Embodiment and Representation

Approaches from European, Asian, African and Ancient American Cultures

by Kerstin Störl (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection 322 Pages


In this volume, questions at the intersection of mental representations and their verbal and non-verbal means of expression are discussed, using embodiment theory as a basis. Focus is placed on establishing interdisciplinary relationships between linguistics, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, cultural studies, literary studies and translation studies. The theoretical reflections are studied in a vast catalogue of different culture-specific phenomena from the world’s most diverse European, Asian, African and Ancient American cultures. The book is divided into three parts: 1. The Relation of Body, Mind and Language, 2. Culture-Specific Concepts and their Linguistic and Ideographic Expression, and 3. Embodiment, Disembodiment, Intercorporeality and Physical Expression.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • The Relation of Body, Mind and Language
  • Overcoming the Dualism of Body and Mind as an Anthropological and Linguistic Challenge
  • Linguistic Relativity in Spatial Semantics: Evidence from German and Korean
  • How “Physical” Should Our Sentence Analysis Be?
  • Rational and Non-rational Elements in Cognitive Processes: A Study of the Andean and Amazonian Cultures of Peru
  • Culture-Specific Concepts and their Linguistic and Ideographic Expression
  • The Representation of Korean Social Space
  • Myth and the Brexit: Irrational Thinking in the Digital Age
  • The Concept of Honour in the Siete Partidas: Analysis of a Legal Text Edited by Alfonso X of Castile 1256–1265
  • Of Monsters, Barbarians and Hapiyñuñu in Peru’s Early Colonial Period: Anthropological Perspective of Concepts
  • Body Parts and their Metaphorical Use in the Bambara Language in Mali
  • The Conceptual World of Tusona Ideographs in Eastern Angola
  • Words and Minds: Mental Representation in Translation and Interpreting
  • Embodiment, Disembodiment, Intercorporeality and Physical Expression
  • Disembodiment or Acting Out Violence as Culturally Variable Concepts: Examples from the Peruvian Andes, Compared to Occidental Culture
  • The Concept of Baptism in the Dances of Paucartambo (Peru): An Analysis of Sensory Perceptions and Social Factors
  • Confessing the Body: Stratagems of Embodiment in Journal d’un corps, by Daniel Pennac
  • Resonance, Intercorporeality and Attunement – Resonating Bodies and the Corporeal Dimension of Sociality

Kerstin Störl


In this volume, questions at the intersection of mental representations and their verbal and non-verbal means of expression are discussed, using embodiment theory as a basis. Focus is placed on establishing interdisciplinary relationships between linguistics, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, cultural studies, literary studies and translation studies. The theoretical reflections are studied in a vast catalogue of different culture-specific phenomena from the world’s most diverse cultures. As an introduction, in the following sections I will elucidate the previous history of the volume, the impulses for the topic, and the structure and the content of the book. At the end, I will give some information about the authors of the different papers.

1. Previous history and impulses

The starting point for the present volume was the “Embodiment and representation” Workshop on International Networking, which I initiated and organized as a university professor at the Institute for Romance Studies at the University of Vienna and as the head of the “Mental Representations” working group from the Berlin Leibniz Society of Sciences. The workshop ran from 7th to 10th November 2019 as a cooperation between the Leibniz Society and the University of Vienna at the Institute for Romance Studies at the University of Vienna, Austria. I am particularly pleased that the results of the workshop have initiated a very fruitful and extensive discussion, and one which can be continued in the context of the new “Interactio: Language, Culture and Embodied Cognition” book series. This volume is the first of the series, the publication of which I am working on with two outstanding scientists: the linguist Prof. Dr. Gerda Haßler and the philosopher Prof. Dr. Dr. Rainer E. Zimmermann.

The “Mental Representations” working group, the “Interactio: Language, Culture and Embodied Cognition” book series and since 2022 also the “Embodied Cognition – Intercultural Perspectives” project of the Munich Institute for Design Science are discussion forums for open questions regarding cognitive elements and their verbal and non-verbal means of expression, in which culture-specific perspectives will be taken into account. Through the creation of interdisciplinary connections between linguistics, philosophy, psychology, neurology, cultural studies and anthropology, interesting new aspects of the discussion emerged at the mentioned conference. The theoretical reflections were studied in a vast catalogue of different culture-specific phenomena, including non-European ones. The following languages and cultures were thematized: Latin, Romance (Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian), English, German, Russian, Greek, Korean, Polynesian (Hawaiian, Tahitian, Maōri), Arabic, Hebrew, African (Bambara, Cokwe, Lucazi) and Quechua, an American language and culture.

