Distributed Languaging, Affective Dynamics, and the Human Ecology Volume I : The Sense-making Body book cover
1st Edition

Distributed Languaging, Affective Dynamics, and the Human Ecology Volume I
The Sense-making Body

ISBN 9780815379539
Published November 24, 2020 by Routledge
318 Pages 36 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Language plays a central role in human life. However, the term ‘language’ as defined in the language sciences of the 20th century and the traditions these have drawn on, have arguably, limited our thinking about what language is and does. The two inter-linked volumes of Thibault’s study articulate crucially important aspects of an emerging new perspective shift on language - the Distributed Language view – that is now receiving more and more attention internationally. Rejecting the classical view that the fundamental architecture of language can be localized as a number of inter-related levels of formal linguistic organization that function as the coded inputs and outputs to each other, the distributed language view argues that languaging behaviour is a bio-cultural organisation of process that is embodied, multimodal, and integrated across multiple space-time scales.

Thibault argues that we need to think of human languaging as the distinctively human mode of our becoming and being selves in the extended human ecology and the kinds of experiencing that this makes possible. Paradoxically, this also means thinking about language in non-linguistic ways that break the grip of the conventional meta-languages for thinking about human languaging. Thibault’s book grounds languaging in process theory: languaging and the forms of experience it actualizes is always an event, not a thing that we ‘use’. In taking a distinctively interdisciplinary approach, the book relates dialogical theories of human sense-making to the distributed view of human cognition, to recent thinking about distributed language, to ecological psychology, and to languaging as inter-individual affective dynamics grounded in the subjective lives of selves. In taking this approach, the book considers the coordination of selves in social encounters, the emergent forms of self-reflexivity that characterise these encounters, and the implications for how we think of and live our human sociality, not as something that is mediated  by over-arching codes and systems, but as emerging from the endogenous subjectivities of selves when they seek to coordinate with other selves and with the situations, artefacts, social institutions, and technologies that populate the extended human ecology.

The two volumes aim to bring our understanding of human languaging closer to human embodiment, experience, and feeling while also showing how languaging enables humans to transcend local circumstances and thus to dialogue with cultural tradition. Volume 1 focuses on the shorter timescales of bodily dynamics in languaging activity. Volume II integrates the shorter timescales of body dynamics to the longer cultural-historical timescales of the linguistic and cultural norms and patterns to which bodily dynamics are integrated.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Value 2. Flow 3. Melody 4. Sense-making Conclusion

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Paul J. Thibault, who grew up in Newcastle, Australia and completed his PhD under Michael Halliday's supervision at the University of Sydney in 1984, is Professor in linguistics and communication studies at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway. He was Hans Christian Andersen Academy Visiting Professor at the University of Southern Denmark, Odense (2015-2018). He has held academic posts in Australia, China, Italy, and Hong Kong. His research interests and publications are in the areas of applied and general linguistics, development, distributed language and cognition, graphics and interactivity, human-animal interaction, human interactivity, learning, multimodality, narrative, social theory, learning theory and teaching and learning in higher education, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, systemic-functional linguistics. He is also currently working on two new books entitled The Linguistic Imagination and Language, Body, World: A critical rereading of Hjelmslev. He is currently on the editorial boards of six international journals. With Mark King at UNSW Sydney, Australia, he is developing theoretical frameworks and methodological tools for the study of human learning in tertiary settings using the perspectives of distributed cognition, eye tracking, interactivity, and Multimodal Event Analysis. With Anthony Baldry, he is developing the idea of multimodal ecological literacy. He has a deep interest in ecological questions since he was seven years old. He believes that the predominantly mechanistic theories of human cognition and semiosis need to be replaced by a new account of what it means to be a living, feeling human self in the human ecology.


What if we thought of language not as a system of symbols to be manipulated, but as a living process by which we more complexly embed ourselves in the social ecology around us and thereby enlarge our capacity to understand and influence it? What if we viewed language in use not as something originating in "minds" or thoughts, but in our biological processes of perception and action, exploring and being emotionally enmeshed in our social and natural environment?

Paul Thibault’s Languaging offers a detailed alternative model of how language works, based on an extensive synthesis of recent and classical research and his own sophisticated insights, with numerous detailed examples and analyses. Part of a larger intellectual movement toward post-representational and enactive accounts of how we deal meaningfully with life, this major synthesis opens up many new avenues for research and inquiry. -Jay Lemke, Professor Emeritus, City University of New York


