Does Language Determine or Limit Thought? Essay
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Life is divided between things that can make you feel, emotions, and things that make you think, thoughts.1 Language is the primary way for humans to express these feelings of thought and emotion. Language can be any form of communication that has a specific meaning which is conveyed to other people.2 With this, we are able to share ideas, knowledge, and skills. But can we express these feelings without language? If so, how can we? If not, then does language fully determine thought and is it the only factor which determines it? This essay will evaluate and answer these knowledge issues to resolve the extent to which language determines or limits thought.
Verbal and written communications are often considered as the main methods to express language. However, facial expressions, eye contact, sign language and many others are also forms of language, non-verbal language.3 But many different questions arise regarding these other forms of communication. Are there different limits on thought using the other forms of communication? Also, are the same factors that limit thought applied to more than one form of communication?
Written language for instance, can include ambiguity, vagueness, sarcasm, metaphors and irony.4 These are all used to create an effect in conveying the message. An ambiguous sentence can have a number of different meanings, therefore different people might comprehend the sentence in a different way from others. Does age play a role in how the sentence is comprehended? Will it be understood the same way by a seven year old as by a thirty year old? These questions often occur when dealing with written language, showing that it can cause limits in thought.
On the other hand, these can also apply to verbal language, if the person spoke without emotion. However, verbal language can include a variety of different tones, volume, pitch, and pauses, which all affect the way it is understood. Even silence can be considered as a language, to display anger towards someone.5 Another example showing sarcasm would be if my father told me that I was a thoughtful son. I might think that I am thoughtful or that I am not. However, do these techniques apply to all people equally? If this was said to me, I will probably understand the true meaning to the sentence, but if this was said to my seven year old sister, she would take the literal meaning of this sentence and think she is thoughtful. This proves that to different people and ages, language can limit their thought to a certain extent.
It has been proven that language might limit thought to different people at different ages, but will this apply to deaf and mute people? Deaf people find it difficult to speak and mute people cannot speak at all. Without verbal language, they cannot express their thoughts, so does this mean that their thought is limited? Their form of communication, mainly sign language, is also a form of language, partly because it has the word language in its name and partly because a message can be conveyed with this method. 6 It is true that they cannot express most of their feelings without verbal language, but their thought is not fully limited as they can still use sign language.
Therefore, although different forms of communication have different factors that limit thought, some of these factors apply to more than one form of communication, like sarcasm applies to verbal and written. But, even though some forms of communication have the same factors that limit thought, one form might be more effective in conveying the message than others, like how verbal can be spoken with a specific tone to convey sarcasm.
There are many ways to communicate to a person and these are all a type of language. Animals do not communicate in words but in different ways. Both humans and animals use a form of communication to express their thoughts. Humans can use many forms of communication such as verbal or written but all animals use a different method. For example, dolphins use echolocation clicks to communicate to different dolphins or detect detailed information from the world around them.8 Therefore, we cannot express feelings and convey messages without language as a form of language is required to achieve this.
Some think language is the main means of thought, as we think with language and communicate using it. This proves that it determines thought as the use of language requires thought and to express these thoughts we require language. The only case where this might not be true is for a sudden reaction. For example, if my father bought my younger sister a toy, she would instantly hug him. This also applies to instant reactions such as a reflex when touching a hot stove. This is because we do not think to ourselves that we should move our hand away from it but this happens instantly without the use of language.
Supporting this view is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which states that language determines thought. But it also states that the individuals thought is determined by their native language, which changes the way the individual interprets and views the world. If so, can someone learn a new language easier if there are corresponding words in their native language? My mother proved this when teaching my daughter some English words. By telling the words in our native language Urdu first, then the corresponding word in English, my sister was able to learn the words quicker. However, some thoughts in one language cannot be expressed equally in other languages.