Language development from an ecological perspective: ecologically valid ways to abstract symbols

Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi, Iris Nomikou, Katharina Rohlfing, Terrence Deacon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

467 Downloads (Pure)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-73
Number of pages25
JournalEcological Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'Language development from an ecological perspective: ecologically valid ways to abstract symbols'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this