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SPECIAL ISSUE ON Grounding language in action

In this Special Issue, the topic of how action and language are interwoven is regarded from an interdisciplinary perspective. In developmental studies, language has been recognized as playing an influential role in establishing concepts about objects or events. More specifically, labels or words of objects were found to highlight the commonalities between objects (Waxman, 1999) and situations (Choi, 1999), facilitate object categorization (Balaban & Waxman, 1997; Xu, 2002), have the power to override the perceptual categories of objects (Plunkett, Hu & Cohen, 2008) and provide additional information, on which basis infants perceive regularities and orders in actions and events (Brand & Baldwin, 2005; Brand & Tapscott, 2007) and reason about physical events (Gertner, Baillargeon, Fisher & Simons, 2009). According to Gelman (2008), via labels, we transfer expert knowledge to novices. Labels can be, therefore, considered as just another features of objects (Xu, 2007; Gelman, 2008, p. 128).

In robotic systems, however, features of objects and their labels are considered separately as two different sources of information that can be fused in order to achieve a multimodal learning. What is lacking are approaches that incorporate language into the foundations of conceptual knowledge from the beginning. Promising approaches are discussed in neurosciences with motor theories of cognition becoming a highly debated topic of recent research, although they have a long history already (Hickok, 2008). For research in language, the motor theories like the mirror neuron theory of action understanding (Rizzolatti et al., 2001; Gallese et al., 2004; Tettamanti et al., 2005) bear the potential to explain the central problem of reference, which involves the question of how meaning (or a concept) is linked to a concrete object or event in the world. It has been recently proposed that conceptual knowledge is grounded in sensorimotor systems (Kemmerer et al., 2008), i.e. "when a person hears or reads text involving action, there is activation of the motor system in his or her brain, which corresponds to the referential semantic content of the description" (Taylor & Zwaan, 2009: 46). In the current discussions, the exact involvement of sensory and motor processes in conceptual processing is examined (Mahon & Caramazza, 2008; Taylor & Zwaan, 2009). More specifically, at the one end of the implication covered by the embodiment hypothesis, the conceptual content is constituted by the sensory and motor systems. At the other end is the view that conceptual representations are processed symbolically and abstractly, which is a qualitatively different way (Mahon & Caramazza, 2008) and rather separated from (but supported by) the other systems.

The purpose of this Special Issue is to bring together researchers from developmental psychology, developmental linguistics, cognitive psychology and cognitive linguistics as well as developmental robotics in order to enhance research about the grounding process of language and its role in retrospective contribution to the action organization.

Possible topics are:


Katharina J. Rohlfing, Bielefeld University
Jun Tani, Riken Brain Science Institute


Two kinds of submissions are possible:
Regular papers, up to 15 double column pages;
Correspondence papers either presenting a perspective that includes insights into issues of wider scope than a regular paper but without being highly computational in style or presenting concise description of recent technical results, up to 8 double column pages;

Instructions for authors:

We are accepting submissions through Manuscript Central at: (please select "Grounding Language" as the submission type).

When submitting your manuscript, please also cc it to and


31 July 2010 20 August (extended) — Deadline for paper submission
30 September — Notification
15 October — Final version
20 October — Electronic publication
15 December — Printed publication