The workshop was inaugurated on November 7, 2019 by Ass.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Daniel Winkler, Non-tenured Professor and Vice-Director of the Institute for Romance Studies at the University of Vienna. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Institute for Romance Studies and the Faculty of Philological and Cultural Studies at the University of Vienna for supporting the workshop. Subsequently, Prof. Dr. Dr. Rainer E. Zimmermann, President of the Leibniz Society of Science in Berlin, gave a welcome speech. I would also like to thank the Leibniz Society for their generous support of the event and of this volume. The chairwoman of the student council of the Institute for Romance Studies at the University of Vienna, Ms. Katharina Scheichl, and Ms. Lisa Eberlein from the former student council also gave some opening words. I am particularly pleased that the students were involved in the workshop, through their participation in the lectures and through their written reflections in the courses coordinated with the workshop: “Des concepts linguistiques du sensualisme à la théorie de l’embodiment” (French Bachelor seminar) and “Lengua, embodiment y lenguaje corporal” (Spanish Master seminar), with a subsequent in-class discussion at the Institute for Romance Studies at the University of Vienna (winter semester 2019/2020). The students integrated knowledge from these lectures into their seminar and bachelor theses. I would like to thank the student representatives for their support.

At this point, I would like to give a more detailed description of some aspects of the lectures given at the workshop and the discussions. These were not identical to the articles published here, but gave the initial spark for the topic and contained many interesting impulses for further research. The explanations are based on the oral versions of the presentations and discussion contributions. In the following, I will detail the most important thoughts from the lectures in order to record also spontaneous, unpublished ideas from them.

The lectures began with some fundamental theoretical questions, such as the relationship between language and thought, which has been discussed in Europe already since Greek antiquity. Different scientists examined this in the context of relativism and universalism, and in the 17th and 18th centuries (especially in France) they brought this relationship into the social focus. This happened in the context of the dispute between rationalism and sensualism by the grammairiens-philosophes, who embody, in personal union, the interdisciplinarity between linguistics and philosophy. Until today, the relationship between language and thought has not been fully explained. However, the current discussion is not limited to the two concepts ‘language’ and ‘thought’, but rather includes a whole network of concepts consisting of rational, emotional, sensual and other elements. A variety of verbal and non-verbal means serve to express this network, in the sense of multimodality. In recent years, new findings from the neurosciences have uncovered important information about the processes of cognitive activities. There are also new approaches for researching this problem on the part of cognitive psychology and the theory of embodied cognition.

The first lecture, which the Professor of Linguistics at the Institute for Romance Studies of the University of Potsdam, Gerda Haßler, held, led to very early statements on the embodiment of human cognition from the 17th and 18th centuries. She addressed the question of whether the postulate of a dualism of body and mind and its questioning and refutation have returned throughout history. In the lecture, Haßler sought an answer to the question of how the attempts made in the recent years to overcome the idea of the disembodied thinking, considering it as an error going back to Descartes, relate to the rationalism which still prevails in some theories of language. She also took up the dispute between relativism and universalism.

One advantage of the interdisciplinary workshop was the opportunity to examine topics from the point of view of different sciences. Two professors of Cognitive Psychology, Ulrich Ansorge from the University of Vienna, and Soonja Choi from San Diego State University and the University of Vienna, took up the topic of relativism. Their research focused on whether language affects cognition. They investigated differences in the solving of tasks for visual attention by Korean and German native speakers, and showed that linguistic spatial relation concepts in long-term memory can influence visual attention in search tasks, thus proving the language relativism of cognition.

The Professor Emeritus Rainer E. Zimmermann, a physicist, mathematician, philosopher, historian and literary scholar, also dealt with the Korean culture. In his contribution, the concept of social space was related to the theory of emergent complex systems. The mathematical formalization was methodically merged with the literary hermeneutics, opening the way for developing models which are able to follow the newer conception of “embodiment”. This universal claim was discussed using a local example: the main concepts of the Korean mentality (in the sense of Marc Bloch), as they are expressed in one of the central works of epic prose (the novel cycle “Land” (Toji), from 1969 to 1994 over 16 volumes, from Park Kyong-ni). In this context, it becomes clear that representation here means, above all, reconstruction.

