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Thread: the language instinct

  1. #1
    fated loafer
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    the language instinct

    Hello avid and not so avid forum followers,
    How do yall feel about the relationship between language and thought? Is one possible without the other? Are they connected, meaning are humans capable of thought without language?

  2. #2
    an innate contradiction verybaddmom's Avatar
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    Interesting idea simon,
    i find the aquisition of language fascinating....but as far as the ability to think without language...tough. according to the liguistic relativity hypothesis, the language that we learn not only influences, but also determnes what we are capable of thinking...
    It has been suggested then, that languages that lack a past tense will have speakers that will have a difficult time with the concept of the past.
    I think that theory is much too restrcitive, in that maybe the language that we learn may influence how we think, but we are not definitively restricted by it.

    i think that without language humans are still capable of thought because the thinking that is done in language is actually only one form of thought. there are still imaginal thoughts, consisting of images, and motoric thought, which relates to mental representations of motor movements. So while prepostitional thought is dependent on the symbols of language, it is certainly not the only way to think.

    anyhow, that's just what i think....
    Then we sat on the edge of the earth, with our feet dangling over the side, and marvelled that we had found each other.

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    King of Plastic Spoons imthefoolonthehill's Avatar
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    as demonstrated with our buddy Robert E. Lee. (forum member, not historical figure) Thought processes are NOT required for language.
    Told by a fool, signifying nothing.

  4. #4
    Drama Queen Koa's Avatar
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    (lol fool...)

    This topic is a very 'hot' one among languages freak... I'm not really sure what I think but I guess thought is possible without language... but language is the expression of it...
    To some extent, there muct be some sort of relationship between language and way of thinking, because different languages can express the same concept in many different ways... (for example in Russian there's not really a simple word as 'go', cos when you say 'go' you have to choose between a wide range of verbs which express the direction of the movement (one directione/more than one...) and the way (walking/transport/fly...)... So I wonder how a Russian feels when dealing with other languages...). And often I find a concept can be expressed 'better' in a language than in another... That's why translation can be the most frustrating of tasks... Am i going off-topic? Simon, you're too new to know the goldn rule: don't get me started on languages! (I can also end up becoming an annoying show-off...)
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    Consider an infant, they have thought, but without language formation, that thought is minimal. The thought process grows and develops along with the formation of language, and physical growth.

    When we think in our heads, do we not think in the form of words?

  6. #6
    String Dancer Shea's Avatar
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    Hmmm, if we don't need language, then do animals think? Then again, they communicate but not with languages. Does that mean that they think because they communicate even though they don't have a language?
    Hwt! We Gar-Dena in geardagum,/eodcuninga rum gefrunon,/hu a elingas ellen fremedon!
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  7. #7
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    I think that language may even restrict our thoughts to a certain extent. By formulating thoughts into language it may actually be like filtering thoughts through language. I think I may be touching on another thread I was reading on this forum, but to a certain extent do you guys think that the primary language we speak leads us towards certain opinions, personality, or problem solving styles?
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  8. #8
    freaky geeky emily655321's Avatar
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    That's a good one, Sancho. I agree that language can sometimes be restrictive to thought. Perhaps, however, to linear thinkers (you know, A to B to C kind of thinking) it's easier to think in linguistic terms -- or for people who are oral/aural thinkers.

    I (for the purpose of an example) am *not* a linear thinker. For me, a thought usually forms as a complete concept, like a big Celtic knot - something like a cross between an image and a pure abstract thought. Then, to articulate that thought, I have to follow all the little strands through it and separate it into isolated ideas so it can get passed on to another part of my brain and have language applied to it. And in addition to that, at any one time I have about four different trains of thought going on, but only one at a time can receive the attention of the language center of my brain. (Then, when I open my mouth, watch out, cause they all try to squeeze out at once and I ramble from here to there like crazy.)

    My point being: my learned language skills can't be what dictate what kinds of thought I'm capable of, because I have a lot of thoughts that simply can't be expressed verbally. Sometimes it's like trying to translate the emotions behind a symphony into binary code.

    Another thing to consider is this: Hebrew, for instance, has no words to express abstract ideas; so instead of saying you can "appreciate" an idea, you would use the word "taste" (that's where we get the translation "taste and see the goodness of the Lord" in the psalm). However, that obviously doesn't mean that people for whom Hebrew was their first language were unable to think in abstract terms. After all, we're talking about the people who had the single greatest influence on the theology of the modern world.

