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How to Do Things Without Words: Infants, utterance-activity and distributed cognition

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Document pages: 23 pages

Abstract: Clark and Chalmers (1998) defend the hypothesis of an ‘Extended Mind’, maintaining that beliefs and other paradigmatic mental states can be implemented outside the central nervous system or body. Aspects of the problem of ‘language acquisition’ are considered in the light of the extended mind hypothesis. Rather than ‘language’ as typically understood, the object of study is something called ‘utterance-activity’, a term of art intended to refer to the full range of kinetic and prosodic features of the on-line behaviour of interacting humans. It is argued that utterance activity is plausibly regarded as jointly controlled by the embodied activity of interacting people, and that it contributes to the control of their behaviour. By means of specific examples it is suggested that this complex joint control facilitates easier learning of at least some features of language. This in turn suggests a striking form of the extended mind, in which infants’ cognitive powers are augmented by those of the people with whom they interact.

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