Language, even when taking into Chomsky's hypothesis of the biological ground of 'Deep Grammar', is primarily public: The English language is not built into our minds, it is 'out there'. I come into the world, find language and the use of language and 'learn' this.

But is language an extension of the mind? Isn't it better seen as the medium of exchange rather than part of the mind itself? When I look into myself, I don't see myself using language; when I do it is to write or to talk and then is that no different to thinking about how to use the controls of a tractor when you want it to move in a particular direction?

But when I look at someone else, her use of language, its idiosyncratic expression is so much her, that I would ascribe it to her. But should I say to her personality, but not her mind; that is I should make a distinction between mind and personality?

2 Answers 2


I think the point of the Extended Mind Hypothesis (at least, as laid out by Chalmers, et al.) is to problematize the distinction between "Mind" and "World", and suggest that the line between the two is necessarily fuzzy. Language can certainly be used to argue along these lines, although Chalmers (et al.) tend to use externalized memory as their preferred example.

Note that there are a large variety of ways of understanding this problematic; perhaps the most radical is that of the Buddhist Vijñānavāda (or Yogācāra) school, and their notion of Vijñapti-mātra (Mind-only, or mere consciousness) which argues that it does not make sense to speak of a world outside of the mind.

In any event, the point is that a model where we speak of two completely separate and independent minds passing messages between them is perhaps too simple.

  • Could you say more or link to something wrt your "perhaps too simple"?
    – labreuer
    Jul 21, 2014 at 18:46

The answer i think is no. language is nothing without minds, it is abstract, its manipulation is bought about by the workings of the brain. what you're describing sounds similar to the theory of symbolic mediation described by Vygotsky. The extended mind relates to the way the mind is able to 'outsource' its functions - memory, computation etc, and gives the insight that this means that functionally the reduction of the mind to the contents of the brain is an arbitrary distinction

  • You don't think spoken language is an outsourcing of thinking? Of course minds think, but without the advent of language they cannot communicate. When they learn to do so, it also enhances their ability to think. It seems (to me) Vygotskys analysing the phenomena of learning into its significant constituents and not really addressing the question I'm addressing here, where language in itself, enhances cognition. Jun 16, 2012 at 4:56
  • Vygotsky's work builds on the assumption that culture precedes the individual, and that development occurs from the outside in .. the use of language according to his work involves internalisation of a socially constructed system for exchanging meaning through social collaboration. Language is a socially acquired tool, but it is not an 'outsourcing'. the sense in which i used that word was to use something outside the skull to perform a function which the body/mind usually takes care of. This is not the case with language.
    – Dr Sister
    Jun 16, 2012 at 5:18
  • @Moz: "Of course minds think, but without the advent of language they cannot communicate." Babies have no language but they certainly communicate...
    – pichael
    Jun 16, 2012 at 7:37
  • @pmichael: Good point, but they do have language in a wider sense: semiotics talks about signifying systems as language. Babies cry and chuckle (amongst other things), that is they signify. Also think of how some deaf people use sign language to communicate. Language is not simply restricted to words but in a larger sense is bodily expression. Think of how sometimes the significant thing about what is said is not the words but the tone of what is said, or perhaps gestures that accompany the words. Jun 16, 2012 at 8:56

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