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An Overview of the Relationship Between Language and Thought

Laura Langford, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Laura Langford

    Laura Langford is a nationally Certified Health Education Specialist. She has a Bachelor's degree in Health Education and Health Promotion from Arizona State University, where she also works as an Academic Associate.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

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

Learn about the relationship between thinking and language. Identify the difference between language and thought, and learn about cognitive development. Updated: 07/08/2022

Table of Contents


Relationship Between Thinking and Language

The relationship between thinking and language is what psychologists have been studying for decades. How an individual thinks is directly correlated to their language. Thinking is a cognitive process that allows an individual to make connections and develop meaning for the world around them.

Language is a system of communication that involves sounds, gestures, and symbols. Language provides the framework for an individual's conscious and subconscious thoughts. It also provides a framework for society, values, and beliefs.

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  • 0:04 Language & Thought
  • 0:29 Language & Cognitive…
  • 2:21 Language & Critical Thinking
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What Comes First: Language or Thought?

There have been many debates regarding what comes first, language or thought. According to research, thought comes before language. A child is born with the ability to think about objects before they learn language. Although thought comes first, the language an individual speaks influences their mind and ability to interact with the world around them.

Different languages often have different views on the world. This occurs because languages often use different genders, tenses, and case systems. For example, the French and Spanish languages attribute gender to objects, and the Hopi language does not use past or present tense.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development is the gradual development of the brain's ability to think and make decisions. In children, cognitive development includes the development of language and thought. Cognitive development begins early in childhood, generally from birth to age 5. During this time, children process information by observing and interacting with others.

Language and cognitive skills are strongly related. Although a child cannot form words for several months, they begin to learn language from the first time they hear it. How a child learns language can impact the way they learn throughout life. Strong language skills are often associated with strong cognitive skills. Another way information may be processed is through visual thinking. Visual thinking, also known as picture learning, is the process of organizing thoughts through visual images. This process of learning is common to some degree in many people.

Developing Language

Children are not born with language; however, they are born with the instinct to learn language. Language is acquired over time through interactions with others. Children learn language in stages. Although children may reach the stages at different ages, the order of the stages remains stable. Researchers have found that newborns are familiar with the sounds that will become their native language.

In the early stages of language development, a child will cry and make sounds. Around four to six months, the child will begin to babble and say single-syllable words. Around twelve to eighteen months, the child will start to say their first words with meaning.

Between eighteen months and two years, the child will start to put words together and form short sentences. Between three to five years, the child's vocabulary grows extensively, and they begin to have conversations about their thoughts or feelings. By eight years old, the child can have entire conversations. Birth through puberty is considered a critical time for language development.

The development of language is vital because language allows the mind to form consistent and conscious thoughts. The more language a person learns, the faster their minds may work. This allows the mind to adapt more quickly to various situations. Regarding what comes first: words, thoughts, reality, or perception, it has been discovered that thoughts come first. Thoughts come from neural processes in the brain and are influenced by language, society, experiences, and the environment. An individual's thoughts can influence their reality and perceptions.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the relationship between thinking and language?

Thinking is directly correlated to language. Language provides the framework for an individual's thoughts, as well as for society, values, and beliefs. The language a person speaks has an influence on their mind and how they view the world.

Is thought determined by language?

Thought is not determined by language; however, language does provide the framework for an individual's conscious and subconscious thoughts. A person is not born with language, but they are born with the ability to form thoughts.

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