While the first block dealt with fundamental theoretical questions, the second block of this day was dedicated to the direct connection of cognitive elements with the body, with movement and dynamics. The philosopher Stefan Knauß put the following questions at the center of his argumentation: Is affective and non-verbal communication primary and more common than explicit, conscious and rational interaction? What would a social theory that takes the physical dimension seriously look like? To find answers to these questions, he examined the concepts of “flow”, “atmosphere” and “resonance”.

The cognitive scientist Michael Kimmel from the University of Vienna dealt with the physical-cognitive fundamentals of joint improvisation. When dance or martial arts experts create complex common forms in real time and without planning, an overall package of expertise is required, partly beyond the classic representation discourse, as Kimmel observes. Any emergent coordination largely excludes planning, shared task ideas and “mind reading”. Instead, actors react immediately to what another body and situation offer. In this process they stay in tune with the interbodily here-and-now, and remain attentive to possible couple synergies. Kimmel asks what all this means for the current cognition debate between ecologically dynamic theories, which argue with continuous environmental coupling, and conceptualistic approaches. Paired improvisation initially requires sensorimotor real-time coupling and, where it occurs, “higher” cognition often becomes non-classic, meaning minimal, flexible, and dynamic. Therefore, planned action in the classic sense is atypical. Instead, there are “directive” ideas, constraints, field consciousness, and short-term motoric intentions that can still be shaped into the act.

Manuela Macedonia from the University of Linz presented her model of the sensorimotor learning of foreign languages. Behavioral experiments show that gestures, unlike traditional audiovisual learning, increase the number of words learned and that these words remain in the memory for longer. Neuroscientific studies verify that the use of gestures leads to extensive networks in the brain. Additionally, gestures use two memory systems, declarative and procedural memory, which may explain the outstanding ability to retain words that are learned through gestures.

The third and final block of the day dealt with discrepancies in the expression of mental representations in different languages, with translation and interpreting and with the limited possibilities for expression. Wilfried Baumgarten opened this session by bringing aspects of an impressive variety of non-European languages into the workshop, in addition to the little-discussed perspective of translation. He showed how the translator or interpreter can process mental representations which are then reflected in lexical, morphological and syntactic text components and whole texts, and examined the extent to which the translation process requires an objectification of the mental, and whether or within which limits this is possible.

Monika Stögerer from the University of Vienna spoke about anticipation in simultaneous interpreting, a strategy that makes it possible to produce elements of the source text not yet mentioned in the interpretation. This is particularly necessary when interpreting between languages with syntactically asymmetrical structures. She presented her study on the anticipation of verbs in simultaneous interpreting from German into French. Since the verb is usually at the end in German, the interpreter has to anticipate the verb reproducing the text in French, because in French the verb has to appear much earlier in the sentence. Where the verb is supposed to be, it is instead missing. Interpreting requires special cognitive skills here.

The psychological psycho-therapist and mediator Hanna Gaugler also dealt with the “missing word”, but from a completely different perspective. In her lecture, she focused on how the “missing” presents itself. Is there a language of resting, of pause, of nothingness, the rule of lack, of what is missing and yet not? She referred to the unconscious, which “dethrones thinking”. She attributes the increase of burnouts and personality disorders and the “sharp growth of unhappiness” to a “crisis of thinking”. After trauma, overexciting and reproaches, sudden emptiness, stillness, senselessness and silence would occur. The silence is speechless: It is not possible to express it through language. Gaugler illustrated the lack of access to the emotions and to the body, after centuries of conditioning, giving the example of someone who has a feeling of worthlessness and a lack of autonomy. After some previous discussion, contributors stated that rationalism was long dominant in Europe and is still present in society, despite convincing scientific arguments for sensualism and embodiment theory. Gaugler showed the psychological consequences of the rational way of thinking.

Michael Metzeltin, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Didactics of Romance Languages at the Institute for Romance Studies at the University of Vienna and Real Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, opened the first session of the second day of the workshop, November 8th, 2019, with his lecture “How ‘physical’ should our sentence analysis be?” He showed the connection between understanding and the perception of reality, which can only take place through the sensory organs. One can understand utterances in the form of sentences by resolving them semantic-propositionally. Metzeltin presented the model of such a propositional resolution, which allows information to be analytically and visually reconstructed as a series of different situations with their persons, actions, states, places and moments, and to be understood in sequence. He stated that a sentence analysis must be reference-semantic if it is to serve the understanding of sentences: it must simulate the “embodied” visual reconstruction and establish the feedback to the physical reality.

