Does Language Shape the Mind? - Paper Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1832 Words
Date:  2022-09-25


For many years, the relationship between thought and language has been a subject of debate. Arguments on this topic began to surface as early as the nineteenth century. The mid-20th century saw the formulation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggesting that people talking different languages speak differently. There has been particular concern about how language influences thought, and if it does, whether there is a difference in thought between persons who speak different languages. This paper discusses various aspects of this controversial topic and seeks to shed light on the relationship between language and thought, as well as the difference that exists between humans and animals in terms of thought and mastery of language. It is clear, from research based evidence that language shapes thought.

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The paper cites theoretical and empirical research from various researched based evidence by renowned authors like Paul Bloom, Frank Keil, Trevor Harley and many more, who dedicated their professionalism to dissecting this subject to its core, to prove the relationship between language and thought. Before digging deep into the subject, there is a need to understand the three keywords: language, thought, and mind. Language is defined as a form of human communication that involves the use of words in a conventional structured way. A thought is an opinion or idea or product of mental activity that occurs in the mind as a result of thinking. The mind is a combination of cognitive faculties like thinking, judgment, perception, and memory.

Given the direct relationship between language and thought, possessing a language is one of the key characteristics that distinguish human beings from all other species. Other animals may be able to communicate, but only humans have language (Li & Abarbanell, 2018). The human language is very unique when compared to communication that is used by animals. Communication used by animals like primates and bees are closed systems, which have a closed count of the probable things that can be communicated. The human language, on the other hand, is very open-ended, and it, therefore, enabled humans to create an unlimited number of utterances based on limited elements (Hazenberg & Hendriks, 2016). This is possible since the human language has its basis on a dual code that has an unlimited count of meaningless components like gestures, letters, and sounds that can be used together to create meaningful units (Li & Abarbanell, 2018). In addition, the existent grammatical guidelines and symbols used by any language are arbitrary, thus acquired through interaction in the social context. On the other hand, animals can only express a limited count of sounds which are generally transmitted through genetics. Moreover, the language humans use to communicate employs both semantic and grammatical categories like verbs to put across complex information (Hazenberg & Hendriks, 2016). The human language is also modality independent, in that it can be passed through various channels or media, with examples including sign and verbal communications. For animals, there only exist a set of elements that only have one particular meaning that remains constant as far as a particular species is concerned. Some animals like parrots can mimic the sound of humans, but they may not really understand what they really mean by the sounds they utter. However, research on whether it is possible to teach animals in a special way is still a novel issue (Burgers & Steen, 2015).

Language shapes our thinking, including the way we see the world. It is also very normal to question whether people who speak different languages tend to think differently and whether learning a new language has an effect on how we think or visualize things around us. Such questions feature in every major controversy about the study of mind. Consequently, many linguists, professors, anthropologists, and philosophers have been engaged in this research, which has important implications for religion, law, and politics (Li & Abarbanell, 2018). For a long time, however, the idea that our thinking might be shaped by the language we speak has been considered wrong and in many cases, untestable. The question of whether language shapes the way we think begins by the simple observation that languages are different from one another in many ways. The languages demand different things from the speakers. For some scholars and researchers, it may appear quite obvious to make a conclusion that speakers of different languages remember partition and attend their experiences in a different manner since they speak different languages (Li & Abarbanell, 2018).

Scholars and researchers on the other side of the debate argue that there is no relationship between language and thought. They claim that the human linguistic utterances are scarce, and encode only some little portion of the information that is available (Lupyan & Clark, 2015). Accordingly, they claim that just because Turkish or Russian speakers do not include similar information in their verbs that the English speakers do does not provide enough evidence that the speakers of different languages do not pay proper attention to similar things. It rather implies that they are just talking or describing them in a different way. It is very possible that all humans notice the same things, think the same way, but talk differently (Li & Abarbanell, 2018).

On a subjective level, different languages greatly differ from each other, which suggests differences in the thoughts of the speakers of these languages. For instance, a monologue English speaker will hear Turkish or Chinese as gibberish (an unfamiliar and very odd noise). This seemingly alien nature of other languages that are foreign to one's language leads to the thought that there have to be some profound variances in the deeper cognitive levels (Burgers & Steen, 2015). Since English is very different from other languages, one can argue that such differences must result in profound differences in the area of cognition. Such a view is magnified by the existent cultural differences which in most cases, have a close correlation to the linguistic dissimilarities. This prompts me to engage various researchers on this subject to help me to expound on the two sides of the argument (Lupyan & Clark, 2015).

