PD Dr. Sabine C. Koch, Universität Heidelberg  |    Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Fuchs, Psychiatrische Universitätsklinik Heidelberg   |   Prof.Dr.Cornelia Müller, Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder


Körpersprache von Tanz und Bewegung

Bedeutungsemergenz, Versprachlichung und therapeutische Nutzung

BMBF-Förderrichtlinie "Übersetzungsfunktion der Geisteswissenschaften"


Project Closing Event
17. Herbstakademie






Research Background

“Body knowledge is the basis on which language can rest," (Stern 2007, p. 4). Following Stern body knowledge is the basis of language, concept acquisition and cognition. The field of embodied cognition investigates the connections between motor activity and emotion (Niedenthal, 2007), motor activity and cognition (Barsalou, 2008), embodiment and environment (Clark, 1999), embodiment, metaphors and language (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999) as well as neural processes (Gallese & Lakoff, 2005). Other than the classic amodal theories of cognition, embodiment approaches accentuate the sensorimotor basis and the situational, ecological and organismic limitations of cognition. Embodiment approaches are based on the philosophical phenomenology of Maurice Merleau Ponty (1965) and resonate in the ideas of the American pragmatists John Dewey and William James (cf. Johnson & Rohrer, 2006).

Embodiment approaches in psychology have developed rapidly during the past years (vgl. Schubert & Semin, 2009) thriving on interdisciplinary and neuroscientific influences. However, they have only selectively focussed on the role and meaning of movement and have entirely spared the aspect of body memory. The advancement of these attempts is an important research aim. Different from the classical theories on syntax (e.g., Chomsky, 1957), George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980, 1999; Johnson in 1987) represent the stance that abstract concepts are anchored in embodied and situated knowledge. Linguistic findings show that people speak about abstract concepts, while using concrete metaphors based on bodily experience/sensorimotor primitives (e.g., Cienki & Müller, in press; Müller, in press). More and more findings point to the fact that these metaphors play a central role in our thinking (e.g., Boroditsky & Ramscar, 2002; Gibbs, 1994, 2006, Müller 2007).

In the context of topical speech events, new and adopted metaphors serve in the dynamic conceptualization of experiences (Müller, in press; 2007). Whenever we find a new metaphor for our situation in life, a central aspect is condensed in it. This aspect can also be moved and developed in different directions. In the therapeutic process, the possibility of the development of a central metaphor acquires special meaning: the metaphor can become effective in the healing process of the patient and opening efficient possibilities of change. The process of the emergence of metaphors can be observed prototypically in dance/move­ment therapy, where the patient does not need to use any other material apart from the body.

Many of the links between motor activity and meaning are acquired during in the first three years of life, built from the constant inter-correlation of the sensory canals. Since they are usually inaccessible to deliberate thinking, we have to actively pursue the "Languaging of Movement". Approaches pursuing such Languaging of Movement are grounded in dance (Sheets-Johnstone, 2007; 1999; 2008).

For the purpose of constructing a notation system for dance (similar to a musical notation systems in music) movement analysis (e.g. Laban, 1960; Lamb, 1965) developed differentiated classifications and systematisations of basic movement concepts. Later, instruments of movement analysis were related to psychological and psychodynamic theories (Kestenberg & Sossin, 1979; Kestenberg, 1995). This development culminated in a differentiated theory system tying together movement and psychological meaning as well as psychopathology.

Movement notation systems are used for diagnosis and intervention planning in movement therapy. Yet, the clinical practitioner of movement therapy is challenged with the problem of the communicability of this special knowledge. Translational possibilities of non-verbal therapeutic processes into language and vice versa are searched for.


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Last update: 30.05.2012