John E Joseph BA MA PhD FRSA

Current Research Projects

Language, Mind and Body: A Conceptual History

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Modern linguistics has been shaped by a desire to explain language in terms of the mind. Alternative accounts, connecting language directly to the body – including the brain, the nervous system, the organs of speech production and sense perception, and potentially such extensions as the blind person's white cane – have existed since antiquity and continue to be produced, yet such is the power that the mental holds over academic linguistics that these accounts have been marginalized, ignored and forgotten.

Language, Mind and Body: A Conceptual History delves into such accounts to assess which might have something to offer present-day models grounded in classic mentalism, extended mind, embodied cognition, and 'distributed' approaches in which my cognition extends not just through my body but to yours. The book also examines approaches that have had such lamentable historical consequences that it is worth recalling why a stake had to be driven through their heart.

The second aim is to probe into the problematic mind-body dichotomy itself. How mind is conceived has always been controversial and in flux. In restoring balance with the bodily, the point is not to patch up the dichotomy, but to reassess its power as a frame that encourages seeing language in a polarized way, as something produced by mind or body, shaped by nature or convention, approachable as an individual or a social phenomenon, historically or contemporaneously, innate or learned, arbitrary or motivated, and so on. That has been the direction taken by the rhetoric of linguistic thought, though beneath the surface of polarized concepts can be detected an endless flow of what Bruno Latour calls 'hybrids'.

The third aim is to reconceive some key problems of present-day theoretical and applied linguistics in hybrid rather than purified terms, breaking the mind-body dichotomy down rather than shoring it up. The hope is that this will help cut through long-standing impasses that have led linguists to imagine a single, monolithic paradigm of thought and analysis as offering the most direct path to progress. The penultimate chapter focuses on the distinction between 'concrete' and 'abstract', which relies heavily on the body-mind dichotomy, and although long mired in confusion continues to be treated as straightforward and fundamental, notably in language-based brain scanning research.


  1. Chapter One Purification and Hybrids
  2. Language and 'mind'
  3. In here and out there
  4. Latour's hybrids
  5. Body and mind as hybrids
  6. Nature vs Subject/Society in the study of language
  7. The chapters which follow
  8. Chapter Two Language Incorporated
  9. Mind-aches
  10. Where is language?
  11. Mind, body, cognition
  12. Embodied, extended, distributed, situated
  13. Habitus
  14. Tongue-pains
  15. Language and the nervous system
  16. Chapter Three Language in Body and Mind: Antiquity
  17. Wind/Mind
  18. Logos and nous
  19. Plato's triple mind
  20. Embodying language: Aristotle
  21. Breathing ethnically: Epicurus
  22. Ancient medicine and pneuma
  23. Chapter Four Middle Ages
  24. Christian doctrine: Augustine
  25. Bodies and inner speech
  26. Mediaeval medicine and mind
  27. Angelic language and the illuminated vernacular
  28. Toward empirical knowledge
  29. Chapter Five Renaissance
  30. Continuity in medicine
  31. Answering Shylock
  32. Early modern medicine
  33. Descartes
  34. Neo-Epicureanism from Gassendi to Locke
  35. Chapter Six Eighteenth Century
  36. Hartley's vibrations
  37. Condillac and Rousseau
  38. Reflex, habit and swearing
  39. Reid and Scottish common sense
  40. National genius
  41. Disembodiment
  42. Chapter Seven Nineteenth Century
  43. Empire and Romanticism
  44. Brain localization
  45. Bain's nervous-muscular associationism
  46. Modern linguistics and the Nature vs Subject/Society polarization
  47. Egger and inner speech
  48. Saussure
  49. Native speakers and standard languages
  50. Chapter Eight The (we have never been) Modern Age
  51. Modernism
  52. Behaviourism
  53. Piaget and Vygotsky
  54. Jakobson
  55. Merleau-Ponty
  56. Chomsky and biolinguistics
  57. Embodied cognition
  58. Chapter Nine Abstract and Concrete Language
  59. 'A fool, a knave, a philosopher'
  60. From Homer to Plato and Aristotle
  61. Augustine and Aquinas
  62. Locke and Monboddo
  63. Semites and Indo-Europeans
  64. The twentieth century
  65. Schizophrenia
  66. Chapter Ten Conclusion
  67. Implications for linguistic theory
  68. Implications for applied linguistics
  69. Embracing hybridity


Saussure (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). Pp. xii + 781. ISBN: 978-0-199-69565-2. £30, $55 (hbk).

My book on the life and work of Ferdinand de Saussure is available from, for $45.99 from The book was made possible by a Major Research Fellowship awarded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Books of the Year, Times Literary Supplement, 29 Nov. 2013: "I warmly recommend Saussure by John E. Joseph (Oxford), a lucid account of this great linguist's life and revolutionary linguistic system, pieced together from his students' notes and unpublished papers regularly being discovered in Geneva." - Professor Sir Brian Vickers FBA

Saussure book cover

"An epic biography of the
inventor of modern linguistics"
...The Biographers' Club

Featured on New Books in Language, with an interview conducted by Dr George Walkden of the University of Manchester. (Also on New Books in Biography.)

Highly Recommended by Choice (American Libraries Association), December 2012.

"This is a vastly ambitious biography which leaves nothing aside. It is neither debunking or hagiography. A major piece of scholarship." - Jonathan Culler, Cornell University

Excerpts from reviews

Ferdinand de Saussure: Critical Assessment of Leading Linguists. 4-volume set, ed. with a new introduction by John E. Joseph. London and New York: Routledge, 2013. Published 9 October.

Recently appeared articles and chapters