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Thread: Language and Thought

  1. #1
    Senior Member Alonely is just really nice Alonely is just really nice Alonely is just really nice Alonely is just really nice Alonely's Avatar
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    Default Language and Thought

    I read up on something interesting today and it made me think. Now, all of the topics I am about to go off on are ALL DEBATABLE. Please don't state the obvious such as, "Well, not everyone may think that."

    Let's start from a subjective point.

    What makes the human brain so special? The answer is most obviously "intelligence". Intelligence is a good thing. But does anyone ever consider what the benefit of intelligence is?

    Evolution does not make investments that are long-term. When a child is born into a family with slightly greater intelligence than his/her siblings, that intelligence must translate into immediate benefits for that individual child. If that person doesn't have a better chance of surviving and reproducing, then the trait doesn't have a chance to spread through the gene pool.

    So what does intelligence offer?

    No one can argue that intelligence is bad. We all know it's a good thing. We all respect intelligence. It makes everything better. But there has to be something identifyable about intelligence that makes it so great. What is its exact function? What is one part of intelligence that we can understand and talk about without feeling as if we're talking about something as hopeless as time?

    Language. It isn't a notion such as intelligence. It is a behavior, and not something one can brag about, really, since everyone has their own language. It's something you do, not really something you think about.

    Language is actually a smoothly rampable trait. The opposing case is provided by flying, which has some steep steps in the sequence from walking to flying, steep steps that have been difficult to figure out. But language can smoothly develop from grunts to Shakespeare. Language was like a trail of breadcrumbs laid out in front of evolution's donkey: each step upward was obvious and quickly taken, even for a dumb *** like evolution.

    So let's grant that language was the big driving force in the development in the brain. So what?

    Consider the development from the human brain from birth to adolescence. During this time the brain grows a lot, and thought processes form. This is also the primary time for language learning. We learn our native language even as our brains are developing.

    The point I'm trying to get at is that the language acquisition and brain development seem to be closely associated.

    This brings us to a very, very old and debatable question: what is the relationship between language and thinking? There are two extreme positions, as there is in everything. The first is that language is identical to thinking. Heck, we think IN our language. The process of framing our thoughts in languages is the same thing as the act of thinking. Basically, "If you can't say it, then you don't know it!" The second extreme is that language is completely independent of thinking and that our thought processes proceed according to some mysterious inner process and, when completed, are translated into language.

    These are the extreme positions, and very few are completely inclined towards one or the other. The truth seems to lie somewhere between these extremes. But where? The most this girl can say is that language and thought are intertwined. Many of the same neurons that process language are also used for conscious thought. It therefore stands to reason that the logic of the language that we learn in childhood will affect the logic of our thoughts. Let's make that our first conclusion. I'll come back to it in a bit.

    Now if I may be so bold as to call this next part I'll talk about "The Logical Structure of the Universe". Unfortunately, I'm not about to reveal the logical structure of the universe, 'least until I get a copyright on it. Bill Gates is lurking out there somewhere anyway. But for the time being, I will talk about a single aspect of the logical structure of the universe: the division between object and action.

    Everything in the universe can be perceived as either an object or an action. It's rather like the wave-particle duality in quantum physics that my brother is currently into: everything can be described as either a wave or a particle. Of course, some phenomena are easier dealt with as waves, and others as particles, but there's no fundamental reason why we must treat any given phenomenon as one or the other.

    A star is a good example. A star is just about the biggest single object in our universe. There is nothing "objectier" (lorf) than a star. But, if I so choose, I can describe a star as a process. After all, can't a star be described by its processes? What about connecting the gravitational pressure inward, the radiative pressure outward, the energy generation in the core of the star, and the energy radiation at the surface of the star? They all determine the state of the star. Should they go out of balance, the star ceases to exist; in special cases where they go seriously out of balance, the star blows itself in a million tiny pieces. So, is a star an object or a process?

    Let's go to the small side of the size scale. In fact, let's look at a hydrogen atom. That's an object, composed of an electron and a proton, right? Not necessarily. There's a complete equation for a hydrogen atom that defines the relationship between an electron and a proton as a "hydrogen atom". So, is a hydrogen atom an object or an action?

    Now we get personal: let's talk about you. What are you, object or action? Are you nothing more than bone and muscle, blood and sinew? Or are you (excuse my lingo) homeostatic equilibrium, blood pressure, acetylcholine jumping across synaptic clefts, hormones from the pituitary gland entering the blood stream, and so forth? Even deeper into the subject, are you mind or body? Are you your physical body, or are you integrity, love, vulnerability, desire, and so forth? What are you?

