CFP: LangEnact II


25 September – 27 September 2017

Call deadline: 28 April 2017

By Stephen J. Cowley, University of Southern Denmark ( 

The Centre for Human Interactivity invites you to contribute to LangEnact II, Meaning Without Representation: Grounding Language in Sensorimotor Coordination to take place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 25-27 September, 2017 at the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.

Radical embodied approaches to language offer an alternative to neurocentric alternatives. They are inspired, on the one hand, by Wittgenstein’s focus on communities and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body. On the other, they build on how Hutchins and Kirsh opened the way to studying cognition beyond the brain. Accordingly, meaning – and, in human forms of life, language – are taken to derive from what Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana call the enactment of a world and a mind:

“(…) cognition is not the representation of a pre-given world by a pre-given mind but is rather the enactment of a world and a mind on the basis of a history of the variety of actions that a being in the world performs” (Varela, Thompson, Rosch, The Embodied Mind, MIT Press, p. 9).

Until recently, those rejecting computational views have tended to neglect language. In putting this to rights, we address “meaning without representation” by asking how language can be, on the one hand, an effective means of interpersonal coordination and, on the other, grounded in individual bodies that bring forth an encultured and lived world. The conference places this question at the confluence of two traditions: while enactive linguistics makes embodiment central to rethinking French theories of ‘enunciation’ and the nature of langues (language-systems), the distributed-ecological perspective builds on cognitive science by tracing language, not to verbal patterns, but to how people coordinate bodily movement as they make their way in a (partly) common world. 

Much connects the two traditions. Both oppose dualism and models that reduce language to the use of patterns, words or input. Both turn from describing languages as formalized systems where human operators connect symbols with fragments of a pre-given world or inner representations. Indeed, both trace the human to how sensorimotor-based experience came to ground speech, language and historically derived practices. Language is thus both a distributed or collective phenomenon and also one based in individual histories of sensorimotor activity. Seen as a whole, natural language channels human interactivity in ways whose beneficial effects and contributions enable organisms to self-construct as persons. In short, language depends on what is experienced as meaningful and, given its reflexivity, can also be analysed in terms of meaning.

Because traditional linguistic theories do not trace language to ecological sensorimotor coordination, they tend to focus on the verbal production of intrinsically meaningful forms. Accordingly, they ask how those forms, whatever their nature, produce meaning, qua linguistic expression, of an extra-linguistic situation. Accordingly, they tend to use of a representation metaphor as either causal (as in computational theories), as based on replicating extensions of semantic categories (as in behaviourism), or as conforming to an underlying script (as in the French use of représentation as an echo of dramaturgical performance). By contrast, within both enactive linguistics and work from a distributed-ecological view, one focuses on how the effects of human interactivity co-develop with know-how that bears on meaning potential. One thus asks how, as a striking component of interactivity, languaging brings forth meaning in both larger and narrower senses. On the one hand, it draws on pragmatic and semantic regularities (linguistic constraints) and, on the other, the activity creates foci of attention that give events a particular sense. The conference challenge is to concert these voices by recognizing speech as ecological coordination that binds phonation, articulation and gestures into human action/perception.

Building on LangEnact 1 in Clermont-Ferrand in 1-3 June 2016, we move from general issues of “Sense-making, Embodiment, Interaction” to ask the following:

If sensorimotor activity shapes language systems, to what extent does the diversity of natural languages specify the interactive emergence of linguistic meaning?

Given that sensorimotor activity already has value, evokes presence, and is thus ‘meaningful’, how is it insinuated into linguistic meaning?

Given linguistic meaning, language-based categories constrain sensorimotor activity. How, during face-to-face activity, do people concert their sensorimotor activity while drawing on cultural traditions?

How do individual and collective agents engage with the diversity of languaging and cultural practices in the context of communities, activity-types, and a life span that unites expertise and experience?

Please send abstracts (up to 500 words) to the chair of the organizing committee, Stephen J. Cowley, by April 28, 2017. The committee expects to make final decisions on the program by May 26, 2017.


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