What language do you think in? Whether we are aware of it or not, language deeply impacts how we think. In this lesson, we are going to explore that relationship and consider the implications of how language influences the mind.
Language and Thought
When you read, you may hear your own voice read the words, or maybe even someone else’s voice. Your mind is thinking about this on a conscious and subconscious level as you read, which make us realize: language has a lot of influence over your thoughts. How we think and how we communicate are directly correlated, which is something that has astounded scholars for decades. So, how does the language you speak actually impact your mind? Let’s think about it.
Language and Cognitive Development
We’re going to talk about language and thinking in a few different terms, starting with cognitive development, or the gradual development of the brain’s ability to think, make decisions, solve problems, and so on. Humans are not born with language, but learn it over time. This means that language is almost the first thing we ever learn.
Although we may not be able to create words for a few months, our minds start beginning to acquire language from the first time we hear it. Therefore, the way we learn language actually can impact the way we will learn for the rest of our lives.As our minds learn language, that language creates a framework that allows our mind to form consistent and conscious thought. Humans are amazingly self-reflective, thinking about ourselves and our experiences and our very existence. Language allows our minds to process this information in a consistent way. As it turns out, the more language we learn, the faster our mind may be able to work. There’s a reason smart people often seem to have a larger vocabulary: an increased learning of language lets the mind respond more efficiently to various situations.
That same logic is why children raised bilingually may have an easier time learning other forms of information later in life.What’s interesting here is that because humans are not born with language, many scholars assume we aren’t meant to think entirely through language. In fact, most people think, at least to some degree, in images. Thinking in images can change the way that the mind interprets and remembers information. So, is this bad? No.
After all, what is a written language but a consistent system of images? It’s just a different way for the mind to think. That being said, some researchers do believe that an inability to switch between visual and linguistic thinking may be the cause for speech delay in conditions like autism.
Language and Critical Thinking
The more we study language, the more we realize its power. Yes, it provides the framework for our thoughts, but it also provides the framework for our society, values, actions, and beliefs. Let’s look at some examples.First, language impacts the way we interpret a situation and respond to it.
Researchers have long observed a direct correlation between vocabulary and response in diverse social settings. When engaging in professional or academic settings, the individual agent’s vocabulary may adopt more formalistic mannerisms. An alteration in language patterns reflects the need to transition into a new paradigm of thinking. On the other hand, a more normal tone and words are better for social situations. Rather than dealing with lofty and academic ideas, the mind has different things to worry about.
A change of language can prepare a person’s mind for different situations.For another example of the relationship between thinking and language, let’s look at how language influences our perceptions of reality. Imagine going to the grocery store and walking down the ethnic food aisle. What do you expect to find? Enchiladas, stir fry, maybe some curry? How about hamburgers? Most people would not expect to find hamburgers in the ethnic food aisle, but why not? People who eat hamburgers have an ethnicity, don’t they? In this scenario, our use of language divides people into ethnic others, and Americans.Let’s look at this from another perspective. Imagine that you went to a restaurant, only to find it was closed, and someone says ‘well that’s retarded.
‘ The implication is that something retarded is negative. How do you think this use of the word would impact somebody who lives with a developmental disability? We don’t necessarily mean to imply this, but this language implies a system where people with average cognitive skills are good and those without are bad.In this sense, language constructs power, and places us somewhere within that hierarchy. This is something we need to be very aware of. Why does it matter if we use the pronoun ‘he’ to describe any unknown professional? Why does it matter if we constantly associate the color white with good, but black with evil? Language constructs power, and whether we realize it or not, or mind thinks in those terms. Remember, language creates a framework that allows our minds to interact with the world around us, so a framework built on inequalities lets us perceive the world as naturally unequal. Language has been used, often unknowingly, to preserve systems of racism, sexism, and prejudice within many societies.
It impacts the way our minds understand the world. This makes language one of the most powerful tools in the world. Just think about it.
Few things impact both our conscious and subconscious thoughts as much as language. Language impacts cognitive development, or the gradual development of the brain’s ability to think, make decisions, solve problems, etc.
by setting precedents on how the brain will learn. It gives the brain the structure needed to interpret and process information, and may allow the brain to interact more efficiently in diverse situations. The framework created by language also impacts how our minds perceive the world around us, which makes language powerful. A language that contains structures of inequality maintains that inequality. It’s definitely something worth thinking about.