Ecological and embodied – dialogical and distributed?: New ways for analyzing the psychology of language learning

Hannele Dufva, Paul Thibault, Dongping Zheng & Saeed Karimi-Aghdam

The colloquium introduces new viewpoints for analyzing learning of languages by discussing issues that have arisen from the recent debates and reconceptualisations of ’language’ and ’cognition’. Accordingly, it is judged timely to ask three significant questions.  First, how should we redefine the focus of the study in language learning research?  That is, where is it that learning takes place – in the individual, or in extended, distributed activity that reaches beyond individuals? Second, how does one conceptualise the object of learning? That is, what does one mean with ’language’? Is ’language’ a system of rules and items to be ’acquired’ or does ’language’ refer to means of participation and engagement in embodied interactivity, a process of languaging where situated, multimodal resources are used?  Third – also highly relevant from the point of view of applied linguistics – what possible consequences might the new views have for remodeling the practices of language education and classroom activity?

The points of view that will be introduced in the colloquium detach themselves from Cartesian and cognitivist descriptions of ’cognition’ and subscribe to ecological, systemic, dialogical and distributed views that similarly argue for the reciprocal and mutually inclusive quality of, e.g., ’mind’ and ’body’ or ’social’ and ’cognitive’.  Hence, language learning can be approached from a viewpoint that expands the scope of research to situated action, or, to interactivity in which the processes are distributed across language users and their environments and in which different timescales can be referred to.

At the same time, the perspectives to ’language’ that are discussed highlight the relational and situated nature of ’language’, its heteroglossia. Accordingly, ’language’ and its varied social and societal contexts are thoroughly interrelated and intertwined.  What does this mean for learning – or the decontextualizing practices of language education? To continue, what does the view of the significance of embodiment entail? Is learning a disembodied practice, are learners rational agents – or embodied ones? Is the language to be learned in the form of an abstract, formal knowledge – or is it something bodily experienced and used, available for learners in different modes and modalities?

The colloquium consist of four papers where different aspects of language use and learning and different research contexts will be introduced drawing on the points of departure discussed above.

  1. Dongping Zheng, Yuanfang Dai, Yang Liu, Daniel Holden & Jared Tomei: Bridging philosophy, cognition, and language education
  2. Paul Thibault: Learning selves, worldly engagement, and functional constraints on social action: Towards a cultural-ecological psychology of learning to language
  3. Saeed Karimi-Aghdam: Feeling second language development in a dark room:  A dialectical dynamic systems theory eye view
  4. Hannele Dufva: What does one need to learn when learning a new language?   Dialogical and distributed perspective