The main research focus of Max Doppelbauer, Doctorate Linguist from the Institute for Romance Studies at the University of Vienna, is theoretical sociolinguistics and multilingualism research. In his lecture, he addressed the individual and the social levels of language, which are inextricably linked. He connected linguistics with the theory of complex systems and explored ways of understanding the phenomenon of language as a complex system.

The two linguistic lectures were followed by contributions from cultural, anthropological and literary studies, which mainly dealt with concepts in Spain and Hispano-America, including those of the indigenous cultures. Kerstin Störl addressed physical violence in her lecture, which not only occurs to ensure survival, but also (according to the perception of many people) for no reason or pointlessly, while the handling of violence is culture-specific. She examined different representations of violence using examples from the Peruvian Andean region, and compared these to phenomena from Occidental culture.

The cultural anthropologist Teresa Valiente Catter thematized concepts of “extraordinary creatures”, also called “monsters”, whose formation, in her opinion, is a mechanism for fostering, maintaining and reproducing a certain political and social order. In cultural contact, these concepts served to distance one from the unknown and thus to create an image of the “other” or that which was “foreign”. According to Valiente Catter, the European conquistadors and colonizers of the 16th century transferred and implemented pictures of monsters, depicted in various sources from the late Middle Ages onwards, in(to) the conquered Andean region. For them, the “Indians”1 embodied the monster, and they called them “barbarians”, “sodomites”, “cannibals”, “idiots”, “blood thugs”, and “hermaphrodites”. They thought of them as dangerous for the social order, and therefore they had to be destroyed. The “Indians”, on the other hand, also had an image of extraordinary creatures that were understood to be supernatural: the hapiy ñuñu, ñakaq, curi, ata, chocalla, etc. They had an ambivalent power and could cause social and natural disaster. The Andean people retuned them by means of rituals, restoring the social and natural order. Valiente Catter showed different views in dealing with the world, the environment and the supernatural world in this cultural clash.

With the next lecture, the discussions remained in the 16th century and in the Hispanic language area. The Hispanic and literary scholar Simon Kroll addressed sound symbols in Spain’s “Siglo de Oro”, especially the sound semantics of the Calderonian assonances. The theater culture of the Spanish Baroque has produced a very unique relationship of sound and language, music and literature, in which the pure sound of words addresses both emotional and highly conceptual levels of language processing. Kroll explained the phenomenon of sound meaning with the help of current approaches from neurolinguistics and the embodied cognitive sciences.

The first block of the third workshop day, November 9, 2019, was about emotions and feelings. The first speaker was Imke Rajamani, a specialist in Indian history. She gave a lecture on the subject of “Emotional Translations”, which she had investigated from 2011 to 2018 at the “History of Emotions” research area of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. She presented a model developed with Margrit Pernau: the inscription of the body and the senses in an expanded concept of ‘notion’ by considering three emotional translation processes. With reference to the latest neuroscientific and emotion-historical findings, the model abolishes the dualisms of cognition and emotion, thinking and feeling, and proposes an exploration of concepts as multimedia and sensually composed semantic networks.

Petrea Lindenbauer, Romanist and linguist at the University of Vienna, spoke about two special feelings: shame and dignity. She initially “located” the state of <feeling> induced by brain activity within the sensorimotor coordination of the complexly functioning body. She dealt with the interdependencies of the feelings of physical processes, cognition, consciousness and language in order to propose a definition and a classification of feelings (e.g. differentiating them from emotions). The second aspect of her contribution was the thematization of the phenomena of shame and dignity along their (detectable) historicity, comparing these cultural meanings with those of the present. She next analyzed (as a third aspect) the different nuances with which the two feelings are conceptualized in different cultural / mental spaces. Using selected examples, especially taken from Romance languages, she also treated the various lexicalizations of this conceptual field.

