Jumat, 21 Mei 2021

Language, Thought, and Culture

The relationship of language, thought, and culture is a topic that is central to psycholinguistics. People throughout the ages have wondered whether speech or language is necessary for thought. Can we think without language? Does language influence culture? Does language affect our perception of nature? Does language affect our view of society and the world?

A.    Four Theories Regarding the Dependence of Thought and Culture on Language

1.       Speech is Essential for Thought.

According to behaviorist - Watson, Skinner, Staats, Liberman, Ryle, Quine. and Bloomfield- thought is a kind of behavior, speech, which originates from speech production. They claim that thought develops as a kind of speech: from speaking aloud, you start to speak sub vocally or make internal articulations, it is this sub vocal or internal speech which is thought. Thus, thought is defined as sub vocal speech or behavior and not something mental, as in the traditional view of psychology. Further, Liberman proposed the Motor Theory of Speech Perception according to which, before we can understand speech, we must first repeat sub vocally or internally what another person has said. Only by this prior motor act can we understand speech. Thought is no more than speech recovery. 

This theory is not correct because: (1) Children having no speech production can comprehend speech and think, (2) Speech comprehension, which implies thought, develops before speech production in normal children, (3) Simultaneously speaking aloud while thinking about something different commonly occurs in everyday life, (4) Telling a lie, (5) Meaning and thought occur without behavior, and (6) Interpreting between languages can be done. 

2.      Language is Essential for Thought

Theorists such as Sapir, Whorf, and Vygotsky hold that the language system, with its rules or vocabulary, is necessary for thought. In this theory, thought was derived from speech production, since it encompasses all of language, both speech production and speech understanding.

We have three objections to raise regarding this theory. They are: (1) Deaf persons without language can think, (2) Multi-linguals are who le persons, (3) Intelligent animal behavior occurs without language. 

3.      Language Determines or Shapes our Perception of Nature

Whorf, Sapir, Korzybski, and others are of the view that one's knowledge of vocabulary or syntax influences one's perception and understanding of nature.

We will raise a number of objections to the theory, these will be under the headings of: (1) Perception, Interest, and Need Determine Vocabulary, (2) Color and Snow Vocabulary, (3) Hopi People and Time, arid Chinese 'Counterfactuals’, (4) Lack of Vocabulary does not Indicate Lack of Concept, (5) Knowledge Overrides Literal Word Meanings, and (6) Multi-linguals' View of Nature. 

4.      Language Determines or Shapes our Cultural World View

Some theorists believe that even if language is somewhat distinct from thought, nevertheless, knowing a language will itself condition and influence one's cultural, social beliefs or views of the world. For example, in the early part of the nineteenth century, Wi lhe1m von Humboldt, who was mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, held that language embodies the spirit and national character of a people. The views of the following theorists are of a more recent vintage, and would include Whorf (quoted in the previous section) and others. 

If these theorists are correct, we would expect to find differences and similarities in such essentials as philosophy, religion, politics, or societal structure to be a function of language. In this regard, we would like to provide objections to these contentions. These are: (1) Same Language Yet Different World Views, (2) Different Language yet Same World Views, (3) Same Language but World View Changes over Time, (4) One Language can Describe many Different World Views, (5) Multi-linguals have a Unitary World View. 

B.     The Best Theory, Part 1: Thought is Independent of Language

1.      Thought is Independent of Language

It is that thought is independent of language, that language is dependent on thought, and that the function of language is to provide a means for the expression and communication of thought.

2.      The Development of Thought Precedes the Development of Language

As thought develops, the child seeks to express those thoughts to others. Through speech understanding the child develops a grammar and finds a means through speech production to provide meaningful speech. The grammar develops as the result of prior thought. So, the correct sequence is THOUGHT→SPEECH UNDERSTANDING →SPEECH PRODUCTION

3.      The Notion of 'Thinking in Language' is a Fallacy

It is often observed that sound forms of words come to one's awareness while one is thinking. It is a mistake, however, to conclude from this that the sound forms themse1ves are thought. Such word forms are merely reflections of some underlying ideas. 1t is thought which determines the selection 0/ word forms. As children, we learn to encode thoughts into language and then into acoustic speech. Because we discover that in order to interact effectively with people, we must be instantly ready to express our thoughts into speech, we consequently develop a habit of converting thoughts into speech at a mental level. It is this mental sound form that we sometimes become aware of when we think. We say 'sometimes ' because awareness is the except ion. For the most part the sounds of words do not come to nine. And when they do, they typically do not form whole sentences. The sound form is not thought itself but simply a reflection of thought. 

C.     The Best Theory, Part 2: Language Can Assist in Conveying New Ideas and Culture

1.       Language may be Use d to Provide New Ideas

     Suppose you are reading or listening this sentence, “'Every July 4, Mao drank Coke and sang the Star-Spangled Banner.' In all likelihood, this sentence and the idea it expresses would be novel for you. If so, then the idea which formed in your mind must be the result of hearing the sentence which we uttered. Concerning that novel idea or though t conveyed by the sentence, it is important to note that it is not the component ideas and relations which are new bu t their unique arrangement. The vocabulary and structure were already known. Thus, novel sentences are created and understood on the basis of what a speaker already know about the language in terms of its syntax and vocabulary, And, if new words are to be introduced, they are explained in terms of old ones.

2.      Language may be Used to Change Beliefs and Values

3.      Language may be Use d to Assist Memory.

     The fact that we have language and can write language enables us to preserve ideas and to build on those preserved ideas. Our thinking is undoubtedly stimulated by ideas we hear in speech and read in writing. Without language, no human group could have developed much of a culture of any sort. It is language that has allowed for the development of modern science, technology, and industry.

However, just as the research with color words shows that having a word can assist memory but does not, in and of itself, affect perception, neither is there any basis for assuming that any of our fundamental categories and operation s of thought have been affected by this development. The thought processes of non -technological peoples, for example, have not been shown to differ in fundamentals from peoples of technological societies. We are all rational and think logically. It should be noted that Aristotle did not invent logic - he discovered its use by people and then wrote about its fundamentals.


    Steinberg, Danny D. 2001.     Psycholinguistics : language, mind and                               world. Pearson Education Limited


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