Language and thought

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Language and thought

A linguistic definition of language is ‘language shapes our ideas, thought processes and experience of the word’ (shape means causally determines and delimits).

There has been considerable interest in the question of the relationship between thought and language and the similarities and differences that exist in thinking between members of different language communities.

One of the earliest attempts to provide a theoretical account of the relationship between language and thought was made by the behaviourists. John Watson, the founder of behaviourism, argued that thinking was nothing more than inner speech. It may be true that most people sometimes engage in inner speech when thinking about difficult problems.

Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that thought was purely linguistic and that the kinds of mental processes which animals or small children engaged in wasn’t really thinking all. He claimed that ‘the limits of my language mean the limits to my world,’ by this he meant that we could only think about and understand the world through language, so that if our language does not possess certain ideas or concepts, then they cannot exist for us.

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Many psychologists argue that language can determine the way we think about objects or events. Others contend that language is not merely a means of expression but actually determines our very ideas, thoughts and perceptions, that is not simply how but what we think and perceive depends upon language.

Among those who adopt this latter view are Benjamin Lee Whorf and

Edward Sapir. They reached very similar conclusions quite independently of each other, but their theory has become known as the Sapir-Whorf Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis or better known as the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis. The hypothesis suggests that thinking depends ...

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