Language comprehension: archival memory or preparation for situated action?

Barsalou, L. W. (1999) Language comprehension: archival memory or preparation for situated action? Discourse Processes, 28(1), pp. 61-80. (doi: 10.1080/01638539909545069)

Full text not currently available from Enlighten.


Current paradigms study language comprehension as if archival memory were its primary function. Participants only receive linguistic material and are later tested on memory for its contents. In contrast, the 2 target articles in this issue—Glenberg and Robertson, and Roth—examine comprehension as if preparing for situated action were its primary function. Besides receiving linguistic materials as input, participants study objects, actions, and interactions among agents. Rather than simply being tested on memory for linguistic materials, participants also produce actions and enter into group interactions. Although these researchers focus their attention on specific genres—the comprehension of verbal instructions and the comprehension of scientific theories—their methods and findings have wider implications. In particular, the primary function of comprehension is not to archive information but is instead to prepare agents for situated action. Arguments from the evolution of cognition and language are brought to bear on this thesis, and perceptual simulation is proposed as a mechanism well suited for supporting situated comprehension. Finally, it is conjectured that studying comprehension in the context of situated action is likely to produce significant scientific progress.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Barsalou, Professor Lawrence
Authors: Barsalou, L. W.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Psychology
Journal Name:Discourse Processes
ISSN (Online):1532-6950

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record