To what extent is it possible to have thought without language?

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Rachel Olawumi 12I

“To what extent is it possible to have thought without language?”

The idea that thought and language are intertwined dates back to classical civilisations; however the question has enjoyed much more entertainment since the turn of the 17th century. The great philosophers of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ such as Immanuel Kant and Wilhelm von Humboldt and later contemporary linguists – including Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf -  put forward theories and hypotheses which argue whether or not thought can exist without language.  Even after 400 years the question is still a subject of debate as it were, and commandeers attention from specialists across many fields. More recently (1988) the psychologist Lawrence Weiskrantz wrote ‘Thought Without Language’ which draws on notions of past thinkers and also contributed concepts which have been popular in Western society. In this essay I will be exploring existing ideas pertaining to the debate and giving my own personal response.

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Wilhelm von Humboldt explained language to be the medium of thought whilst Johann G. Fichte understood language as encoding thought. Both readings depict language to be a means of effecting or conveying something, thus implying that the thing is already perceived and dictating that language is subjective to thought. Such definitions would leave no room for debate as the answers lie within the rigid definitions and therefore I would like to clarify my personal definitions of thought and language respectively. Thought is the product of mental activity or mental activity in itself and language is a form of visual and ...

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