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Language and Life

Research cluster

(co-ordinated. by Stephen Cowley)

Language and life: a double interface

The Language and life cluster represents an adjacent possibility into which people may choose to move. It arises from Stephen Cowley's interests in the biology of language and, inseparably, how language serves in remaking the ecology. Human beings enact a double interface between, on the one hand, living beings and, on the other, the changing landscapes and ecosystems on which we depend.

The DLG perspective suggests that, as part of action and perception –and especially as a mode of caring –language is central to environments that constrain our living being. We ask three main questions:

  1. how are we-and-the-world changing?
  2. What is happening to us as living beings?
  3. How do language and languaging contribute to this process?

Such questions are, of course, central to those who care about the environment and, among others, ecological linguists. In short, we raise questions about how the world change us – and especially the influence of factors like urbanization, loss of biodiversity, global warming and outsourcing knowledge-structures to Information Technology. We need to know how, as living systems, we can adapt and, indeed, how we wish to live; since language is based in co-action, we depend on the changing connections between biological, technical and cultural factors. Humans engage with each other – not just by means of language and related artifacts/institutions – but also as part of a world that depends on biosemiosis. Accordingly, we aim to develop ways of reaching beyond descriptions of language and discourse to ask if all is well and, where this appears not to be so, how we can act to better our lot.

Initial aims

My first goal is to build a community who are interested in both the academic and practical implications of linking language with culture and the life sciences. Above all, I am looking to connect people who think such a community can be of value. So, if you are interested, please begin by getting in touch at s.j.cowley@herts.ac.uk

Current project

Leo Van Lier and I are organizing a workshop in conjunction with the Biosemiotics conference in Tartu in July 2012. Rather than focus on how people write (and speak) about the environment, we aim to examine how we live an environment that, inseparably, shapes us as living beings.

  1. How is human living influenced by the action and technology of languages that both inhabit us and constrain what we can become?
  2. What implications does this have for individuals, populations and the environments that shape how we lead our lives?
  3. What consequences follow from such questions? Do we gain from intercultural comparison? Are there implications for education, politics and caring about non-local aspects of living?

We ask these questions with the goal of generating new debates. If you think that the distributed view raises other important issues, please let me know.



Ecological Linguistics


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