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DLG Conference 2005. Download the final report (.pdf) of the conference.



Distributed Language Group

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External Symbol Grounding.
University of Plymouth,
United Kingdom, 3rd-4th July 2006

Classic views treated cognition as a purely internal process. By contrast, we sought to rethink symbol grounding with respect to both what happens in the head and external causal processes that connect bodies as they interact with historically-based customs and artefacts. Participants at the conference agreed that, by taking a distributed perspective on language, the problem of how symbols can be meaningful to the system can be rethought. Language is grounded, at very least, into both the brain and the social world (for some of us, this has to be seen as triple grounding: is also grounded into conscious or phenomenal experience)

As Belpaeme and Cowley put it in "Extending Symbol Grounding" contributors appeal either to semiotic (or triadic) models and/or give much greater weight to their functional embedding in cultural process. MacDorman takes a stronger view. The time has come, he suggests, to move on from the symbol system metaphor by recognising the person problem. Instead of limiting our goal to that of grounding symbols into robots, we need to raise the bar. We need to ask how human bodies -and those of other agents - can self-construct themselves into persons –and person-like agents -by attuning to patterns or norms in the environment.

Preprints of the published papers are available at:

Cowley, S.J. and Belpaeme, T. Editorial: Extending symbol grounding

Clowes, R. Semiotic symbols and the missing theory of thinking.

Worgan, S.F. & Damper, B. Grounding symbols in the physics of speech

Vogt, P. & Devina, F. Grounding social symbols in language evolution

Cowley, S.J. How human infants deal with symbol grounding

Viger, C. The acquired language of thought hypothesis: a theory of symbol grounding. (Available only from Interaction Studies).

Seabra Lopes, L. & Chauhan, A. How many words can my robot learn?

MacDorman, K.F. Life after the symbol system metaphor.

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