Language as a cognitive tool

Minds and Machines 19 (4):517-528 (2009)
The standard view of classical cognitive science stated that cognition consists in the manipulation of language-like structures according to formal rules. Since cognition is ‘linguistic’ in itself, according to this view language is just a complex communication system and does not influence cognitive processes in any substantial way. This view has been criticized from several perspectives and a new framework (Embodied Cognition) has emerged that considers cognitive processes as non-symbolic and heavily dependent on the dynamical interactions between the cognitive system and its environment. But notwithstanding the successes of the embodied cognitive science in explaining low-level cognitive behaviors, it is still not clear whether and how it can scale up for explaining high-level cognition. In this paper we argue that this can be done by considering the role of language as a cognitive tool: i.e. how language transforms basic cognitive functions in the high-level functions that are characteristic of human cognition. In order to do that, we review some computational models that substantiate this view with respect to categorization and memory. Since these models are based on a very rudimentary form of non-syntactic ‘language’ we argue that the use of language as a cognitive tool might have been an early discovery in hominid evolution, and might have played a substantial role in the evolution of language itself.
Keywords Cognitive tool   Computational model   Embodied cognition   High-level cognition   Language   Language evolution
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DOI 10.1007/s11023-009-9174-2
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John R. Searle (1980). Minds, Brains and Programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3):417-57.

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