A study of language, regarding possible influences on thought?

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A study of language, regarding possible influences on thought?

There is an undeniable connection between thought and language. And as thought is so crucial to our knowledge, a study of our language itself is necessary. This essay examines how our language might affect our thought. In doing so, I shall examine the question, ‘what is language?’.

        So, what is language? Etymologists, those who study language (in how it develops and changes), generally agree that language first started developing thirty thousand to a hundred and fifty thousand years ago. It began when, by an evolutionary chance, the oesophagus moved in human beings. This did two things: firstly it made them very prone to choking (this is often taken as proof that the ability to speak is innate in human beings – for if benefits of speech were not developed quickly this should have died out almost immediately in accordance with the theory of evolution) and secondly it dramatically increased the range of sounds they could produce orally. It is thought that the natural calls animals make – shrieks of alarm to show danger etc – developed and became more complex to form a very basic language. Soon, these developed connotations: variations of alarm calls could be used to convey fear, pain or sadness whilst variations of triumphant calls could be used to show happiness, safety or the location of food. Imitations of the sounds things made also developed: a stream could be indicated by a gurgle, wind by a whoosh and so on. Examples of these two phenomenons continue: laughter and crying is pretty universal in babies whilst young children often refer to police cars as ‘whah – whah’ in an imitation of their sound. Language was further developed, reflecting the need to talk about the speaker’s environment. A commonly quoted example of this is that the Inuit have twenty words for snow. Not only is this debateable – Inuit nouns are formed as in German, where nouns are tacked onto each other – but also, English has at least fifty! However, a better example would be the aborigines of Tasmania who have a separate word for every kind of native tree, over two hundred in total, but do not have a word for ‘tree’. This is because in their environment, all the trees which surround them appear to be drastically different.  It is also said (perhaps somewhat dubiously) that Arabic has approximately six thousand words for camels and camel-equipment. T is doubtless that language is affected in its evolution by our surroundings and our need to communicate about them.

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        The main problems with language can be its vagueness and also the fact that it evolves according to our needs. Language is very vague and words can have myriads of meanings. In the English language, the word ‘set’ has fifty eight non-obsolete uses as a noun, one hundred and twenty eight as a verb and ten as a participial adjective. The Oxford English Dictionary uses sixty thousand words, including abbreviations and symbols, to define it – and ‘set’ is by no means alone. The fact that language reflects its environment means that when someone has an original thought they often ...

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