Taking a language stance

Stephen J. Cowley

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    78 Citations (Scopus)


    Linguists tend to view language in terms of forms and their use. For historical reasons, speaking and listening are often ascribed to knowledge of a language system. Language behavior is seen as the production and processing of forms. Others contrast language to man-made codes (see Kravchenko, 2007; Love, 2004). Instead of focusing on forms, language can be conceived of as action and, as such, both dynamic and symbolic (Raczaszek-Leonardi, 2009). History places us in a meshwork where public resources of language, among other things, contribute to games, mashing beans, and watching television. Speaking-while-hearing draws on cultural products (e.g., axes, social roles, pictures, and wordings). As we collaborate, we orient to wordings or repeated (and systematized) aspects of vocalizations that, within our community, carry historically derived information. Pursuing this view, it is argued that hearing "words" is like seeing "things" in pictures. This is described as taking a language stance. To defend the position, it is argued that, first, we learn to hear wordings and, later, to use "what we hear" as ways of constraining our actions. Far from depending on individual knowledge, orienting to wordings makes language irreducibly collective.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)185-209
    Number of pages25
    JournalEcological Psychology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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