Does Language control thought?

Last updated: March 10, 2017

An ongoing debate in the field of linguistics is whether language is controlled by thought, or thought by language. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf proposed a hypothesis claiming that a person's native language will control their thoughts and that if a concept is not expressed in one's native language, they will not understand this concept. The case of the Hopi tribe is used to back this theory up. Unlike in western languages, Sapir-Whorf suggested that the Hopi tribe have no concept of time, and therefore, couldn't understand the idea of time. Similar cases have been raised such as the case of the Inuit people who have been documented as having a large number of words for different snow, and as we have no words to describe the different types of snow, we cannot physically understand the distinctions or see the distinctions until they are described to us and given a name. However, Noam Chomsky suggests that all people are born with language rules in their brain and that this is universal. Do we think in words? Can we understand concepts for which we have no name? Does our language control our thought?

Does Language control thought?
Yes because...

Can we understand concepts we don't have words for?

The Hopi Indians and the Inuit people present interesting cases. We can't understand the distinctions that the Inuit's have for snow, as we don't have words for it.

No because...
Not only is this research discredited, but it is argued that thought is conditioned by the society you are in, not by native language.

Does Language control thought?
Yes because...

Do we think in words? Are our thoughts in our native language?

It is also suggested that all our thoughts are in our native language, hence, we can’t understand things we don’t have words for, as we physically can’t think of concepts we don’t have words for.
No because...
Language processing is restricted to a few small areas in the brain; can this really control all our thoughts? Or are they completely separate?

Does Language control thought?
Yes because...

Can our brain/thoughts function without language?

After a stroke, language is often affected. as are thoughts and memories; is this due to thoughts being controlled by language?

No because...
After damage to Broca's or Wernicke's area, the subjects can still understand language and everyday processes.

Does Language control thought?
Yes because...

Surely thought comes before language

Babies and children have thoughts before they can speak or use language.
No because...

Does Language control thought?
No because...

Thoughts for which you have no words

What about the thoughts for which we don't have words? I can't be the only one who wants to express a concept and finds there is aparently no word for it, or none that I know.
Yes because...
Once language is learned, it becomes a filter through which our ability to think and express ourselves must pass.

And yes, we then struggle to find words for ideas which do not conveniently fit in our languages.

Sometimes the words we need are nouns that grow and morph with time and use, like the transition of "horseless carriage" to "automobile" and "car." This moved from a description of an unfamiliar object to something that has become commonplace.

Other times it is a new action that needs a description. Think of "Blogging" having changed from "web log" from "HTML authoring and posting."

Watch your children struggle with vocabulary lessons and observe personally the development of new ways of thinking as new language is developed.

Does Language control thought?
No because...

Visual thoughts

Not all thoughts come in the form of words at all. What about the visual images that arise in the mind? To translate them into words is often difficult or imposible, suggesting these do not arise from a language-based source.
Yes because...

Does Language control thought?
No because...

Surely thought comes before language.

Babies and children have thoughts before they can speak or use language.
Yes because...

Does Language control thought?
No because...

not exactly no, not exactly yes...

Are we clear on an exact definition of the origin of thought? Is it innate, or is it something more mysterious than this or even divine in nature? Still searching for answers, not needing flames. Thanks
Yes because...


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Andrew

The title does not say, “does language control all thoughts?” It just says thought. So is the question asking whether we can think without using a language as the means of thought? It doesn’t specify, but the obvious answer is that words are only representative of concepts, and things which we have a full capability of grasping Without words, if all you knew were symbols, those would be what you used to represent conceps, if you were illiterate, you would think in pictures, i.e. Rock falls down, I fall down, everything falls down, therefore all things go towards the plannet, and this is all understood with the memories of things being dropped and them going towards the ground.
Clearly, knowledge of words which represent concepts are beneficial, but it is not necessarily.

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