Taking a distributed view of language, this paper naturalizes symbol grounding. Learning to talk is traced to – not categorizing speech sounds – but events that shape the rise of human-style autonomy. On the extended symbol hypothesis, this happens as babies integrate micro-activity with slow and deliberate adult action. As they discover social norms, intrinsic motive formation enables them to reshape co-action. Because infants link aﬀect to contingencies, dyads develop norm-referenced routines. Over time, infant doings become analysis amenable. The caregiver of a nine-month-old may, for example, prompt the baby to fetch objects. Once she concludes that the baby uses ‘words’ to understand what she says, the infant can use this belief in orienting to more abstract contingencies. New cognitive powers will develop as the baby learns to act in ways that are consistent with a caregiver’s false belief that her baby uses ‘words.’
Human thinking uses other peoples’ experience. While often pictured as computation or based on the workings of a language-system in the mind or brain, the evidence suggests alternatives to representationalism. In terms proposed here, embodiment is interlaced with wordings as people tackle the integration problem. Using a case study, the paper shows how a young man uses external resources in an experimental task. He grasps a well-defined problem by using material resources, talking about his doings and switching roles and procedures. Attentional skills enable him to act as an air cadet who, among other things, connects action, leadership and logic. Airforce practices prompt him to draw timeously on non-local resources as, using impersonal experience, he interlaces language, action and perception. He connects the cultural and the metabolic in cognitive work as he finds a way to completion of the task.
Cowley S. (2022) Meaning comes first: Languaging and biosemiotics [The operational matrix of languaging: A radically relational understanding of language]. Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio 15(2): 1–18. https://cepa.info/7793
In linking evolution, biosemiotics and languaging, analysis of meaning is extended by investigation of natural innovation. Rather than ascribe it to internal or external content, meaning comes first. Ecological, evolutionary and developmental flux defy content/ vehicle distinctions. In the eco-evo-devo frame, I present the papers of the Special Issue, pose questions, and identify a direction of travel. Above all, meaning connects older views of semiosis with recent work on ecosystemic living. Whilst aesthetics and languaging can refer to evolving semiotic objects, nature uses bio-signals, judging experience, and how culture (and Languages) can condition free-living agents. Further, science changes its status when meaning takes priority. While semiotics shows the narrowness of laws and recurrent regularity, function brings semiotic properties to causal aspects of natural innovation. By drawing on languaging one can clarify, for example, how brains and prostheses can serve human cyborgs. Indeed, given a multi-scalar nexus of meaning, biosemiotics becomes a powerful epistemic tool. Accordingly, I close with a model of how observers can use languaging to track both how self-fabricated living systems co-modulate and also how judging (and thinking) shapes understanding of changing ‘worlds.’ In certain scales, each ’whole’ agent acts on its own behalf as it uses epigenetic history and adjusts to flux by engaging with an ecosystem
Recognition of the importance of autopoiesis to biological systems was crucial in building an alternative to the classic view of cognitive science. However, concepts like structural coupling and autonomy are not strong enough to throw light on language and human problem solving. The argument is presented though a case study where a person solves a problem and, in so doing relies on non-local aspects of the ecology as well as his observer’s mental domain. Like Anthony Chemero we make links with ecological psychology to emphasize how embodiment draws on cultural resources as people concert thinking, action and perception. We trace this to human interactivity or sense-saturated coordination that renders possible language and human forms of cognition: it links human sense-making to historical experience. People play roles with natural and cultural artifacts as they act, animate groups and live through relationships drawing on language that is, at once, artificial and natural. Thus, while constrained by wordings, interactivity is able to fine-tune what we do with action-perception loops. Neither language nor human problem solving reduce to biological sense-making.
Since the multi-scalarity of life encompasses bodies, language and human experience, Timo Järvilehto’s (1998) ‘one-system’ view can be applied to acts of meaning, knowing and ethics. Here, I use Paul Cobley’s Cultural Implications of Biosemiotics (2016) to explore a semiotic construal of such a position. Interpretation, he argues, shows symbolic, indexical and iconic ‘layers’ of living. While lauding Cobley’s breadth of vision, as a linguist, I baulk at linking ‘knowing’ too closely with the ‘symbolic’ qua what can be said, diagrammed or signed. This is because, given first-order experience (which can be deemed indexical/iconic), humans use observations (by others and self) to self-construct as embodied individuals. While symbolic semiosis matters, I trace it to, not languaging, but the rise of literacy, graphics and pictorial art. Unlike Chomsky and Deely, I find no epigenic break between the symbolic and the iconic/indexical. The difference leads one to ontology. I invite the reader to consider, if, as Cobley suggests, meaning depends on modelling systems (with ententional powers) and/or if, as Gibson prefers, we depend on encounters with whatever is out-there. Whereas Cobley identifies the semiotic with the known, for others, living beings actively apprehend what is observable (for them). Wherever the reader stands, I claim that all one-system views fall in line with Cobley’s ‘anti-humanist’ challenge. Ethics, he argues, can only arise from participating in the living. Knowing, and coming to know, use repression and selection that can only be captured by non-disciplinary views of meaning. As part of how life and language unfold, humans owe a duty of care to all of the living world: hence, action is needed now.
