory (as appealed to by Docherty &
Foulkes 2000), which, I believe, allows us to respond to Love’s
point about phonetic variability in the pronunciation of words.
I then reply to Love’s point about the ambiguity of utterances
such as ‘I didn’t leave because I was angry’.
Here, I appeal to the claim made by Burton-Roberts (2005), that
there are no ambiguous thoughts, only ambiguous physical representations
of thoughts. Finally, I reply to Love’s sceptical comments
on child mispronunciations of adult physical representations of
words. In doing so, I consider some simple data from work by Brulard
& Carr (2003) on child bilingual acquisition of French and English
which supports, I argue, the idea that the bilingual child has internalised
two distinct systems. Finally, I offer some reflections on ‘code-switching’
(which I refer to as system-switching) in the bilingual child. I
argue that these allow us to go some way in responding to Love’s
scepticism about the notion ‘word’.
Bromberger, S. & Halle, M. (2000).
The ontology of phonology (revised). In Burton-Roberts et al : 19-38.
Brulard, I. & Carr, P. (2003).
French-English bilingual acquisition of phonology : one production
system or two ? International Journal of Bilingualism 7.2 : 177-202.
Burton-Roberts, N. (2000). Where
and what is phonology ? A representational perspective. In Burton-Roberts
et al : 39-66.
Burton-Roberts, N. (2005). Robyn
Carston on semantics, pragmatics and ‘encoding’. Journal
of Linguistics 41.2 : 389-408
Burton-Roberts, N. & Carr, P.
(1999). On speech and natural language. Language Sciences.
Burton-Roberts, N., Carr, P. &
Docherty, G.J. (Eds.) (2000). Phonological knowledge : conceptual
and empirical issues. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Carr, P. (2000). Scientific realism,
sociophonetic variation and innate endowments in phonology. In Burton-Roberts
et al : 67-104.
Chomsky, N. (2000). New horizons
in the study of language and mind. Cambridge : Cambridge University
Clark, A. (2004). Is language special
? Some remarks on control, coding and co-ordination. Language Sciences
26.6 : 717-726.
Docherty, G.J. & Foulkes, P.
Speaker, speech and knowledge of sounds. In Burton-Roberts et al
Hale, M. & Reiss, C. (2000).
Phonology as cognition. In Burton-Roberts et al : 161-184.
Love, N. (2004). Cognition and the language myth. Language Sciences
26.6 : 525-544.
Ross, D. (2004). Metalinguistic
signalling for co-ordination amongst social agents. Language Sciences
26.6 : 621-642
Anticipatory Dynamics, and the Distributed Nature of Activity and
Paul J. Thibault, Faculty of Humanities, Agder University College,
In recent years, there has been
a growing interest in distributed models of activity and meaning-making.
The term ‘distributed’ refers to the ways in which both
semiosis and cognition make use of resources beyond the body-brain
of the individual (see Clark 1997). These resources include those
afforded by one’s own and other’s bodies and other resources
in the external environment such as artifacts, tools, objects, maps,
machines, visual images, voices, gestures, texts, and so on. The
environmental affordances in Gibson’s (1986) ecological theory
of perception are an important precursor of and an inspiration for
this line of thinking, as is activity theory in the tradition inspired
by Vygotsky (Thibault 2004a). Many current accounts of language
and discourse still focus on disembodied notions of text per se.
Focusing on the distributed nature of meaning-making activity can
help us to see more clearly how environmental and bodily factors
act as semiotic scaffolding in, for example, contexts of teaching
and learning. Language and other semiotic resources – both
somatic and extra-somatic – constitute a network of external
resources whereby semiosis and social agency is distributed in across
diverse space-time scales (Cowley 1998; Lemke 2000, Thibault 2000).
Texts themselves are resources which, when integrated to our activity,
can help us to solve various kinds of problems. In the theory of
distributed meaning-making activity, social agents make use of external
resources of various kinds in order to solve social and computational
problems and tasks. In the examples that I shall consider, these
external resources will be subdivided into two kinds: (1) environmental
affordances that agents can use and appropriate to their projects
and (2) the regularities of the events in which they participate
or which they observe. Semiosis in all its manifestations is a resource
which both constrains and enables particular ways of acting and
understanding by reshaping and extending cognitive tasks. I shall
look at some examples of children’s interactions in informal
learning contexts to shed light on these issues.
Following Rosen (1985), I also take
up and further develop in this connection a point that I first discussed
in Thibault (2004a: 187) on language as an anticipatory system,
rather than a reactively ‘representational one (see also Bickhard
2005; Thibault In press). The dialogic-interpersonal aspect of natural
languages provides a normative basis for the agent’s evaluations
of what is ‘appropriate’, ‘good’, ‘bad’,
‘right’, ‘wrong’, or ‘truthful’
‘interesting’, ‘important’, and so on. This
normative basis is functional in the ongoing maintenance of the
agent as a system that learns and through learning changes itself.
The normative aspect of the agent’s meanings is seen as a
high-level contribution to the maintenance of the agent-system qua
cognitive system. These meanings are therefore functional in the
learning and in the self-transformation of the system qua individuating
agent (see also Thibault 2004b, 2005, In press). Some instances
of bonobo-human exchanges will also be considered in this light.
Bickard, Mark H. 2005. ‘Function,
anticipation, representation’. http://www.lehigh.edu/~mhb0/mhb0.html;
downloaded March 2005.
Clark, Andy 1997. Being There: Putting
brain, body and world together again. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Cowley, Stephen J. 1998. ‘Of
timing, turn-taking, and conversations’. Journal of Psycholinguistic
Research 27(5): 541-571.
Gibson, James J. 1986 . The
Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hillsdale, NJ and London:
Lemke, Jay L. 2000. Across the scales
of time: artefacts, activities, and meanings in ecosocial systems’.
Mind, Culture, and Activity 7(4): 273-290.
Rosen, R. 1985. Anticipatory Systems:
Philosophical, mathematical and methodological foundations. Oxford:
Thibault, Paul J. 2000. 'The dialogical
integration of the brain in social semiosis: Edelman and the case
for downward causation.' Mind, Culture, and Activity 7(4): 291-311.
Thibault, Paul J. 2004a. Agency
and Consciousness in Discourse: Self-other dynamics as a complex
system. London and New York: Continuum.
Thibault, Paul J. 2004b. 'Agency,
individuation, and meaning-making: reflections on an episode of
bonobo-human interaction'. In Geoffrey Williams and Annabelle Lukin
(eds.), Language Development: Functional Perspectives on Evolution
and Ontogenesis, 108-132. London and New York: Continuum.
Thibault, Paul J. 2005. ‘Forgiveness
in bonobo-human exchanges’. Scientific report as contribution
towards Project #2 -- Savage-Rumbaugh, Fields, Segerdahl, Thibault,
Benson, and Greaves, Experimental investigations: The effect of
the intentional introduction of forgiveness into a Pan/Homo culture.
Funded by the Campaign for Forgiveness Research, Templeton Foundation
(USA). Des Moines, Iowa: Great Ape Trust Iowa (GATI): Unpublished
Thibault, Paul J. In press. ‘What
kind of minded being has language: Anticipatory dynamics, arguability,
and agency in a normatively and recursively self-transforming learning
system, Part 1’. Linguistics and the Human Sciences 1, 2.