    In almost every human endeavor, this fundamental duality between object and action reflects itself. In software (which my father specializes in), we talk about data (object) and process (action). The hardware manifestations of these are RAM (for data/object) and the CPU (for process/action). A CPU with no RAM cannot function. RAM without a CPU does nothing but collect dust. Moreover, the duality reaches right into the structure of the program; any programmer can adjust any program to be more data-intensive (taking more RAM but generally running faster) or more process-intensive (taking less RAM but generally running slower).

    The grand universality of object/action duality extends even further. In physics, don't we talk about boundary conditions (objects) and equations (actions)? In language, we have nouns (objects) and verbs (actions). Now we're getting a bit closer to the point.

    Consider the following question: to what extent might a language emphasize nouns over verbs or vice versa? The answer is that this is a purely subjective matter; theoretically, a language might put a large amount of emphasis on one or the other, and it should still work just fine, because after all, the universe can be approached in either object-intensive style or action-intensive style and either way works just as well. Obviously, there are certain situations where an object-heavy style might be clumsy, just as there are certain situations where an action-heavy style wouldn't work well, but, in principle, you can do it.

    And, in fact, we see that languages do embrace a variety of styles. There's an Australian language that is quite verb-heavy; the function of nouns is taken by gerunds. For example, in the Australian language, there is no word for "person" or "man"; instead, there is a term roughly equivalent to "human being".

    Another example is provided by Latin. I've been studying Latin lately as part of my never-ending language interest, and the verb plays a much larger role in the Latin sentence than in English. It's not just that verbs are conjugated in all sorts of complicated ways; they're scattered around the sentence in all sorts of supporting ways. Consider this elegant pair of sentences upon which I stumbled:

    "Verum si fieri non potest ut omnibus probemur, hoc interim me consolator ferbe probamur a probatissimus. Et spero futuram, ut quod nunc placet optimus mox placeat plurimus."

    which translates to:

    "If it is not my destiny to find favor with everyone, I am consoled for the present by the reflection that almost universally I am well regarded by those who themselves are best regarded. And I hope that at some not distant time that which now pleases the best of men will come to please the majority of men."

    Now, let's go back to those two versions and pick out the noun parts and the verb parts. I'll underline the verbs and place the nouns in bold:

    "Verum si fieri non potest ut omnibus probemur, hoc interim me consolator ferbe probamur a probatissimus. Et spero futuram, ut quod nunc placet optimus mox placeat plurimus."

    "If it is not my destiny to find favor with everyone, I am consoled for the present by the reflection that almost universally I am well regarded by those who themselves are best regarded. And I hope that at some not distant time that which now pleases the best of men will come to please the majority of men."

    The point of this exercise is that English is a more noun-heavy language than Latin. I will go even further and say that, as languages go, English is fairly noun-heavy. I can't substantiate this claim from direct experience with many languages (even though I've had much experience with many languages, who will ever believe a 14-year-old female about such matters?); perhaps some linguist in the readership may wish to comment on my claim. But I certainly have the impression that English puts more horsepower into its nouns than into its verbs.

    Here's another demonstration of my claim: I went through the previous paragraph, counting all the words in the noun phrases and all the words in the verb phrases. I came up with 42 noun-words and 13 verb-words. Moreover, most of the verbs are pathetic weaklings such as "is", "have", and "puts" whereas the nouns boast such colorful words as "horsepower", "exercise", "linguist", and "impression".

    The time has come at last to draw together the point of this thread. We have three main points to consider:

    1. The language that you learn in childhood exerts a powerful influence on your thought processes.

    2. Every language establishes a balance between its object-terms (nouns) and its action-terms (verbs).

    3. English emphasizes its nouns.

    The conclusion, then, is that all you native English-speakers out there have thought processes that are biased towards objects and away from actions. Isn't that interesting? I think so.

    As far as we English speakers are concerned, a chair is an object with four legs, a seat, and a back. We don't consider it "something you sit in". We like describing things.

    So, which do you believe more? Thinking is tied with language, or language is completely independent from our thought? Probably somewhere in between, right?
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  2. #2
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    i think that is a great theory
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    100% Vitamin C Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan has a reputation beyond repute Ami~chan's Avatar
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    Wow, that's a whole lot of text ^__^ Some very, very well research and well-put thoughts indeed.

