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Trends Cogn Sci. 2006 Aug;10(8):370-4. Epub 2006 Jul 14.

Language, embodiment, and the cognitive niche.

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School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, David Hume Tower, George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JX, UK.


Embodied agents use bodily actions and environmental interventions to make the world a better place to think in. Where does language fit into this emerging picture of the embodied, ecologically efficient agent? One useful way to approach this question is to consider language itself as a cognition-enhancing animal-built structure. To take this perspective is to view language as a kind of self-constructed cognitive niche: a persisting but never stationary material scaffolding whose crucial role in promoting thought and reason remains surprisingly poorly understood. It is the very materiality of this linguistic scaffolding, I suggest, that gives it some key benefits. By materializing thought in words, we create structures that are themselves proper objects of perception, manipulation, and (further) thought.

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