[Colloquium] Coupling for Life: Evolving Linguistic Complexity in the Dialogic Niche

Every living organism faces ultimately the same problem: how to avoid decay into thermodynamic equilibrium (death). According to Schrodinger (1943), the organism solves this by "continually sucking orderliness from its environment".  Evolution has discovered many different ways of life, each defined by a strategy for coupling with the environment to extract order and information from it. Yet the human way of life is unique in the variety, novelty, and rapidity of its coupling strategies, as reflected in the diversity of languages, cultures, and practices. Cultural accumulation has given us unprecedented power to shape our own adaptive niche, as we collaborate to solve the novel coupling problems posed by each new environment. To learn the "secret of our success" (Henrich, 2016), we must ask how human hypersociality (Tomasello, Carpenter, Call, Behne & Moll, 2005) motivates us to couple our attention, emotions, thoughts, and actions with others, as we enact the "extended mind" that makes cultural accumulation possible (Clark, 2008). But an extended mind must have efficient and embodied ways of coupling its cognitive work across the minds and brains of collaborating individuals (Abney, Dale, Louwerse & Kello, 2018; Abney, Warlaumont, Oller, Wallot & Kello, 2017; Dikker, Wan, Davidesco, Kaggen, Oostrik, McClintock, Rowland, Michalareas, Van Bavel, Ding & Poeppel, 2017; Hasson, Ghazanfar, Galantucci, Garrod & Keysers, 2012; Hutchins & Johnson, 2009; Kolodny & Edelman, 2018; Silbert, Honey, Simony, Poeppel & Hasson, 2014). This leads to my central question: How does language help humans create new ways of coupling for life?

            In this talk I draw on evidence from naturally occurring conversation (Du Bois, Chafe, Meyer, Thompson, Englebretson & Martey, 2000-2005) to argue that what makes the human way of life possible is our unique capacity for rapid, reversible "soft" coupling through language. In human life, coupling operates on at least four levels. (1) Conversational collaborators couple their words, thoughts, emotions, bodies, and actions through a variety of Dialogue Engagement Strategies, grounded in dialogic resonance (Du Bois, 2014). (2) Out of the dynamic flux of discourse, strategies that work are abstracted, reified, and grammaticized as linguistic and sociocultural constructs. (3) These constructs are invoked by participants to mediate coupling with both the material environment and the social environment. (4) The evolving grammar supports discourse plasticity, which in turn allows the emergence of new forms of linguistic complexity within coupled structures, fostering the development of creativity in social and cultural life. In the end, human life and language are mediated, and evolve, through strategies for coupling in the dialogic niche.

References
Abney, Drew H., Dale, Rick, Louwerse, Max M. & Kello, Christopher T. (2018). The bursts and lulls of multimodal interaction: Temporal distributions of behavior reveal differences between verbal and non‐verbal communication. Cognitive Science 42(4): 1297-1316.
Abney, Drew H., Warlaumont, Anne S., Oller, D. Kimbrough, Wallot, Sebastian & Kello, Christopher T. (2017). Multiple coordination patterns in infant and adult vocalizations. Infancy 22(4): 514-539.
Clark, Andy (2008). Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action, and cognitive extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dikker, Suzanne, Wan, Lu, Davidesco, Ido, Kaggen, Lisa, Oostrik, Matthias, McClintock, James, Rowland, Jess, Michalareas, Georgios, Van Bavel, Jay J., Ding, Mingzhou & Poeppel, David (2017). Brain-to-brain synchrony tracks real-world dynamic group interactions in the classroom. Current Biology 27.
Du Bois, John W. (2014). Towards a dialogic syntax. Cognitive Linguistics 25(3): 359–410.
Du Bois, John W., Chafe, Wallace L., Meyer, Charles, Thompson, Sandra A., Englebretson, Robert & Martey, Nii (2000-2005). Santa Barbara corpus of spoken American English, Parts 1-4. Philadelphia: Linguistic Data Consortium.
Hasson, Uri, Ghazanfar, A.A., Galantucci, Bruno, Garrod, Sanford & Keysers, C. (2012). Brain-to-brain coupling: A mechanism for creating and sharing a social world. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 16(2): 114–121.
Henrich, Joseph (2016). The secret of our success: How culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hutchins, Edwin & Johnson, Christine M. (2009). Modeling the emergence of language as an embodied collective cognitive activity. Topics in Cognitive Science 1(3): 523–546.
Kolodny, Oren & Edelman, Shimon (2018). The evolution of the capacity for language: The ecological context and adaptive value of a process of cognitive hijacking. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 373(1743): 20170052.
Schrödinger, Erwin (1943). What is life? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Silbert, Lauren J. , Honey, Christopher J. , Simony, Erez , Poeppel, David & Hasson, Uri (2014). Coupled neural systems underlie the production and comprehension of naturalistic narrative speech. PNAS.
Tomasello, Michael, Carpenter, Malinda, Call, Josep, Behne, Tanya & Moll, Henrike (2005). Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28: 675–735.