Distributed language

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Distributed language represents an externalist perspective on human cognition. Instead of tracing communication to individual knowledge of a symbolic system, language-activity is taken to sustain the human world. Extending work by Humberto Maturana, priority is given to how face-to-face interaction draws on multimodal activity or languaging .[1] As people language together, they gain the skills and knowledge needed to participate in a range of activities in which wordings play a part. Over time, these activities construct and maintain language as a whole. Distributed language thus links a biological theory of the origin of language to distributed cognition. Human cognitive and communicative abilities arise as people do things together while drawing on material, linguistic and other resources. Language activity is constrained by biology, circumstances, and collective ways of life. While bodies sustain coordination, our lived realities are extended by the resources of a partly shared collective world. Thus, language cannot be separated from the artifacts and institutions or the behaviour of the living beings who undertake collaborative (and solo) tasks. This distributed perspective challenges the mainstream view that language use can be explained by individual competencies and microsocial rules. To ascribe 'language' to individual organisms is, on the distributed perspective, an error. Building on cognitive science, the perspective challenges cognitive internalism by presenting language as a prime case of embodied and culturally embedded cognition. It emphasizes that the heterogeneity of human language does much to shape people, mind and society.

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  • Cowley, C. (2011) Distributed Language (Ed). John Benjamins. [5]