Chapter 9. Language as Infrastructure

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.

—EMILY DICKINSON

Language and the Body

LANGUAGE IS PHYSICAL. WHEN we speak, we’re using our bodies to breathe and create the sound vibrations for articulation, not to mention gesturing and “body language.” When we write, we add to the environment physical information that we assume a reader will interpret.

Broca, the French physician for whom the language center of the brain is named (Broca’s area), argued that we have “not a memory of words, but a memory for the movements necessary for articulating words.”[180] We don’t recall language-expression as a disembodied set of abstracted concepts; it is rehearsed bodily ...

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