Language and thought

BBI3215 Introduction to psycholinguistics

Assignment topic: Language and thought

1. Introduction

Language and thought, these are the two distinct abilities possessed by human . These two unique abilities had enabled man to be more superior than any other living things in this world.

What actually are language and thought? Are they closely related?

Language does not exist in a vacuum. We use it for a variety of purpose and it is therefore molded by many factors. As it is used for transmitting ideas, its structures and function must reflect the ideas. Because it must be spoken and understood easily, its structure and function must be within the limitation of our

psychological and processing capacities.

As people from different social and cultural backgrounds are using language

for communication, these forces molds Its structure and function too. But once it is acquired and used, language wields a power of its own. As it is affected and molded by the above factors, so language affects and molds people’s daily lives.

Language helps us to think about something and stops us from thinking of others.

To put this in simple terms, the whole argument is like two sides of the coins. Is it reality , that means the world and the whole experience of living, that gives us the words and the sentences that make up our language, or is it the words and the sentences that are in our language that maks us reality in the way we do? It is a question that is quite difficult to answer.


2. What is language?

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary:-

I language (of a country) is the speech and writing that is used by people of a particular country where as

ii language (of communication) is the device used by humans to communicate with each other. In other word, it is a system of sounds and words used for communicating and to encode and deliver thought and ideas.

iii According to Sociolinguistics written by R.A Hudson 1999, language is a body of knowledge or rules.

3. What is thought?

i According to the Essential Activator, Longman, thought is something that you think.

Ii According to the book ,Sociolinguistics written by R.A Hudson, 1999, the term thought covers a number of different types of mental activity, and lies in the province of cognitive psychology.

4. Language and thought

It seems evident that there is a close relation between

language and thought . Everyday experience suggests that most of our thinking is facilitated by language.

Is there a clear identity between the two?

Is it possible to think without language?

Does language dictate the ways in which we are able to think?


A simple answer is certainly not possible but at least we can be clear about the main factors which may give rise to the complication.

4.1 The relationships between language and thought

Many kinds of behavior have been referred to as thinking, but not all of them require us to posit a relationship with language.

The thinking which seems to involve language is the reasoned thinking which takes place as we as we work out problems, tell stories, plan strategies and others. It has been called “rational? “directed? or

“propositional?thinking. It involves elements that are both deductive and inductive.

For this kind of thinking, language seems to be very important. The formal properties of language, such as word order any sentence sequencing, constitute the medium in which our connected thoughts can be presented and organized.

Let us now turn to the question of LD (language determination).

To what extent, and in what ways, does language determine thought this question is normally answered with reference to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, according to which language determines thought to a very great extent and in many ways.

4.2 What the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has to say about language and thought

The ‘Sapir-Whorf?hypothesis combines two principles.

The linguistic determination (which states that language determines the way we think) and linguistic relativity (state that the distinctions encoded in one language are not found in any other language)


English speakers having one word for carrying things, in contrast with the malay language, where there are different words for carrying things:-

i. junjung (carrying on the head)

ii. Bimbit/pegang(carry for example handphonein the hand)

iii. jinjing (carry for example handbag in the hand)

iv. pikul (carry on the shoulder)

v. tanggung (two person carrying one thing)

most famous quotation that whorf (1940) had laid