Scholars like Harley argue that language shapes thought. In chapter 4 of the book Talk the Talk, Harley takes us through the dimensions of thought and how it relates to language development (Harley, 2017). He defines thought as the manipulation of ideas with a result that enters consciousness. According to behaviorists, thought and language are similar, and thinking is just a subvocal speech (Harley, 2017). Harley explains that the inner speech is a self-regulating and self-monitoring social and intellectual interaction and that it does not have a similar tendency like sounds, which includes a slip of the tongue. Trevor further adds that thought and language are intertwined manifestly. He also addresses the concern whether the development of language depends on cognitive development. There are links that exist between cognition and language. This can be illustrated by the understanding that blind children learn to speak at the same time as children with the ability to see. Trevor supports Whorf's hypothesis that people tend to avoid sexist language since it leads them to make assumptions (Harley, 2017). These words affect the way people think. Also, the language people use shapes the way they think. The linguistic relativism by Whorf suggests that thoughts are enclosed within the confines of the language through which they are expressed, and consequently, the difference in the languages spoken influences the ways of thinking. The Linguistic determinism theory explains that language is a determinant of thought (Harley, 2017).

Bloom and Keil argue that language does influences though, and this is the primary reason why people use language (Bloom & Keil, 2001). They, however, clarify that language does not have any dramatic influence in the thoughts in any other ways apart from communication. It is a common proposition that the language humans learn enables them to picture the external world in distinct categories (Bloom & Keil, 2001). In various domains like spatial navigation and mathematical reasoning, language seems to have some effect, in the specific language that a person speaks. Bloom & Keil cite the example of mental calculation in English vs. Welsh. Language thus plays some role in the way people think and has more influence than just communication (Bloom & Keil, 2001). They however, caution that the existing research does not contest the mainstream thought about language, which argues that it is closely related to vision. The two are excellent tools in transferring information (Bloom & Keil, 2001). For this reason, blind people have more difficulties in understanding some aspects of the human cultures compared to those with the sense of sight, since they lack profound access to pictures, books, and other visible media.

According to Harley (2013), there is ample evidence that suggests that language is very independent of cognitive organization. For instance, infants with no language are able to engage in complex thinking in the sense that they can new languages and may even invent them if need be. In addition, many bilinguals switch between languages when uttering a singles sentence. Also, animals are able to make representations of artifacts, mental states, and space without any linguistic aides. Similarly, there exist compelling evidence suggesting that there is an intimate and organic relationship between thought, culture, and language, and it is upon this proposition that Sapir and Whorf based their arguments (Harley, 2013). He explains that categories of language in most cases form categories of thought. When learning a language, it is necessary to discover semantic correlates that exist in the various sections of speech. This encounter makes it possible for the learner to attach meaning to a new word. Given that grammatical categories are different and unrelated in different languages, people speaking the different languages have cognitive categories that differ from one another. The linguistic regularities form a part of the mixture that creates ontologies. As a result, properties that are language specific usually influence the psychological ontologies in ways that are specific to a particular language (Clarke & Cornelissen, 2014). The habitual use of a language by a particular community may bring about different organizations a person's mental nature about their conceptual world (Burgers & Steen, 2015).

Also on the same issue of how language determines a person's categories of thought, GoldinMeadow explains that infants start their life with the inclination and capacity to differentiate the phonetic and acoustic properties through which languages encapsulate various meanings. Various researchers have proved that children will show some effort (like turning the head) to hear a certain syllable like 'la'. After a period of time has elapsed, the child starts to adjust (the sucking rate reduces to some level). The increased sucking rate may be regenerated suppose the syllable is switched to something else like 'ba'. This illustrates that the baby notices the difference (GoldinMeadow, 2015). Such effects are greatly influenced by linguistic experiences. As humans develop, they are able to reorganize phonetic elements depending on the particular language being spoken. The thought-language relations in a particular perceptual domain are different from those of another domain. This can be illustrated by the existing difference in the hue perception and the speech...

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