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This website grew out of the conference Grounding language in perception and (inter) action (Gordon College, Wenham, MA, June 2009). It is intended to provide resources for all students, scholars, and scientists interested in understanding language as a fundamentally social, physical, and moral activity rather than primarily as an individual, symbolic, and rule-following system.

The conference has been extraordinarily productive in its outcomes: thus far, two special issues of scientific journals have been published, and a third is nearing completion. (Contents of all these issues are listed in the sidebar.) Furthermore, at least eight research collaborations have emerged from the conference, some of which have already yielded publications.

E C O L O G I C A L   P S Y C H O L O G Y

Hodges, B. H., & Fowler, C. A. (Eds.). (2010). 
Distributed, dynamical, and dialogical: New coordinations for language. Ecological Psychology, 22 (4).


Hodges, B. H., & Fowler, C. A. (Eds.). (2011).
Distributed, ecological, and dynamical approaches to languaging and language. Ecological Psychology, 23, (3).


L A N G U A G E   S C I E N C E S

Language SciencesHodges, B. H., Steffensen, S. V., & Martin, J. E. (Eds.). (in press).
Caring and conversing: The distributed dynamics of dialogue. Language Sciences.



Excerpt from Hodges & Fowler (2010). Reprinted by permission.

What can be learned about language if psychologists, linguists, and related researchers approach it, not as a closed, idealized, formal symbol system, but as an open, ecologically embedded, physically distributed dynamical system? A range of positions is converging on a distributed view of language, which emphasizes that it is an activity that emerges and is sustained in complex sets of dialogical relationships. The patterns of activity studied by linguists and psychologists emerge in real-time within ecologically situated social interactions, across multiple space-time scales. 

     This issue, and an expected second installment, grew out of a conference, entitled “Grounding Language in Perception and (Inter) Action,” held at Gordon College in June 2009. The three-day meeting was sponsored by the Distributed Language Group (DLG), an international, grass-roots group of scholars from a variety of disciplines

How and why we listen and speak with each other is one of the great mysteries of science, and one of the defining marks of human social life.  It is one of those enormously complex skills that we engage in, almost thoughtlessly, throughout a normal day.  As scientists, we often try to develop simple models to help us learn about such complex skills. For many years we have tried to see language as a set of processes in an individual brain and following a set of rules.  What is needed now, though, are new, more complex models that go beyond individual brains and rule systems to appreciate the physical and social nature of speaking, including its moral dimension.


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RRecent work in complex dynamical systems has begun to clarify the meaning of claims that language is situated, distributed, and dialogical. From the perspective of complex dynamics, the fundamental character of linguistic activity is context-sensitivity and interdependency, rather than rule-following and modularity. The dynamics are interaction-dominant; the phenomena come into existence in a specific space-time configuration, but do not exist before or after in any of the component systems. The skill, knowledge, or ability demonstrated cannot be located in a brain, a body, a set of instructions, a set of cultural practices, an experimental setting, or an evolutionary history.  All of these and more may be involved, but only in the integrity of collective action can they generate the phenomena.

It has been argued that, “contemporary models grossly underestimate the number of temporal scales on which cognitive activity is actually assembled” (Hollis, Kloos, & Van Orden, 2008). Dialogical relations are distributed across a vast array of scales; all show interaction-dominant dynamics in which control is distributed, not localized. Research has revealed pervasive, long-range patterns in linguistic performances (e.g., word pronunciation, lexical decisions, semantic categorization). These findings indicate that


Development of this site was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BCS-0843219.  

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

For further information, please contact Dr. Bert Hodges, Department of Psychology, Gordon College, Wenham, MA 01984.