Linguistic Bodies

Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, Elena Clare Cuffari, Hanne De Jaegher (2018, MIT Press).



A novel theoretical framework for an embodied, non-representational approach to language that extends and deepens enactive theory, bridging the gap between sensorimotor skills and language.

Linguistic Bodies offers a fully embodied and fully social treatment of human language without positing mental representations. The authors present the first coherent, overarching theory that connects dynamical explanations of action and perception with language. Arguing from the assumption of a deep continuity between life and mind, they show that this continuity extends to language. Expanding and deepening enactive theory, they offer a constitutive account of language and the co-emergent phenomena of personhood, reflexivity, social normativity, and ideality. Language, they argue, is not something we add to a range of existing cognitive capacities but a new way of being embodied. Each of us is a linguistic body in a community of other linguistic bodies. The book describes three distinct yet entangled kinds of human embodiment, organic, sensorimotor, and intersubjective; it traces the emergence of linguistic sensitivities and introduces the novel concept of linguistic bodies; and it explores the implications of living as linguistic bodies in perpetual becoming, applying the concept of linguistic bodies to questions of language acquisition, parenting, autism, grammar, symbol, narrative, and gesture, and to such ethical concerns as microaggression, institutional speech, and pedagogy.



Lisco, S. M. (2020). Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, Elena Clare Cuffari, Hanne De Jaegher, Linguistic Bodies. The continuity between Life and Language. Universa. Recensioni di filosofia, 9, 40–44. (in Italian).

Figueiredo, N. M. (2020). BOOK REVIEW: DI PAOLO, Ezequiel, DE JAEGHER, Hanne & CUFFARI, Elena. Linguistic Bodies: The continuity between Life and Language. Manuscrito vol.43 no.1. 

Budwig, N. (2019). Book Review of Linguistic Bodies: The Continuity between Life and Language by Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, Elena Clare Cuffari, and Hanne De Jaegher, Human Development, DOI: 10.1159/000500176.

Grüny, C. (2018). Ezequiel A. Di Paolo/Elena Clare Cuffari/Hanne De Jaegher: Linguistic Bodies. The Continuity between Life and Language, Journal Phänomenologie, 50/2018, 64–66. (in German).

June 17, 2019, Format: Hardcover.

This book challenges quite a number of received wisdoms. One is that language is a phenomenon that can be studied in a disembodied way. Another is that Marxist scientific theorizing is something of the past. The authors make a compelling (& very erudite) case for the dialectical emergence of language from embodied social interaction. I will be honest: it isn’t the easiest of reads but it does not assume you’ve familiarized yourself with enactivist terminology. If you’re patient with this book, it will be patient with you in explaining step by interesting step how one gets from the body to language without it reducing the latter to the former. If you want to get a good introduction to enactivist thinking without just being lost in a terminological back-and forth, this book is a good starting point applying it to what is its most challenging explanandum: language.



“This is the most complex, deep, far-reaching, and highly nuanced account I have seen of the multiple levels of embodied mind—organic, sensorimotor, and interpersonal—that give rise to, and are in turn shaped by, our linguistic activity broadly and richly construed. Integrating vast bodies of research from multiple traditions and fields of study, this book profoundly explores the way our linguistic capacities and performances emerge through our ongoing embodied, intersubjective, enactive engagement with our material, social, and cultural worlds. We are not creatures who merely acquire and use language. Instead, we are in and through language, constituted and continually re-constituted via our participatory sense-making.”

Mark Johnson – Philip H. Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy, University of Oregon

“This is a book about you, and about us, so it is of high interest. From the outset the authors engage in making meaning with you, as reader, as linguistic body—an exercise in participatory sense-making as you travel along a dynamic terrain that covers topics involving enactive bodies, agency, social interaction, and especially language. There is no better book on the role of language in embodied cognition, the institution of norms, and the formation of communities.”

Shaun Gallagher – Lillian and Morrie Moss Professor of Excellence in Philosophy, University of Memphis; Professorial Fellow, Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia

Human beings are linguistic bodies. Using this guiding formula, the authors of this groundbreaking book chart a path from life to animal bodies to participatory sense-making to language to ethics. A major contribution, this book offers a profound new framework for understanding language and what it is to be human.”

Evan Thompson – Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia


The work was begun in this paper:

Cuffari, E.C., Di Paolo, E.A., & De Jaegher, H. (2015). From participatory sense-making to language: There and back again. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 14(4), 1089-1125. doi:10.1007/s11097-014-9404-9