Cowley S. J. (2019) Languaging evolved: A distributed perspective [Biography as autopoiesis: A system-theoretical reconstruction of individuality]. Chinese Semiotic Studies 15(4): 461–482. https://cepa.info/8081
Taking a unified view of life, language, and cognition, the Special Issue contests linguistic (or enactivist) models that grant “reality” to symbolic entities. Rather than focus on texts, utterances, or communication, language is traced to living in the extended human ecology. On a distributed view, languaging arises as, alone or together, people act while orienting to denotata and (physical) wordings. Languaging requires, not linguistic bodies, but skills based in common ways of understanding. While verbal entities are of immense value, they draw on a history of reflecting on languaging from a language stance; people need only imagine “symbols.” Accordingly, languaging is part of acting, observing and imagining. Using a language stance suffices for reflecting on human practices and written marks as if linguistic entities were “real.” The deflationary view extends to semiotics. As Ho and Li (2019) document, languaging-and-action enables a learner to grasp a Chinese character as a sign. While, in principle, semiosis might draw from physics or life, signs are also likely to derive from human practice. Coming to read Chinese may require not a semiotic ontology, but a human ability to self-fabricate new powers. By deflating linguistic models one can avoid appeal to observer-independent signs.
Cowley S. J. (2019) The return of languaging: Toward a new ecolinguistics [Biography as autopoiesis: A system-theoretical reconstruction of individuality]. Chinese Semiotic Studies 15(4): 483–512. https://cepa.info/8080
Linguistics is currently being transformed. In relating this to the return of languaging, I link the concept’s genealogy with all of its major applications. Crucially, human understanding becomes social and subjective and, thus, incompatible with linguistic theories that focus on individual knowledge of entities like languages, usage, or forms of language use. As in Elizabethan times, understanding is part of socially organized practice. In leaving behind linguistic “forms, ” languaging shapes an entangled meshwork that links living, observing, and social action. In welcoming the return of long-suppressed ideas, I focus on their implications for evolution, history, and human embodiment. In so doing, I hold that each person’s practical experience links a living subject with what can be, has been, and should be said. Finally, I argue that one can use the concept of languaging to build awareness that favors collective modes of action that are directed within the living world, the bio-ecology. By tracing social organization to embodied expression, a new ecolinguistics can aim to think on behalf of the world.
Open peer commentary on the article “A Critique of Barbieri’s Code Biology” by Alexander V. Kravchenko. Abstract: While acknowledging that Kravchenko is correct in challenging code models of language, I defend Barbieri’s organic coding model of how molecular systems are manufactured. Viewed in a constructivist way, the model clarifies self-fabrication in both living and languaging.
Cowley S. J. & Gahrn-Andersen R. (2015) Deflating autonomy: Human interactivity in the emerging social world. Intellectica 62: 49–63. https://cepa.info/4772
This article critiques recent enactivist attempts to bridge an epistemological divide between the individual and the social (i.e. to fill in the posited macro-micro gap) Its central claim is that an inflated view of ‘autonomy’ leads to error. Scrutinising two contributions, we find that methodological solipsism taints Varela’s model: It induces De Jaegher & Di Paolo to ascribe social knowledge to perturbances – contingencies whose logic arises from the closed organization of an individual (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007) and Steiner & Stewart to posit that the pre-dispositions of an organizationally closed world prompt individuals to “receive” shared norms (Steiner & Stewart, 2009) On our deflated view, neither organizational closure nor participatory sense making apply to most human cognition. Rather, we invoke a developmental process based on the recursive self-maintenance that is found in all organism-environment systems (including bacteria) Humans differ in that infants discover ways of making skilled use of phenomenal experience: they learn to predicate something of lived experience. As observers, they connect impersonal resources of culture (artifacts, institutions, languages etc.) with on-going social and environmental activity. This human kind of heteronomy links social processes to agent-environment systems that sustain – and are sustained by – historically positioned modes of life. Far from being organisationally closed, human subjects depend on using sensorimotoric prompts to connect the phenomenal with the impersonal and open up a partly shared, partly lived, reality.
Cowley S. J. & Gahrn-Andersen R. (2022) Languaging in an Enlanguaged World. Constructivist Foundations 18(1): 054–057. https://cepa.info/8193
Open peer commentary on the article “The Maturanian Turn: Good Prospects for the Language Sciences” by Alexander V. Kravchenko. Abstract: Like Kravchenko, we build on Maturana’s bio-logic and the view that language is the “outcome of the evolution of observers.” Yet, Kravchenko offers a narrow “linguistic” reading of Maturana. On our wider view, Kravchenko’s work is criticized for limiting use of “languaging” to aspects of observing that leave out how sensibility and activity inform human practices. Stephen Cowley & Rasmus Gahrn-Andersen