What it means to become a self in a society of selves? How do we develop the capacity to participate in dialogically coordinated processes of stance-taking in and through our languaging with others? Why is human culture irreducible to subjective structures, individual agency and social interactions as emphasized in postmodernist discourse analytic, social semiotic and socio-linguistic approaches? Why can't human consciousness be explained in terms of natural processes as emphasized in recent brain sciences? What is human consciousness? One can only be impressed by the vastness and immensity of the scope and depth of Paul Thibault’s project as he takes up these tremendous questions and carve out an accessible and convincing exposition that interweaves insights and wisdom from Merleau Ponty’s phenomenology of perception, Gibson’s affordance theory, and Ingold’s process anthropology, among many others, into a theory of ‘extended human ecology’ emphasizing process, flows and movement, in-betweenness and relationality. I highly recommend this book to students and researchers in the language sciences, socio-linguistics, education, anthropology, psychology, neurosciences, artificial general intelligence (AGI), and cultural sciences. -Angel M. Y. Lin, Professor & Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Plurilingual and Intercultural Education, Simon Fraser University


In the 20th century linguistics was completely dominated by abstract objectivism. Since then a paradigm shift has taken place in both theoretical and empirical studies. The new experience-based network focuses on activities and products of languaging in terms of embodiment, temporality, multimodality, heterogeneities, and multi-level sense-making. This book is the perfect guide to these new trends.

Paul Thibault is one of the world´s leading experts in interdisciplinary language sciences, especially spoken languaging. Here he explains the multifarious matters with great clarity. His text is a necessary read for anybody who is interested in following the development of language studies. -Per Linell, Professor Emeritus in Communication (Gothenburg University) and in Language and Culture (Linköping University), Sweden


The modern linguistics of languages, inaugurated a hundred years ago by Saussure’s famous Cours, is principally concerned with theorising about the acquisition and use by human beings of the systems of form-meaning pairings that allegedly permit linguistic interaction among those who have such a system as their shared possession. Latterly it has become ever more obvious that such systems are ultimately the result of metalinguistically organising and regulating the decontextualised products of languaging, as conducted within an interpersonal network or speech community whose members are constrained by societal norms to aim at linguistic convergence, and that although they undeniably exist as the cultural constructs we call ‘languages’, retrojecting them on to languagers as the basis for their languaging is a fundamental conceptual error. As Paul Thibault puts it in this magnificently learned, wide-ranging survey of the prospects for forging a coherent discipline from multifarious nascent attempts to articulate and analyse the ingredients of a linguistics of languaging, "an understanding of languaging and its place in the human ecology requires a new synthesis of biology, complex systems thinking, cultural psychology, ecology, ecological psychology, the cognitive sciences, the language sciences, social theory, and much more". This book will be compulsory reading for anyone interested in contributing to that synthesis. -Nigel Love, Department of Linguistics, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa


In this erudite and provocative book that deepens and extends his decades of discipline-transforming contributions, Paul Thibault cogently argues that relational entanglements connect language, culture, and biology to meaning, action, and affect. His core critique is that a linguistics premised on static formal abstractions is anemic and reductionistic, just as a shadow is to the polychromic figure casting it. In contrast, Thibault ardently argues for a theory of languaging or communicative action that is multimodal, embodied, and integrated across multiple space-time scales. As we have come to expect from Thibault’s prior research, his voraciously broad intellectual horizons allow him to artfully integrate ideas from ecological psychology, linguistics, semantics, philosophy, and distributed language approaches, among others, to create a transdisciplinary paradigm that will inform, and perhaps reform, the epistemogy, ontology, and methodology of the language sciences for decades to come. -Steven L. Thorne, Portland State University & University of Groningen


This book is by a linguist interested in gifts of imagination that lead to mastery of talk and reading. It will guide parents and teachers to enjoy the creative and emotional expressions of children, how they show purposes, experiences and feelings playfully to friends of all ages. We learn language as a tool, crafted to describe purposes and experiences of objects and events in cultural understanding. Two features of human vitality give us these special powers. From birth we use clever hands and voice to tell others stories of imagination in creative projects. And we seek to do this in love with playful friends, imitating and advising what we want to share. We discover ‘facts’ as tricks to possess and to recall what is discovered by our imagination-in-action, the affordances of ‘reality’ for enjoyment. This descriptive, psychobiological approach helps us accept the gifts of children for companionship with emotion. How we share the joys and dangers of life in our special ecology which has accumulated beliefs through thousands of years, remembered as symbols in work and art. Paul Thibault gives us a compassionate guide for parents and teachers, not just an expert review of the science of speaking and writing. -Colwyn Trevarthen, PhD, FRSE, Professor (Emeritus) of Child Psychology and Psychobiology, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, The University of Edinburgh


This is a monumental volume that challenges the received wisdom in contemporary linguistics. The Languaging approach, comprehensively and systematically advanced in the book, emphasizes the living and experiencing process. Through many varied and real-life examples, the author demonstrates how languaging forms an integral part of the human ecology. It is a major contribution to knowledge, with far-reaching and long-lasting implications for language teaching and learning, human cognition and human sociality. -Li Wei, Chair of Applied Linguistics, University College London