You are invited to attend


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 Rączaszek -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


James Magnuson, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, and Haskins Laboratories

Syntax first or everything always?


Sune Vork Steffenson, Institute for Language and Communication, University of Odense, 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


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

The language stance


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 and 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 & Guanzow, PR

Evoking color during language comprehension



For more information contact: or





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

Brancazio, L., Best, C. T., & Fowler, C. A. (2006). Visual influences on perception of speech and nonspeech vocal-tract events. Language and Speech, 49, 21-53.

Carr, P. (2007). Internalism, externalism, and coding. Language Sciences, 29, 672-689.

Chambers, C. G., Tanenhaus, M. K., & Magnuson, J. S. (2004). Actions and affordances in syntactic ambiguity resolution. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 30, 687-696.

Cowley, S. J. (2006). Bridges to history: Biomechanical constraints in language. In N. Love (Ed.) Integrational linguistics and history (pp. 200-223). Routledge: London.

Cowley, S. J. (2007). How human infants deal with symbol grounding. Interaction Studies, 8, 81-104.

Cowley, S.J. & MacDorman, K.F. (2006). What baboons, babies, and Tetris players tell us about interaction: A biosocial view of norm-based social learning. Connection Science, 18, 313-318

Fowler, C. A., & Galantucci, B. (2005). The relation of speech perception and speech production. In D. B. Pisoni & R. E. Remez (Eds.), The handbook of speech perception (pp. 633-652). New York: Basil Blackwell.

Galantucci, B., Fowler, C. A., & Turvey, M. T. (2006). The motor theory of speech perception reviewed. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13, 361-377.

Galantucci, B. (2005). An experimental study of the emergence of human communication systems. Cognitive Science, 29, 737–767.

Hodges, B. H. (2007). Good prospects: Ecological and social perspectives on conforming, creating, and caring in conversation. Language Sciences, 29, 584-604.

Hodges, B. H. (2007). Values define fields: The intentional dynamics of driving, carrying, leading, negotiating, and conversing. Ecological Psychology, 19, 153-178.

Hollis, G., Kloos, H., & Van Orden, G. C. (2008). Origins of order in cognitive activity. In S Guastello, M. Kioopmans, & D. Pincus (Eds.), Chaos and complexity: Recent advances and future directions in the theory of nonlinear dynamical systems psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kravchenko, A. V. (2006). Cognitive linguistics, biology of cognition and biosemiotics: Bridging the gaps. Language Sciences, 28, 51-75.

Kravchenko, A. V. (2007). Essential properties of language, or, why language is not a code. Language Sciences, 29, 650-671.

Love, N. (2004). Cognition and the language myth. Language Sciences, 26, 525-544.

Love, N. (2007). Are languages digital codes? Language Sciences, 29, 690-709.

Magnuson, J. S., & Nusbaum, H. C. (2007). Acoustic differences, listener expectations, and the perceptual accommodation of talker variability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 33, 391-409.

Mirman, D. & Magnuson, J. S. (2008). Attractor dynamics and semantic neighborhood density: Processing is slowed near neighbors and speeded by distant neighbors. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 34, 65-79.

Port, R. F. (2005). Against formal phonology. Language, 81, 927-964.

Port, R. F. (2007). How are words stored in memory? Beyond phones and phonemes. New Ideas in Psychology, 25, 143-170.

Port, R. F. (2008). Language and its two complex systems. The Encyclopedia of Complexity and System Science. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag.

Rączaszek -Leonardi, J., & Kelso, J. A. S. (2008). Reconciling symbolic and dynamic aspects of language: Toward a dynamic psycholinguistics. New Ideas in Psychology, 26, 93-207.

Rączaszek -Leonardi, J., Shapiro, L. P., & Tuller, B. (2008). Activating basic category exemplars in sentence contexts: A dynamical account. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 37, 87-113.

Shockley, K., Baker, A. A., Richardson, M. J., & Fowler, C. A. (2007). Articulatory constraints on interpersonal postural coordination. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 33, 201-208.

Tabor, W., Galantucci, B., & Richardson, D. (2004). Effects of merely local syntactic coherence on sentence processing.  Journal of Memory and Language 50(4), 355-370.

Tabor, W. & Hutchins, S. (2004).  Evidence for self-organized sentence processing:  Digging in effects.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 30(2): 431-450.

Thibault, P. J. (2004). Agency and consciousness in discourse: Self-other dynamics as a complex system. London: Continuum.

Thibault, P. J. (2005). Brains, bodies, contextualizing activity and language: Do humans (and bonobos) have a language faculty, and can they do without one? Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 1, 99-125.

Thibault, P. J. (2005). What kind of minded being has language: Anticipatory dynamics, arguability, and agency in a normatively and recursively self-transforming learning system. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 1, 355-401.

Van Orden, G. C., Pennington, B. F., Stone, G. O. (2001). What do double dissociations prove? Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 25, 111-172.

Van Orden, G. C., Holden, J. G., & Turvey, M. T. (2005). Human cognition and 1/f scaling. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134, 117-123.