In this article by Smith and Gasser, one of the lessons concerning the development of embodied cognition that we can learn from babies is how language provides us with the opportunity for abstract thought. Smith and Gasser believe language may be the basis for all symbolic reasoning, including mathematics. It is argued this happens in four steps. In the first step, the child learns to associate individual words with specific objects which they identify by shape. The second step is when the child can recognize similarities between objects within the same category – again, distinguished by shape. For example, this object is round like that ‘ball’ over there, so this must also be a ‘ball’. This leads to the third step, or ‘second order generalization’ where the child realizes any novel object may belong to a category which contains similarly-shaped objects. Finally, in the fourth step, the child learns to attend to the shape of an object in order to learn its name.
It is interesting that Smith and Gasser’s account of language includes very little about the body. In fact, despite including a previous section dedicated to multi-modality, Smith and Gasser’s argument seems to be that babies primarily learn language through visually recognizing shapes and associating them with sounds. However, if we are to take previous sections or ‘lessons’ in the article as true (Be multi-modal, Be incremental, Be physical, Explore, and Be social), then in the first step the baby would not only identify a specific object by its shape. By the time the child is physically and perceptually developed enough to understand language, he or she is already experiencing the world as an active and engaged, multi-modal subject. A ball would not be identified through shape alone (which, it could be argued, is already a geometric or mathematic concept rather than the factor in identification which underpins language development which, in turn, is said to underpin mathematic concepts) but also colour, texture, taste, smell, etc.