Kati Krüger Delgado, who wrote her Doctoral thesis at the Humboldt University of Berlin about the current language situation in Cuzco (Peru), referred to the town of Paucartambo, which becomes the centre of one of the most expressive symbolic festivals in the country every July. Thousands of people celebrate the “Mamacha del Carmen” (‘Virgin of Carmen’) festival. Of the various cultural forms of expression, the dances reflect the strongest trust and devotion of numerous believers, with Catholic and Andean elements entering into a symbiosis. Krüger Delgado specifically examined the baptism of new dancers, which is performed as a welcome ritual. Using the embodiment theory, she analyzed sensual perceptions and cognitive concepts that come into play through the dynamics of the baptismal ritual.

The final session of the third day of the workshop was dedicated to various African cultures. The cultural anthropologist and Associate Professor at the University of Vienna, Gerhard Kubik, opened with “The Conceptual World of the Tusona Idiograms (Angola)”. Tusona ideograms are representations, often of a complex mathematical structure, drawn wordlessly in the sand by experts in the Eastern Angola cultural area (Cokwe, Lucazi etc.) and then explained to an interested audience in the ndzango (‘meeting house’) by the draftsman. Unfortunately, this graphic and philosophical tradition has largely disappeared today due to the civil war and population shifts, but the lecturer could still document it from 1965 to 1973 as a participating ethnologist. The tusona tradition is of great importance to the cultural, psychological and linguistic research of cognitive systems in the thinking of older, educated people in non-European cultures.

Erwin Ebermann, Senior Lecturer at the Institute for African Studies at the University of Vienna, discussed the Bambara language of Mali. In it, body parts intensively appear in metaphorical use, where they are combined with specific adjectives, verbs and attributes to achieve finer differentiations for attitudes, properties, feelings and behavior. Metaphorical uses, which appear in similar forms in many languages of the world, are recognizable, such as the association of “head” with ‘will’ or ‘thinking ability’, or of “heart” with ‘courage’ or ‘feeling’. Other “body parts”, such as “(body) shadows”, are more closely culturally bound to metaphorical usage, and are symbolic of concepts like ‘unconscious fears’.

Cornelius Griep, a Hispanist and information scientist, who completed an interdisciplinary PhD in Spanish and Mathematics at the Humboldt University in Berlin, spoke about information structures in West African shamanism. His focus was on the use of regression models for the multimodal representation of scientific results and the application of mathematical modeling techniques to predict changes in examined (sociocultural) structures. Using the example of West African shamanism, he showed how traditional structures of knowledge, ways of life and values were specified as mental representations by heuristic methods, “stored” in mathematical units and thus preserved for posterity. This has happened over centuries through various diaspora processes. A sign language serves both to preserve information and capture the possibilities of a universal predication of basic concepts. The people of the oral cultures analyzed kept this knowledge alive through stories and fables, and the priest shamans fulfilled the task by calling up these collective information structures when required and applying them to individual circumstances. With a change of external (cultural, social, linguistic) conditions, the shaman’s ability to cognize was required in order to make these structures detectable through appropriate interpretations and adapt them to the respective society. Using computer techniques, Griep analyzed these information structures, which show how priest shamans were both carriers of abstract mathematical knowledge and pioneers of new times.

The feature film “Angelo” closed the session of this day. This film focuses on the life of Angelo Soliman, who was abducted from Nigeria and taken to Austria in the 18th century. He lost the mental concepts he had acquired in Africa, and was forced to replace them with European ones. Walter Sauer, professor at the Institute for Economic and Social History at the University of Vienna, gave the audience an introduction to the film and led the film discussion at the end. His main research interests include the history of Africa, colonialism and the reception of Africa in Austria. In particular, he researched about Angelo Soliman, and was thus able to provide expert information on him and shed light on the relationship between reality and fiction in the film.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (December)
Cognition Concepts Culture Body Language
Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, New York, Oxford, 2023. 322 pp., 21 fig. col.

Biographical notes

Kerstin Störl (Volume editor)

Kerstin Störl was a Professor for Romance Languages and Regional Studies at the University of Vienna from 2018 to 2020 and is currently a non-tenured professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin. She teaches, researches and publishes in the fields of Linguistics and Romance, Latin American, Ancient American and Cultural Studies. Using a cognitive approach, she investigates the linguistic and cultural contact between Spanish and Quechua, and regularly conducts field research in the Peruvian Andean region of Cuzco. She works with interdisciplinary methods, taking into account selected philosophical and psychological aspects. Kerstin Störl is the initiator and co-editor of two series of books for Peter Lang International Academic Publishers.


Title: Embodiment and Representation