Routes to Language





Negotiation toward Meaning


Humour and Empathy

Sharing of Models

Likely Emergence:

Homo erectus or H.heidelbergensis

About 1 million years ago


Affective Teaching and Learning



References and other reading

Beckner, C., Blythe, R., Bybee, J., Christiansen, M. H., Croft, W., Ellis, N. C., Holland, J., Ke, J., Larsen-Freeman, D., & Schoenemann, T. (2009). Language is a complex adaptive system: Position paper. Language Learning, 59(Suppl. 1), 1–26.

Christov-Moore, L., & Iacoboni, M. (2016). Self-other resonance, its control and prosocial inclinations: Brain-behavior relationships. Human Brain Mapping, 37(4), 1544–1558.

Cuffari, E. C., Di Paolo, E., & De Jaegher, H. (2015). From participatory sense-making to language: There and back again. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 14(4), 1089–1125.

Edwardes, M. P. J. (2019). The modelled self. In The origins of self: An anthropological perspective (pp. 52–75). UCL Press.

Edwardes, M. P. J. (2014). Awareness of self and awareness of selfness: Why the capacity to self-model represents a novel level of cognition in humans. Selected Papers from the 4th UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference, 68–83.

Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behne, T., & Moll, H. (2005). Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(5), 675–735.


Being aware of self is the premise of negotiation. Edwardes (2019) suggested that self-modelling could be an evolutionary advantage. To create the social relationship maps (SRMs), one must observe the external world from the third-person viewpoint of another individual; but during this process, he does not need to insert the internal self to the SRMs. And when others share their SRMs with this person, he appears in their maps as a third person. When he wants to add himself as an element to the SRM, he must create a third-person viewpoint of himself. In this whole process, both the modelling of others and the modelling of self provide crucial help for people to figure out the social connection. These practices create access for individuals to meaningfully and accurately map themselves into society, even manipulate and deceive those without this ability.


Edwardes (2014) explained that for efficiently transmitting meaning, one must have an awareness of self as an entity, and another awareness of selfness – thinking about oneself as another person. The latter one is the base for modelled selfhood which separates humans from other species. After this modelling, negotiation towards meaning becomes available, and social communication grows exponentially.


Achieving a mutually agreed meaning is a special cognitive skill. Tomasello et al. (2005) proposed that “shared intentionality” is the human-specific cognition, which indicates that people collaborate for common goals while sharing their intentions and psychological states. It provides a foundation for human culture and a unique form of cognitive negotiation in symbolic artefacts, such as language. People can understand and attempt to practice shared intentionality from early childhood.


Beckner et al. (2009) argued that negotiation is a process inside language, a complex adaptive system (CAS). As for “complex” and “adaptive”, multiple language users have been exchanging personal language (idiolects) to obtain a diverse and meaningful communal language, and this interaction introduces constantly changes to both languages. As for “system”, “there are patterns everywhere” (p. 18) such as information and behaviour from cooperation and competition, grammaticalization, etc.


In his study about negotiation with others in society, Christov-Moore and Iacoboni (2016) analysed “self-other resonance” (SR), which is the ability to experience and share when noticing other’s feeling and behaviour. Through experiments, he discovered that when one’s neural system is positively correlated with the level of SR, he is more willing to give and make prosocial decisions. This is contextual and implicit connectivity.


Emphasising the social function and significance of language, Cuffari et al. (2015) argued from the enactive theory that language is a way of living, it works similarly to other cognitive mechanisms which enable humans to make sensible decisions about themselves and their external surroundings. This linguistic sensitivity, along with linguistic bodies and misunderstanding, motivates and regulates negotiation towards meaning.


Zhengyuan Yang, 2020