    Thought and language are two seperate things; they work well together, but can also work well apart. Do you think animals, such as dogs and cats, think like we do? To an extint, maybe. They get burned, they think "pain". While they don't think the word "pain" they now can associate fire to pain. Humans are the same way; I know not to stick my hand in the fire because it will hurt! However, dogs and other animals are not intelligent like we are. We'll never truly know how animals think, but that is besides the point.

    Different people think in different ways; I myself think in photographs. What do I mean? Everything I think, I envision as a seperate photo. Some people think in words. And I'm rather convinced some people don't have a thought process at all ^^

    But it's one of those things you really can only theorize about and have an opinion about. Any facts remain in the dark about this particular subject, really.
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    The conclusion, then, is that all you native English-speakers out there have thought processes that are biased towards objects and away from actions. Isn't that interesting? I think so.

    Yes it is. I believe that is true. I mean think about it... If I think the world 'cat' for instance... a picture comes to mind deatails... not what a cat does or how it acts but how it looks... but that is just me.


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    I cannot believe i just read that whole thing...

    The way I see it is that language has to be intertwined with thought, for without thought is it even possible to think? Our modern english language comes from the evolution of older languages, the catalyst being a combination of slang-evolution and thought, and in this case, even slang comes from thought because one must think about how to alter a word so that the origin of the word is clear to the audience and therefore they know what the slang-word means. Slang begins to take over a language, and over a several hundred year period, the language will develope into a new language, such as Modern English from Middle English from Old English, all of which are fairly noun-heavy languages as you mentioned, in comparison to Latin, which is a verb-heavy language, proving that the development of these languages from A to B to C is based off of a basic concept and alphabet, although the words themselves change and have new meaning.

    So yes, language is tied with thought.

    "The color fades along the intervals I follow."

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    wow! that was so long... and i quite agree to ami.. that is a whole lot of text and well researched too.. good job!
    language and thought are two very different things... but they like said.. are two things tied together...

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    That seems to be the consensus... that they indeed do relate to each other. But I myself also think that language is heavily associated with thought. Although, language isn't the simplicity of spoken or written word, itself. Language exists on the tongue, in the brain, the morning shows on PBS, the graphic nature of news... your relationship with your dog "Buster", the whisper on the breath of wind, animal noises... even the slap from your little sibling or the warmth of a mother's hug. The languages we are capable of understanding are not limited to words. We can also conjugate the meaning of action, and while its intended interpretation could be right or wrong, that fact remains that we inevitably react to what we do, think and say. In fact, I'm willing to bet that everything that can possibly be conveyed between individuals works in greater part due to unspoken word, eye contact and body gestures, with environment and actual words making up the rest; all of these are tied so closely as to prevent them from being disincluded from the scope of "language". Animals could be included in this, because we are capable of understanding them.

    What I'm trying to get at here is that we're all a product of our childhoods. Maybe you've listened to classical music as an infant, grown up playing football, or played with dolls. Which of these upbringings would be most likely to foster profanity? The bets rest with that star receiver in the high school team, but it is possible that there could be a nurturing force at home that supresses the need to curse vulgarly. (if it's even possible to curse like that. o.O) If you'll excuse the bland nature of my words, it's the difference between heroics and villiany that dictates how a person should allow himself to be led by these languages.

    So really, there isn't a guideline to how a person would use all forms of language to fortify his personality. It is rather what a person does with these interpretations of these languages that causes him to think in a certain way, even if those interpretations are verifiably false. A person will still react (in-action can also be a reaction, or in-action could mask thought) to the language, even if he lacks the true understanding of what is being conveyed.

    You had many plausible arguments to substantiate your query, so I enjoyed answering this. ^_^ I suppose it would be easier for us as "english-speakers" to objectify, but I think it serves to get the point across more efficiently in communication. Evolution does have a provision for efficiency as well. The last two sentences concern another point, however... and I've already had my words on the matter at hand.

    EDIT: Typoed. x.o;
    Last edited by Lucidian Dyne; 10-02-2005 at 02:24 AM.

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    Senior Member Alonely is just really nice Alonely is just really nice Alonely is just really nice Alonely is just really nice Alonely's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ami~chan
    Thought and language are two seperate things; they work well together, but can also work well apart. Do you think animals, such as dogs and cats, think like we do? To an extint, maybe. They get burned, they think "pain". While they don't think the word "pain" they now can associate fire to pain. Humans are the same way; I know not to stick my hand in the fire because it will hurt! However, dogs and other animals are not intelligent like we are. We'll never truly know how animals think, but that is besides the point.
    Now, excuse my questioning view, but isn't that instinct? I mean, don't the people raised by animals do everything by instinct? I'm not sure if it's been proven or not, but my intuition tells me that what they're doing is a matter of animal instinct and not really thinking. It seems only logical to me: since they were raised by animals, their natural instinct slightly changes to be the same of what they are around, even though they weren't born with it.

