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?
Can we understand concepts we don't have words for?
Do we think in words? Are our thoughts in our native language?
Can our brain/thoughts function without language?
Surely thought comes before language
Thoughts for which you have no words
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.