Word Learning and the Embodied Mind

By Chad Engelland

An examination of the role of ostension—the bodily manifestation of intention—-in word learning, and an investigation of the philosophical puzzles it poses.





An examination of the role of ostension—the bodily manifestation of intention—-in word learning, and an investigation of the philosophical puzzles it poses.

Ostension is bodily movement that manifests our engagement with things, whether we wish it to or not. Gestures, glances, facial expressions: all betray our interest in something. Ostension enables our first word learning, providing infants with a prelinguistic way to grasp the meaning of words. Ostension is philosophically puzzling; it cuts across domains seemingly unbridgeable—public–private, inner–outer, mind–body. In this book, Chad Engelland offers a philosophical investigation of ostension and its role in word learning by infants.

Engelland discusses ostension (distinguishing it from ostensive definition) in contemporary philosophy, examining accounts by Quine, Davidson, and Gadamer, and he explores relevant empirical findings in psychology, evolutionary anthropology, and neuroscience. He offers original studies of four representative historical thinkers whose work enriches the understanding of ostension: Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, Augustine, and Aristotle. And, building on these philosophical and empirical foundations, Engelland offers a meticulous analysis of the philosophical issues raised by ostension. He examines the phenomenological problem of whether embodied intentions are manifest or inferred; the problem of what concept of mind allows ostensive cues to be intersubjectively available; the epistemological problem of how ostensive cues, notoriously ambiguous, can be correctly understood; and the metaphysical problem of the ultimate status of the key terms in his argument: animate movement, language, and mind. Finally, he argues for the centrality of manifestation in philosophy. Taking ostension seriously, he proposes, has far-reaching implications for thinking about language and the practice of philosophy.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262028097 336 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • Nothing comes more naturally to us than reacting to someone's pointing to something or someone: in this marvelous book, with very reliable and readable chapters that draw on ideas from Wittgenstein, Augustine, Merleau-Ponty, and Aristotle, and much else besides, Chad Engelland shows us how central gestures of pointing are to our learning to speak in the first place and thus to our taking part in conversation and indeed to our whole life with language—highly recommended!

    Fergus Kerr

    OP, FRSE, Honorary Fellow, Divinity School, University of Edinburgh; author of Theology after Wittgenstein

  • Ostension by Chad Engelland is a beautiful and exciting book that engages a truly important topic. Engelland is a trustworthy guide; he introduces the reader to an ongoing conversation—carried out by philosophers and also cognitive scientists—that is, finally, about conversation itself and its power to make present a shared world. Anyone interested in understanding the human mind will benefit from and delight in this remarkable book.

    Alva Noë

    Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley

  • Engelland's topic—the conceptual underpinnings of ostension and its role in language acquisition—is a fascinating and timely one that lies at the intersection of philosophy, cognitive science, and linguistics. His book has the virtue of making it amply clear how an adequate treatment of this important topic can benefit from drawing on a broad and diverse range of sources. In navigating the rich philosophical terrain surrounding ostension, Engelland provides a suggestive and useful model for bridging the traditional divide between analytic and phenomenological approaches to mind and language.

    Dorit Bar-On

    Professor of Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Mind, Epistemology, University of Connecticut