, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 235-262
Date: 02 Jun 2012

The Linguistic Subversion of Mental Representation

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Embedded and embodied approaches to cognition urge that (1) complicated internal representations may be avoided by letting features of the environment drive behavior, and (2) environmental structures can play an enabling role in cognition, allowing prior cognitive processes to solve novel tasks. Such approaches are thus in a natural position to oppose the ‘thesis of linguistic structuring’: The claim that the ability to use language results in a wholesale recapitulation of linguistic structure in onboard mental representation. Prominent examples of researchers adopting this critical stance include Andy Clark, Michael Wheeler, and Mark Rowlands. But is such opposition warranted? Since each of these authors advocate accounts of mental representation that are broadly connectionist, I survey research on formal language computation in artificial neural networks, and argue that results indicate a strong form of the linguistic structuring thesis is true: Internal representational systems recapitulate significant linguistic structure, even on a connectionist account of mental representation. I conclude by sketching how my conclusion can nonetheless be viewed as consistent with and complimentary to an embedded/embodied account of the role of linguistic structure in cognition.