Sunday, August 23, 2009

Language and Thought

What comes first, language or thought?

If thought comes first, how is it interpreted subjectively before words are known to express the thought? For example, if a baby wants a ball, they might perceive a visualization of the ball in their hands, when in fact it is several feet away from them. Then, as they begin to learn a vocabulary, words replace the image—"I want ball!"

But if language comes first, that would imply that learning language governs our thought processes; that our ability to think is dependent on the language we have. Back to the ball example, the baby may not even know they want the ball until they have learned the words "want" and "ball"; not that they could speak them per se, but that the thoughts in their head are expressed as these words. This second option would suggest a great deal about our ability to think, create, and invent, and even to learn new languages. It is rather difficult to learn a new language when your thinking patterns are expressed solely in the originally learned language.