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 . 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.
Several of us in Second Language areas have read and shared Atkinson (2010) with some excitement recently. I have been stuck on his “Principle of Alignment”, one of three principles he promotes in taking a sociocognitive approach to SLA. I agree that Inseparability (embodiment) and Adaptivity (dynamics/extended cognition) are central to SLA/learning and his analysis gives clear examples of these. However, I am less satisfied with his explanation of alignment. I think the premise is dialogical, but there is a missing piece that makes alignment in terms of SLA as he describes it here sound a bit simplistic. There is more than just an interaction engine at work when we are involved in learning a second language. What fuels or constrains our engines? Could Hodges (2007, 2009) values-realizing dynamics add a needed dimension here? Are other dimensions missing? Do others understand Atkinson’s alignment differently?
Here are the references: Atkinson, D. 2010. Extended, embodied cognition and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics. doi:10.1093/applin/amq009 Hodges, B. 2009. Ecological pragmatics: values, dialogical arrays, complexity and caring. Pragmatics & Cognition 17(3): 628–652.
Welcome to Distributed Language Group community site. We are a group of researchers who care for rethinking language sciences and cognition in ecologcial, dialogical and distributed terms. In this site, you will find resources that apply integrated approaches to education, second language studies, health and other eco-systems.