Relationship Between Thinking & Language

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  • 0:04 Language & Thought
  • 0:29 Language & Cognitive…
  • 2:21 Language & Critical Thinking
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

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.

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