But language too is material!

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Language is infused with materiality and should therefore not be considered as an abstract system that is isolated from socio-material reality. Expressions materialise language in social practices, thus providing the necessary basis for languaging activities. For this reason, it makes sense to challenge proponents of orthodox linguistics and others who hold that language can be studied in isolation from its concrete manifestations. By exploring the relation between materiality and linguistic activity, the article extends Malafouris’ Material Engagement Theory (MET) while clarifying the phenomenon of ‘linguistic denotation’. In so doing, it critiques orthodox approaches to language which trace denotation to abstract meanings and/or mental representations. The article shows how the denotative aspects of language can be cashed out in non-representational terms and, furthermore, that the interrelation of denotation and materiality is crucial to human material culture in that it allows for material engagements to transcend localised contexts. These engagements become global in Latour’s sense and, in so doing, denotation ceases to demand descriptions in terms of representations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)169-183
Publication statusPublished - 15. Feb 2019


  • Distributed language
  • Language
  • Linguistic denotation
  • Materiality
  • Phenomenology


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