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



Distributed Language Group

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DLG Symposium
Gordon College, Wenham,
Massachusetts USA

June 4-6 2009

Grounding language in perception and (inter) action

A Symposium of the Distributed Language Group
June 4-6, 2009
Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts USA

The conference will consider language (or conversing) as situated in the context of interaction, action, and perception. We will explore how conversing can be understood as distributed, dialogical, and directed (i.e., intentional, normative) modes of interaction, perception, and action. Theoretical, empirical, interpretive, and methodological issues will be given attention. Most particularly, this meeting will bring ecological and dynamical systems researchers together with distributed language researchers.

Organizers: Bert Hodges (Gordon College) and Stephen J. Cowley (University of Hertfordshire)

Gordon College is a beautiful campus about 45 minutes north of Boston on the historic North Shore.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation.


Carol Fowler, Haskins Laboratories and Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut
Embodied, embedded language use

Guy Van Orden, Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati, USA
Grounding language in the anticipatory dynamics of the body

Alexander Kravchenko, Department of Foreign Languages, Baikal National University of Economics and Law, Irkutsk, Russian Federation
Languaging as a consensual domain of interactions

Nigel Love, Department of Linguistics, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Beyond verbalism

Robert Port, Departments of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA
What does it mean to say that a language is a cognitive social institution?

Joanna Ra³czaszek -Leonardi, Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Warsaw, Poland, and University of Bologna, Italy
Disentangling influences from multiple time-scales of language dynamics: An example from psycholinguistics

Philip Carr, Department of English, Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier, France
Adult and child speech patterns: Unconscious knowledge, adaptive behaviour, or both?

Paul Thibault, Department of Linguistics and Media Communication, Agder University, Kristiansand, Norway
Intrinsic functional and normative constraints on language as action and representation: Lexicogrammar as second-order language and the distributed view

Whitney Tabor, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs
The relationship between rules and “un-rule-y” behavior in dynamical models of language

Bruno Galantucci, Haskins Laboratories and Department of Psychology, Yeshiva University, New York
Studying the emergence of human communication systems in the laboratory

Stephen J. Cowley, Department of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, UK & University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
The language stance

James Magnuson, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, and Haskins Laboratories
Syntax first or everything always?

Sune Vork Steffensen, Institute for Language and Communication, University of Southern Denmark
Event analysis in distributed health interaction

Peter E. Jones, Communication Studies, Sheffield Hallam University UK
The integration of language, perception and action in Vygotsky's conception of the 'planning function of speech'

Nancy Rader & Patricia Zukow-Goldring, Department of Psychology, Ithaca College, Ithaca NY and University of California, Los Angeles
Cultivating early word learning: Educating attention by synchronizing speech and dynamic gestures

Simon Worgan and R. K. Moore, Department of Computer Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
Spoken language processing as an aspect of human behaviour

Dongping Zheng, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
What can embodiment teach us about new language learning in virtual worlds?

James E. Martin & Frederico T. Fonseca, Psychology Department and Information Sciences and Technology, Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA
Hermeneutical play in perception and dialogue

Dennis P. Waters, Genome Web, New York, NY
From extended phenotype to extended affordance: Distributed language at the intersection of Gibson and Dawkins

Patricia Zukow-Goldring, University of California, Los Angeles
Assisted imitation: Caregiver gestures cultivate a shared understanding

Aitao Lu, Xuexin Zhang, & Jijia Zhang, Department of Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong & South China Normal University, Hong Kong & Guangzhou, China
Evoking color during language comprehension

For more information contact: Bert Hodges (Gordon College) or Stephen J. Cowley (University of Hertfordshire)

The Distributed Language Group (DLG) is an international, grass-roots group of scholars from a variety of disciplines (e.g., linguistics, psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, anthropology) that have come together to develop creative and viable alternatives to conventional accounts of language (e.g., formal, cognitive, structural) in linguistics and related disciplines.

Our first conference was held at Cambridge University in 2005 with the theme of “Cognitive dynamics in language” and was hosted by Stephen Cowley. In 2007 Paul Thibault hosted us at Agder University College in Grimstad, Norway in a symposium entitled “Language dynamics and the phenomenology of individual experience.” Some of the papers presented at the Cambridge conference were published as a special issue of Language Sciences (2007, 29). In addition there have been several other conferences (e.g., language and robotics, external symbol grounding) and publications sponsored by DLG that are mentioned on the group’s webpage

Conference: Grounding Language in Perception and (Inter) Action

What can be learned about language if psychologists, linguists, and related researchers approach it, not as a closed, idealized, formal symbol system, but as an open, ecologically embedded, physically distributed dynamical system? A range of positions is converging on a distributed view of language, which emphasizes that it is an activity that emerges and is sustained in complex sets of dialogical relationships. The patterns of activity studied by linguists and psychologists emerge in real-time within ecologically situated social interactions, across multiple space-time scales.

Recent work in complex dynamical systems has begun to clarify the meaning of claims that language is situated, distributed, and dialogical. From the perspective of complex dynamics, the fundamental character of linguistic activity is context-sensitivity and interdependency, rather than rule-following and modularity. The dynamics are interaction-dominant; the phenomena come into existence in a specific space-time configuration, but do not exist before or after in any of the component systems. The skill, knowledge, or ability demonstrated cannot be located in a brain, a body, a set of instructions, a set of cultural practices, an experimental setting, or an evolutionary history. All of these and more may be involved, but only in the integrity of collective action can they generate the phenomena.

It has been argued that, “contemporary models grossly underestimate the number of temporal scales on which cognitive activity is actually assembled” (Hollis, Kloos, & Van Orden, 2008). Dialogical relations are distributed across a vast array of scales; all show interaction-dominant dynamics in which control is distributed, not localized. Research has revealed pervasive, long-range patterns in linguistic performances (e.g., word pronunciation, lexical decisions, semantic categorization). These findings indicate that contexts are not a removable backdrop to intentional activities, but play a constitutive role in the creation and sustenance of the phenomena. Thus, what appear to be independent segments, invariant rules, or fixed hierarchies of relations turn out to vary. This indicates that context is constitutive of competences, not just performances. If this ecological reading of complex dynamical systems is on the right track, then the distributed, socially situated nature of linguistic skill is far deeper than almost anyone has imagined. It suggests that context-sensitivity goes all the way down. Pragmatics is central to linguistic activity, not an after-thought.

Our three-day meeting will bring together three groups of scholars, all of whom are working to explore in one way or another what it means for linguistic activities to be distributed, dynamic, and ecologically situated across an array of physical-social contexts. The three groups are distributed language researchers, dynamical systems researchers, and ecological psychologists, whose normal domains of activity rarely bring them into contact with each other. The primary audience will be members of these communities, and those attracted to their research. The primary objective is to increase awareness of each other’s work, and to foster a greater appreciation of the applicability and potency of viewing language in a distributed, dynamical, and ecological way. A secondary audience will be selected students and teachers in undergraduate colleges interested in language theory and research.

The meeting is intended (1) To bring the DLG to the United States, so more Americans can be aware and involved; (2) To create a hospitable environment for exploring language from ecological, dynamical, and distributed perspectives; (3) To bring together scholars dispersed by geography and discipline to develop a more integrated and comprehensive understanding of language as a social perception-action dynamical system; and (4) To provide a small number of selected undergraduates and teaching faculty in American undergraduate contexts an opportunity to learn about the viability of alternative ways of studying and understanding language.

We hope to publish papers and discussions emerging from the conference in a special issue of Ecological Psychology and/or Language Sciences.

Selected Bibliography of Invited Speakers and Organizers

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