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The philosophy of cognitive science reading group will host Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi for a virtual talk on her 2018 paper, Language Development From an Ecological Perspective: Ecologically Valid Ways to Abstract Symbols. Individuals interested in attending the talk need not participate in the reading group, but will need to register to receive a link to the Zoom webinar.


Learn more about the philosophy of cognitive science reading group.


In the embodied, situated, enacted and distributed approaches to cognition, the coordinative role of language comes to the fore. Language, with its symbolic properties, arises from a multimodal stream of interactive events and gradually gains power to constrain them in a functional and adaptive way. In this article, we attempt to integrate three approaches to information in cognitive systems to provide a theoretical background to the process of development of language as such a coordinator. Ecological psychology provides an explanation for how any behaviors or events become informative through the process of “tuning” to affordances that control individual and collective behavior. The dynamical approach helps to operationalize this control as a functional reduction of degrees of freedom of individual and collective systems. Cognitive semiotics provides a typology of constraints showing their interrelations: it proposes conditions under which informational controls that function as indices and icons may become symbolic, providing a qualitatively different form of constraint, which can be partially ungrounded from the ongoing stream of multimodal events. The article illustrates the proposed processes with examples from actual parent-infant interaction and points to ways of verifying them in a more quantitative way.

Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi, Iris Nomikou, Katharina J. Rohlfing & Terrence W. Deacon (2018) Language Development From an Ecological Perspective: Ecologically Valid Ways to Abstract Symbols, Ecological Psychology, 30:1, 39-73, DOI: 10.1080/10407413.2017.1410387



Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi is a professor in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Warsaw. She has research interests in:

  • embodied and diffused cognition,
  • language as a system of social coordination,
  • application of the methodology of research on dynamical systems in psychology,
  • history and philosophy of cognitive science.

Learn more about her research here.

Image credit: Little girl writing on a chalkboard. by Nenad Stojkovic (license)

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