Some time ago, I wrote a post about the relation between thinking and language where I was comparing language practices to computer games, in relation to the inner speech phenomenon. After a short discussion in the comments with Dave from Duck Rabbit here and on his blog, I though I clear up my view on this issue somewhat more…
First, I don’t think that we are thinking in language. I don’t even know what it would mean for one to think in language, or to think in anything for that matter. How does one think in something? The simplest truth is, I think, that we are thinking about things. And those things of which we think usually aren’t words – we are thinking of apples, of playing consoles, the coffee in the cup, our children and so on. And, in general, I don’t need language, to become aware of something. I become aware of something new, and only then I baptize it.
There are however two things to keep on mind in relation to this separation of thinking and language, because I think the situation is little more complex:
1. That we don’t think in language, doesn’t mean that there are non-linguistic thoughts. Same as we don’t think in language, I don’t think that we think in thoughts. I think that ‘thought’ is a name for the sentence through which we are expressing what we were thinking about. So, in that sense, while I don’t think that we think in language, I don’t also think that there are non-linguistic thoughts.
Maybe there is a root of possible misconception. One can easily think in this direction – We are thinking in thoughts. And because thoughts are something which can’t be psychological (namely the same thought can be had both by me and you), and because in its intersubjective form is expressed by language, then we are thinking in language.
2. Being raised in different societies, and taking part in different practices, we become aware of the possibility of some things. We become aware that some things can be done in some way, that some things should be done in some way. Of course, we are not total idiots, so that without other people we won’t be aware of anything, but I think that still, the amount of things that we are aware of because other people shown us those things, or because we happen to be in a society, in which we can observe people using those possibilities, is much much bigger than things that we would be aware of if we were outside of the society. Anyway… one of those things, is the practice of communication. We might see it abstractly merely as language, but it seems to me, it is something which is in general part of almost all social practices. Lot of things that we can do, we can do because of this practice of communication. So, now to my point. Even we don’t think in language, our thinking is about things of which we are aware, including there what we are aware that can and should be done. So, we can say that: a)language as part of the communication is big part of the practices, and on another side b)those practices in big part define how we think about the world (simply because the possibilities we of what can and should be done are related to already established practices in which we learned to take part). Given those things then, it should be expected for the language to be related to a way of thinking. But again, not simply because we think in language, but because language is a big part of practices in terms of which we think about our relation to the world.
So… that’s about it, I guess.