Language vs. Thought

Does language determine thought, does thought determine language or is the relationship more complicated than this?

If one considers the connection between thought and language, we face the questions whether we think in language, whether those who do not possess language are able to “think”, and the way language forms our thoughts. It is rather complicated question, which regards to the nature of linguistic communication. Scientists usually consider that language is a basic mean by which people transmit the content of their thoughts to other people. The problem is whether that is a right scheme of linguistic communication. The scientists faced with the problem of the relation between thought and language because this common picture of communication makes a certain priority over language. If there is ground to distrust this scheme, then one cannot expect to make a progress with the more simple questions without considering the nature of linguistic communication.

Does language really determine our thoughts? Or, may be, our thoughts determine the language? Research in psychology, philology, linguistics and cognitive science has been recently renewed and discussion about the relations between language and thoughts continues. This question was first raised fifty years ago by linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf— he said that our language strongly affects our experience of the world.

The concept that language forms thought was prohibited for many years. It was mostly because of the common acceptance of the theories of Noam Chomsky, one of the most authoritative linguists of the 20th century. Chomsky suggests that the brain of a human becomes equipped from birth with a certain rules — either universal grammar — that regiments language. As he used to say, a visit of Martian would make to come to a conclusion that everyone on our planet speaks reciprocally indiscriminate dialects of the same language.

Essay Help on Language vs. Thought

The problem of interrelations between language and thoughts are not unique nowadays, there are also a lot of questions which do not have answers. One of them, we think the most interesting: what is actually more important – language or thought? Do we speak because we think or we think because we speak?

Before we start to deal with all that problems, let us revise what language is and what thought really means.

According to Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, language is a connection between thought and sound, and is a way to express thought as a sound. Thoughts have to be well-ordered, and one must articulate the sounds, to occur the language.

Saussure suggests that language is indeed a link between thought and sound, where thought and sound join to create communication. Language comprises the communication of concepts with the help of sound-images from the talker to the hearer. Language is a result of the communication of signs from the talker to the hearer.

The attitude of American linguists Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir we can define as the following: language determines thoughts. This theory does not have any strict proofs. There are a lot of reasons which prove another point of view: thought determines language. For example, sometimes we think about something, but it is hard to remember words, which express it. It means that we can think about something without words at all.

Our language is often equivocal; hence different thoughts can be implied in it. For example, we say: “My mother does not like cooking”. Do we mean that she does not cook at all? Or that she does not spend a lot of time in the kitchen? The meaning of the sentence is not bound to the words. It mostly depends on context. So, to understand what the sentence means, we should possess more knowledge than language itself.

Moreover, there are a lot of thought processes that do not involve language. For example, we feel disgust looking at worms. That is only feeling and thinking and it has nothing to do with the language.

Taking as the aim the recognition of the interrelations between language and thought, we have got to the unknown country, like in “Alice in the Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. Every phenomenon, concerning language or thought, we tried to explain, has got a lot of theories, which can be neither proved nor denied. However, all of them have got something in common. All of them imply correlation between thought and language.

This essay showed that none of these hypotheses, which we had to face, says that thought and language are two substances which exist independently and are not connected with each other. One of them says that thought can exist without language. But there are no proofs that language can exist without thoughts. Hence, we can make a conclusion that, despite of difference of estimation degree of mutual influence of thought and language, all researchers have one meaning in common – isolated sounds become language, only if they execute transfer function of the information by the carrier of thought.

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