    Whew! Sorry (can you tell I get into this topic too? )
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  9. #9
    Drama Queen Koa's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Sancho
    I think that language may even restrict our thoughts to a certain extent. By formulating thoughts into language it may actually be like filtering thoughts through language. I think I may be touching on another thread I was reading on this forum, but to a certain extent do you guys think that the primary language we speak leads us towards certain opinions, personality, or problem solving styles?
    Not really, but as I said some concepts can be expressed more effectively in a language than in another.... It doesnt shape the mind of people, but sometimes you learn an expression in another language that makes you realise that you didnt have such a perfect expression for your thought in your own language.
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  10. #10
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    Imagine how language evolved. It probably developed from monosyllabic noise. Someone somewhere understood an emotion that someone else had when they made a monosyllabic sound. But if that was all there was to it, language would never have developed. So somebody realised the potential of knowing someone else's internal emotional state. That enabled them, after some time, to predict their subsequent behaviour. Once this caught on, a network of communication would slowly develop, until over time, this was formalised into a structured sequence of sound and meaning. Of course, this description is extremely simplified, but generally, this is probably what happened.

    Language is a tool that helps us to abstract and categorise things in our environment. But if it is the case, as Wittgenstein seems to suggest, that language could not develop without a basic knowledge of the existence of other people and their minds, then somehow we had ideas of abstract concepts before language. Is it possible to have abstract concepts without a thought process? If language did develop as I have suggested, then before language occurred, someone 'understood' concepts like 'other people', 'other minds', 'internal states', 'emotions' etc. I find it difficult to imagine such concepts without a thought process occurring.

    However, it is a difficult subject to think about, and as I'm currently suffering from a very bad cold, my thought might not be quite up to it at the moment!!

    AP
    Faith is believing what you know ain't so - Mark Twain

    The preachers deal with men of straw, as they are men of straw themselves - Henry David Thoreau

    The way to see faith is to shut the eye of reason - Benjamin Franklin

    The teaching of the church, theoretically astute, is a lie in practice and a compound of vulgar superstitions and sorcery - Leo Tolstoy

  11. #11
    The Yodfather Stanislaw's Avatar
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    I believe that communication can occure with out thought, However a lack of communication does not mean that there is no thought. For example a picture can communicat a great deal but contains no thought, however a hermit who does not communicat with the outside world still has thought, he just chooses not to communicate.

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    "Faith is, at one and the same time, absolutely necessary and altogether impossible"

  12. #12
    fated loafer
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    I think it's hard to discuss language becuase you have to do it through language, and then you start thinking about your thoughts and whether or not they are in words or pictures or what not, and then there's just total confusion.

    I was reading part of this book by this linguist, Steven Pinker, and he tried to prove that there is a language of thought called Mentalese, inside our heads, that differs from the language of communication. I'm not sure of it's existence but he poses some examples like a man who didn't know how to speak, but was able to grasp concepts like numbers. My question is was the reason he was able to grasp the concept becuase he was communicating that he had grasped the concept, meaning that with learning communication he had learned thought process? But then you have to wonder how the guy survived, and ate, didn't he have to think to find food and shelter, and what happened when he met other humans?

    Does any of that make sense?

  13. #13
    luminous maximus avid_reader's Avatar
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    Language is a way of communicating one's thoughts to another, right ? In that way every thinking being , every being which has consciousness , even a dog or a flea , has some language - some way to communicate to other beings. But what is ultimately getting communicated or understood , is much lesser that what the original thought was. I guess thats the reason why we cant define love , we cant define or convince somebody about God , we cant exactly define ecstasy , joy or utter sadness.
    i think thats why i feel happy when i read old poems . there are words , now deprecated , used to mean some feeling which we just had in our minds ....
    whatever .. hope u are getting what i'm saying !!
    "Che sera , Sera (What will be , shall be)" - Dr.Faustus , Marlowe

  14. #14
    freaky geeky emily655321's Avatar
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    Like so totally, for sure. (See, as I just demonstrated that language CAN exist without thought ) "Mentalese" sounds like overanalyzing the obvious, while simultaneously not grasping the concept at all! Poor Steven Pinker. Perhaps a good percentage of the time people should really be abstaining from language completely and exploring their other ways of understanding the universe, rather than approaching the mind like a foreign language to be translated.
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  15. #15
    in a blue moon amuse's Avatar
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    it's interesting, one of my best friends is from panama, and i took spanish recently; asked her about the 14 different verb tenses in the spanish language and how hard was it to learn english - she said it feels like it's "missing something" that was the only way she could explain it - and she has a degree in english and teaches both languages to high school students. i wish i had some grasp of what she was getting at, because i had never found my native language lacking...but now i do - a sort of "what if?"
    shh!!!
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