Gordon in the News: last updated 06/03/2009

What’s That You Say? International Scholars Gather for Linguistics Conference at Gordon College

June 1, 2009

Jo Kadlecek
Office of College Communications

WENHAM, MA--With support from the National Science Foundation, a group of scholars from China, South Africa, Denmark, Poland and other countries will converge on the Gordon College campus June 4-6 to consider how language is affected by action and space.

The conference, “Grounding language in perception and (inter) action: A Symposium of the Distributed Language Group (DLG),” is the third--and the first on U.S. soil--put on by the DLG, an international grass roots group of scholars from a variety of disciplines (e.g., linguistics, psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, anthropology). The DLG’s primary interest lies “in developing creative and viable alternatives to conventional accounts of language (e.g., formal, cognitive, structural) in linguistics and related disciplines.”

“This meeting will bring together an outstanding group of international and interdisciplinary scholars, exploring new ways of understanding language and how it is grounded in social interactions that are both more physical and more social than we usually appreciate,” said Bert Hodges, professor of psychology at Gordon College and co-organizer of the conference with Stephen J. Cowley, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, who will be presenting a talk on “The language stance.”

“How and why we listen and speak with each other is one of the great mysteries of science, and one of the defining marks of human social life. It is one of those enormously complex skills that we engage in, almost thoughtlessly, throughout a normal day. As scientists, we often try to develop simple models to help us learn about such complex skills,” Hodges said.  “For many years we have tried to see language as a set of processes in an individual brain and following a set of rules. What is needed now, though, are new, more complex models that go beyond individual brains and rule systems to appreciate the physical and social nature of speaking, including its moral dimension.”

The conference will consider language (or conversing) in the context of interaction, action, and perception. Scholars, teaching faculty and selected undergraduate students will explore together how conversing can be understood as distributed, dialogical, and directed forms of interaction, perception, and action.  In the process, participants will learn about alternative ways of studying and understanding language.

A sampling of the talks--which are free and open to the public--include:

  • Aitao Lu, Xuexin Zhang, & Jijia Zhang from the Department of Psychology at Chinese University of Hong Kong & South China Normal University, Hong Kong & Guangzhou, China, will lecture on “Evoking color during language comprehension”;
  • Sune Vork Steffensen of the Institute for Language and Communication at the University of Southern Denmark will explore “Event analysis in distributed health interaction”;
  • Joanna Raczaszek-Leonardi from the Department of Cognitive Psychology at University of Warsaw, Poland, and University of Bologna, Italy, will lecture on “Disentangling influences from multiple time-scales of language dynamics: An example from psycholinguistics”;
  • Bruno Galantucci, from Haskins Laboratories and Department of Psychology at Yeshiva University in New York, will lecture on  “Studying the emergence of human communication systems in the laboratory.”

“Our first conference was held at Cambridge University in 2005 with the theme of ‘Cognitive dynamics in language,’” Hodges said. “In 2007 Agder University College in Grimstad, Norway hosted us in a symposium entitled ‘Language dynamics and the phenomenology of individual experience.’ We at Gordon College are honored and excited to host so many international scholars this year while also showing them the beauty and history of the North Shore. There will be plenty to talk about!”

The DLG hopes to publish papers and discussions emerging from the conference in a special issue of Ecological Psychology and/or Language Sciences.

For more information or a schedule of the conference, please contact the Office of College Communications at 978.867.4752.


Gordon College is a Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston's North Shore. The College offers majors in 37 fields and has graduate programs in education and music education. Leading the way in Christian college merit, Gordon is nationally ranked for its excellence in academics and its role in character building. These achievements recognize Gordon as one of the nation's top Christian colleges.