    So wouldn't it be the same for animals? Instinct?

    I don't know, I'm just proposing an interesting question.
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    sorry i like to answer your theory very well, and your right...but my brain is locked now, i'll answer you later, i know the answer its just my brain.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alonely
    Now, excuse my questioning view, but isn't that instinct? I mean, don't the people raised by animals do everything by instinct? I'm not sure if it's been proven or not, but my intuition tells me that what they're doing is a matter of animal instinct and not really thinking. It seems only logical to me: since they were raised by animals, their natural instinct slightly changes to be the same of what they are around, even though they weren't born with it.

    So wouldn't it be the same for animals? Instinct?

    I don't know, I'm just proposing an interesting question.
    That is not an instict, rather, it is learning from the past. If an animal steps into fire it will be hurt, and becuase of that pain, it will no longer attempt to step into fire. Although our language is learned from the people around us at an early age, if a person were to live alone with say, wolves, from birth, the human would understand the wolves' language becuase that is what they were brought up around. although the wolves do not have an alphabet or words, they have sounds which allow one wolf to understand another.

    "The color fades along the intervals I follow."

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by DarkTwilight
    That is not an instict, rather, it is learning from the past. If an animal steps into fire it will be hurt, and becuase of that pain, it will no longer attempt to step into fire. Although our language is learned from the people around us at an early age, if a person were to live alone with say, wolves, from birth, the human would understand the wolves' language becuase that is what they were brought up around. although the wolves do not have an alphabet or words, they have sounds which allow one wolf to understand another.
    Main Entry: inĚstinct
    Pronunciation: 'in-"sti[ng](k)t
    Function: noun
    1 : a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason
    2 : behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level

    I'm pretty sure that under this context, learning is one of the driving forces behind instinct. But the definition also states that animals do this by means of impulse; they associate feelings with objects because it is how they learn, but they react to what they've seen or felt because it is instinctive. Because it happens a certain way over many times, (animals, I'm sure, can't facilitate learning through a single instance in more complex peer-environment situations) they immediately associate a pattern with that stimuli because they will expect it to happen the same way time and time again. Thus, learning drives instinct.

    Let's take a cat for example. Is Mr. Kitty supposed to be walking on the countertops, looking for food scraps? No. But he doesn't yet realize that, because Mr. Kitty is still a young'un. When you go to force him off the counter, you are conveying to him, "That's not a place you should stand!" He may not understand that you could be angry or just looking out for his best interests. However, he has learned that it is wrong to stand on the counter. Now, it wouldn't be wrong to say that we as humans expect them to stay off the counter because we've been trying to get them to understand that. But we yell at cats for doing it because we figure, they should know better by now, shouldn't they? Instinct has told them that, through prior repetition, you getting up from your seat to take them off the counter is a given, and they will promptly jump from the counter. They react to what they interpret, but because they've only been guided in one direction, they will only react to such things as prescribed. They won't know all the ins and outs as to why they shouldn't stand on the countertop; they only know one reason, and that's you coming after them in a huff. Instinct. When they begin to associate things to objects and repetitive action -- learning -- they will apply it and use it for the next time it happens -- instinct again. Instinct will always prevail over learning, because it is the greater of two modes that more or less ensures its comfort and survival.

    It wouldn't be too grand of a statement to say that animal instinct is the equivalent to human intelligence on their own scales. As it pertains to communication, it's what we do that counts, because it is something that we can understand beyond words.

  12. #12
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    Gil
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    Great theory smarts=language and language=thoughts as well as smarts.
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    What about mutes. They simply use sign language (most of the time) to communicate with other people. They wouldn't really know the words or hear them in their own mind-- they'd simply know it visually, yet they are still intelligent people. I'm not sure if that statement was completely off subject... I'm not really well-versed in the matter. But I don't agree with language meaning intelligence.

  14. #14
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    i think language may help with intellegence but i dont think they equal each other
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    About the whole thoughts=intelligence thing, I think it is very true. I mean just because you don't speak in an intelligent manner doesn't mean you don't have the potential to. Depending on what someone is thinking they will obviously have different views on things. So its really hard,I think, to tell if someone is intelligent. It all comes down to who is right and who is wrong.
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