Embodied Cognition at the Crossroads of
Philosophy, Linguistics, Psychology and Artificial Intelligence

May 13-15, 2021, Cluj-Napoca, ROMANIA

Section 8A


8A: Body, gestures, language



Friday 14/5, 18:40-20:00





Filippo Batisti

Affiliation: Ca' Foscari University of Venice (Italy)
Title: Linguistic Diversity and Post-Cognitivism: What Now?
Abstract: After being a highly polarizing topic for a long time, in the last couple of decades the debate on the impact on thought of being speakers of different natural languages has known a new incarnation. In fact, linguistic relativity shifted from being a theoretical problem to an empirical matter: thanks to the tools of cognitive psychology, the old question whether speaking Portuguese or Chinese made you think differently could be answered quantitatively, in terms of bits of measurable non-linguistic behavior. However, within other parallel academic debates, not everybody was growing content with cognitive psychology, i.e. cognitivism as a long-standing multidisciplinary approach not only to the human mind but to virtually every other aspect of the workings of our species. Coming in turn from multiple places in academia, the usual criticism against cognitivism was to consider humans too much in abstract isolation with respect to their interactive, social and cultural development. No wonder that the inspiring metaphor that still informs much of contemporary cognitive science is that “the mind is a computer”. So, what if the new embodied shift in cognitive science, especially for what concerns enactivism, invalids the cognitivist bases upon which linguistic relativity was saved in the '90s? (Lucy 1992, Gumperz & Levinson 1996) In other words, if we take seriously the grand rethinking of some fundamental notions of cognitive science operated by radical enactivism (Hutto & Myin 2013, 2017), the second, psychological foundation of linguistic relativity is in great peril. As Aizawa (2014, 2019) pointed out, Hutto and Myin's RET (Radical Enactive Theory) and its philosophical lexicon allegedly rests on the collapse of the distinction between 'cognition' and 'behavior'. Importantly, that very distinction was exactly what held up the aforementioned Neo-Whorfian version of linguistic relativity. Finally, we face a metatheoretical dilemma: if sympathetic with RET (or even other forms of contemporary enactivism), we seem to be bound not to be able to save the intuition underlying the idea of linguistic relativity; but if we think that this is too much to let go and, at the very least, we want to save LR and go past the cognitivist assumptions that drive the Neo-Whorfian experimental methods, we have to find a non-cognitivist cognitive way to find evidence for LR. In this respect, something is happening, especially in ethnolinguistics (Sidnell and Enfield 2012, Zinken 2016, Zinken & Costall to appear, Sidnell to appear), where thanks to the tools of Conversation Analysis it is possible to bypass the isolated, artificial lab testing of the Neo-Whorfians and still be able to assess differences in behavior due to linguistic, interactive factors. However, more theoretical work is needed to re-include some (post-cognitivist) cognitive part within this latter approach.


Marieke De Koning

Affiliation: Université Grenoble Alpes
Title: Physical Engagement in Foreign Language Learning
Abstract:Although improvements have been noted in recent years in other areas of Foreign Language Learning in France, the results obtained in oral production are still far from satisfactory according to the CNESCO (French Ministerial Assessment Office) report 2018 . This report states that 75% of third year secondary school pupils find it difficult to make themselves understood and produce a globally correct spoken language. Speaking is a physical as well as a cerebral activity. This needs to be taken into account when focusing on its role in oral communication. Awareness of the body, of breathing, of articulation and of the natural movements associated with the release of energy in speech is a potential area of focus in the search for ways in which oral production can be improved. Such a perspective argues for embodied cognition being at the heart of oral communication in language learning. Even though research has established the link between embodied cognition and language acquisition (Atkinson, 2010) the findings from this research seldom find applications in the field of Foreign Language Learning. Furthermore, the role of prosody, which is fundamental in both language production and reception, does not receive the focus it merits in the majority of foreign language classes (Lengeris, 2012). In addition, research on the link between gesture and prosody in the classroom (Tellier & Cadet, 2014) is, for the most part, confined to the role of the teacher and rarely focuses on the learner. The THEMPPO (Thématique Prosodie et Production Orale) group at the UGA Grenoble University, France, has been engaged, since 2013, in an action research programme aimed at responding to the poor results obtained in oral production at university level. It identified the need to establish on-going language teacher training in order to take the findings concerning the importance of the role of prosody in language learning into classroom practice. Its own programme of training workshops for teachers, in focusing on the link between prosody and movement, has observed that, in addition to gesture which has always been an important area of research (Voigt &al, 2014), the role of whole body posture and movement, merits more extensive study. However, in order to establish the criteria for such a study further research is needed to define more precisely what we can call ‘body engagement’. This includes a description of the physical characteristics of motivational engagement behaviour (Skinner & Belmont, 1993) in the context of a language classroom. Following on from this qualitative study, we will proceed to examine the link between prosodic variation and body engagement. This is expected to bring a contribution on the two following levels : • A new methodological prospect for research on the role of body and voice in the language classroom • The enrichment of research viewed from the learner’s perspective.


Magdalena Kersting, Rolf Steier

Affiliation: University of Oslo; 
Title: Learning processes of embodied interaction with disembodied concepts
Abstract: Because of their abstract and often counterintuitive nature, topics of modern physics offer a unique inquiry playground to study how bodily and cognitive practices enable (and restrict) understanding of scientific concepts. In this work, we employ perspectives of embodied cognition as a fruitful entryway to unpack bodily ways of knowing when things are impossible to perceive directly. Specifically, we use high school students studying Einstein’s general theory of relativity as a setting to identify conceptual challenges and representational practices that arise when learners attempt to make meaning with, and express conflicting notions of, spacetime. General relativity interprets gravity geometrically as the curvature of spacetime. Yet, Einstein’s abstract description often contradicts learners’ experiences and deeply rooted experiential knowledge of the world. We build on theoretical perspectives that treat learning as a socially situated activity. This perspective entails that we look at meaning-making processes that emerge between students in situated classroom interactions. To study bodily ways of communicating and knowing, we place gesture and metaphorical language at the center of our analysis. In science learning, gestures often provide sensorimotor information that prompt idea construction. Moreover, instructional analogies and metaphors have become a popular tool in science education because they can help to communicate abstract scientific concepts. Employing methods of interaction and metaphor analysis, we demonstrate that high school students perform a diverse set of strategies that are strongly tied to bodily, cognitive, and communicative practices when trying to relate abstract descriptions of curved space and time to their everyday experience of gravity. We find that embodiment might run into conflict with abstract learning domains: students' sensory experiences of gravity may actually contradict the concept of spacetime. We observe that students make gestural inferences about spacetime that seem to obscure deeper understanding. In addition, students are prone to confuse cause and effect in relativity when drawing on their embodied experience of gravity using metaphorical language. Even though research has shown that fruitful conceptual metaphors need embodied sources, we present evidence that students' conceptualised experience of gravity can get in the way of inferring the right analogical mappings. In summary, our study sheds light onto meaning-making processes of embodied interaction with disembodied concepts. Our findings contribute to our understanding of strategies that learners employ to make sense of scientific concepts when bodily and experiential understandings conflict with the conceptual domain.


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