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OstensionWord Learning and the Embodied Mind$
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Chad Engelland

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262028097

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262028097.001.0001

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The Science of Prelinguistic Joint Attention

The Science of Prelinguistic Joint Attention

(p.21) 2 The Science of Prelinguistic Joint Attention

Chad Engelland

The MIT Press

Research in psychology, evolutionary anthropology, and neuroscience provide background empirical support to the philosophical justification of ostension. This chapter also shows where scientific research may be enhanced by adopting a less mentalistic and more phenomenological vocabulary. For example, recent research underscores the importance of an infant's ability to follow the intentions of language speakers in order to learn the meaning of words. The ability to achieve joint attention is typically taken to be thanks to a theory of mind in which the child infers intentions or reads minds. The chapter argues that the same empirical results sit more comfortably with a phenomenological understanding. Children can learn words because of ostensive cues, which work because bodily movement makes intentions manifest. The chapter concludes by distinguishing ostension from ostensive definition and by making the case for the primacy of ostension in first word learning.

Keywords:   ostension, ostensive definition, Bloom, Tomasello, mirror neurons, pragmatics, joint attention, theory of mind

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