Modeling the emergence of language as an embodied collective cognitive activity

  • Hutchins E
  • Johnson C
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Two decades of attempts to model the emergence of language as a collective cognitive activity have demonstrated a number of principles that might have been part of the historical process that led to language. Several models have demonstrated the emergence of structure in a symbolic medium, but none has demonstrated the emergence of the capacity for symbolic representation. The current shift in cognitive science toward theoretical frameworks based on embodiment is already furnishing computational models with additional mechanisms relevant to the emergence of symbolic language. An analysis of embodied interaction among captive, but not human-enculturated, bonobo chimpan- zees reveals a number of additional features of embodiment that are relevant to the emergence of symbolic language, but that have not yet been explored in computational simulation models; for example, complementarity of action in addition to imitation, iconic in addition to indexical gesture, coordination among multiple sensory and perceptual modalities, and the orchestration of intra- and inter-individual motor coordination. The bonobos provide an evolutionarily plausible intermediate stage in the development of symbolic expression that can inform efforts to model the emergence of symbolic language.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Bonobo chimpanzee
  • Computational simulation models
  • Embodied cognition
  • Emergence of language

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  • Edwin Hutchins

  • Christine M. Johnson

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