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Discussion Details

Title: Language and Environment
Submitter: Alexander Kravchenko
Description: Dear Louis,

I'm surprised that you should be astonished at what Andrei Codrescu said
about language in his NPR talk on December 14. In contemporary cognitive
science, which is much driven by the epistemological assumptions of
autopoiesis (Maturana & Varela 1980), language is viewed as biologically
based, cognitively motivated, circularly organized semiotic activity in a
consensual domain of interactions aimed at adapting to and, ultimately,
gaining control of, the environment (Kravchenko 2003, 2006). In other
words, language is distributed across space and time; to view language as
distributed is to identify it with a heterogeneous bundle of events,
processes and material artifacts. An organism and the environment form a
unity, not a union (Järvilehto 1998), the organism stands in a relation of
reciprocal causality to the world (Andy Clark 1998). As components of the
world with which each of us interacts, other human agents (particularly,
their linguistic behavior) are also involved in this relation. Linguistic
behavior (languaging) has a biological function of orienting others in a
consensual domain of interactions, and orientation as a mode of adaptation
occurs every time in a specific physical environment; thus, it is only
natural that aspects of the physical environment should affect linguistic
behavior (from phonology to grammar). In biology of cognition (Maturana
1970), 'everything said is said by an observer to another observer', and
even for this sole reason what is observed by different observers in
different environments finds its manifestation in language(s) – take, e.g.,
the importance of indexicals for the vertical dimension in the languages of
mountainous peoples such as the Caucasians, or different degrees of
vocalism in the dialects of Russian spoken on the plains in the European
part and, e.g., in Siberia.
Basically, this is the issue of linguistic determinism (von Humboldt,
Whorf, Sapir and, importantly, Maturana) which is now experiencing
Renaissance. For some provoking ideas see, e.g., Imoto 2004, 2005. One
should acknowledge their shrewd genius and, as a consequence, agree with
Andrei Codrescu that translation is a fine art that escapes
algorithmization because language is not a code (Kravchenko 2007).

Clark, A., 1997. Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Imoto, S. 2004. The philosophical nature of Maturana's theory of
perception. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 11(2). 12-20.
Imoto, S. 2005. Nothing as plenum: Lao-tzu's Way and Maturana's Substratum.
Cybernetics and Human Knowing 12(4). 107-114.
Järvilehto, T., 1998. The theory of the organism-environment system: I.
Description of the theory. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science
33. 317-330.
Kravchenko, A. V., 2003. Sign, Meaning, Knowledge. An Essay in the
Cognitive Philosophy of Language. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang GmbH.
Kravchenko, A. V., 2006. Cognitive linguistics, biology of cognition, and
biosemiotics: bridging the gaps. Language Sciences 28 (1). 51-75.
Kravchenko, A. V., 2007 (forthcoming). Essential properties of language,
or, why language is not a code. Language Sciences 29(1).
Maturana, H., 1970. Biology of Cognition. BCL Report # 9.0. University of
Illinois, Urbana.
Maturana, H., Varela, F. 1980. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization
of the Living. D. Reidel: Boston.
Date Posted: 08-Jan-2007
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Cognitive Science
Anthropological Linguistics
LL Issue: 18.12
Posted: 08-Jan-2007

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