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Book: The Language Dynamic

Chapter: Embodiment

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.44587


In Chapter 2, Embodiment we have two main aims. The first of these is to set out our view of embodiment and to distinguish it from the cognitive linguistic view that language, like other cognitive resources, is grounded in bodily perception, the sensorimotor system and emotions. While we are largely in agreement with this point, we further argue that as language is a distributed system that exists at different scales and times only some aspects of it can be said to be embodied within an individual at any one time. We argue that through reiterated contextualised interactions language is enacted in the sense that it becomes internally represented within individuals. This leads us to our second major point, which is that as the linguistic system is itself metastable and extravagant, what is embodied has the potential for change and will obey the logic of A-curves, where roughly 20% of the tokens do 80% of the work. The long tail of roughly 80% of the tokens comprises items which are declining and also ones which have the potential for growth. In order to illustrate our points the chapter is divided into a number of sections. The first of which details the cognitive and emotional skills a language-ready-made brain would require before moving on, in the second section, to consider what capacities have evolved within humans and what functions have coevolved in language. In this section redundancy will be introduced to illustrate the stark differences between animal communication systems and human language while at the same time showing how animal communication systems may have evolved into human language. Redundancy refers to the predictability between two occurring thing. To illustrate a response is 100% redundant if the presence of one form entails the other. In language there is no 100% redundancy between form and function though as we will see form and function are mutually predictive. In the fourth section we will illustrate the evolution of a linguistic feature: vowels, in order to show not only how the primary function of distinctiveness appeared but also how vowels developed a 2nd order contingent indexical meaning (a point developed in chapter 3). Finally we end the chapter by examining the relationship between syllable onsets and vowels in English. We do this to illustrate the complexity of the metastable system that has evolved and to show that it follows the logic of the A curve.

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