Language and Thought
Introducing the topic
• If think we can‟t think clearly without using
then how about..
- deaf and mute people?
- children two-three years old? Their
language is certainly not adequate enough.
Views of some theorists
• Classical theorists like Plato and Aristotle argued
that the categories of thoughts determine the
categories of language.
• Plato: Thought and language were identical.
• Aristotle: Mankind could not have the same
languages (because all don‟t think the same).
• J. B. Watson: Thought is language; sub-vocal
“think aloud” = speech;
“speak covertly”= thinking.
Two opinions for the prior
The notion of language and thought and their
relation subsequently got divided into two groups
1. Whether thoughts are formed in advance of the
words that we utter.
2. Or whether ideas are formed in terms of the
Language determines thought
• The Eskimo language for snow:
apun= “snow on the ground”,
qanikca= “hard snow on the ground”,
utak= “block of snow” etc.
• An Eskimo child -> more cognitive categories.
• English - camel, Chinese - luòtuo,
Arabic - more than 400 words for the animal.
The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis
The hypothesis in linguistics has two versions:
• The first is called linguistic determinism
(the strong version)
• The second part is called linguistic relativity
(the weak version)
• It is the idea that language and its structures
limit and determine human knowledge or
• Whorf states that language does not only voice
ideas but also shapes them.
• [The child‟s knowledge is socially constructed in
interaction with adults, so child logic develops
only with the growth of child‟s social speech.]
• Speakers of different languages
- perceive the world differently.
- resulting cognitive systems are different.
• Accordingly the mental universe of an English
speaker may be different from that of a Chinese
speaker because they happen to speak different
• Take „rainbow‟ as an example:
perception of colors come from color-naming
influence of the language. All languages do not
divide the colors into the same number of basic
categories. Hence a speaker of a language will
not describe the rainbow in the same way as
English speakers do.
B. Berlin and P. Kay’s experiment in
• Concerned with how speakers of different
languages divide up the color spectrum.
• They used an array of 329 colors, presented to
speakers of 20 diverse languages.
• First, Berlin and Kay found basic color terms in
each language. They then presented to the
speaker of a language and asked to name the
colors and draw lines around distinguishable
• After that, all 20 were asked to mark with an “X”
the most typical example of each color in their
basic color vocabulary. This was called the focal
• The basic color terms were restricted to a small
set of numbers.
• The focal colors are the same across all 20
languages. Like if A had 4 and B six, these 4
closely corresponded to 4 out of the 6 colors
chosen by B.
-many different names for colours (for example:
blue, red, white, light grey, purple, and cyan).
• Tiv (language of New Guinea)
-there are only two words for colour: light and
• Yet both language speakers could distinguish
colours in similar manner.
Contrary to Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
• If there are no constraints on the variation in the
way people think, speakers of different
languages will never see the world in the same
• If language determines thought, people speaking
diverse languages would never understand each
• Control the language that people learn, control
• We cant conclude strictly but little dependency
Another question to think
• Does the fact that a language does not have
separate terms for certain phenomena means
that the users of this language are unable to
distinguish these phenomena from others?
• There are bilinguals among the general
population who can express their ideas freely in
two or more languages.
• Languages borrow words from each other fairly
• Also used in sentence thing, compare with the
Other ways for thinking..
• Pictures and feelings though hard sometimes to
• Deaf people probably "see" more images in their
thoughts. Symbols have a more important role.
• The hypothesis has been largely abandoned due
to limited support all through at its best.
Thought determines language
• Those who believe this would say that cognitive
development comes earlier in the life of children.
• Cognitive categories they develop determine the
linguistic categories that they will acquire.
• An instance that shows that thoughts and
language are closely connected and thought
processes have influence on our language is the
course of a conversation.
Language of thought - Mentalese
• Thinking is done in the form of a silent monologue.
• According to LOTH, thought and thinking are done in a
mental language a kind of 'language' (not a verbal
language) that Pinker calls 'Mentalese', On this model,
the mind functions like a computer, manipulating simple
symbols to produce complex results.
• Mental computations in a symbolic system physically
realized in the brain.