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What is the relationship between thinking and language?

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is a very important relationship between thinking and language. In a sense, they are codependent upon one another. (That is not to say that language is the only way to convey a thought.)

One can easily speak (language) and not convey a message to be thought about. For example, a person may be saying something to another person who is not paying attention. Here, language is being used, but the one who is supposed to be listening and decoding the language (thought) fails to do so.

Here is another example: one must understand what someone is saying (language) in order to think (thinking) about it. Likewise, one must be able to think (thinking) about what he or she wishes to convey and have the ability to convey it (language).

Think about it this way: you are listening to someone speak in a language which you are unfamiliar with. Because of this, you are unable to process the information that person is sharing. You hear the language, yet you are not able to think about what the person is wishing to convey. You can think, yet you are unable to say anything back (perhaps other than you do not understand).

You can also think about it in this way: In a classroom, a teacher speaks to you about a topic. You take what they have given you (language) and process it for understanding and mastery (thinking). If you do not understand what is being said, you cannot process.

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The relationship between language and thought is one widely debated by philosophers. The particular sub-discipline concerned with this topic is often called "philosophy of language." One major debate within philosophy of language has been whether we think and use words to represent things, or whether our senses generate mental images which are then the subject of thought. Another debate is whether there is such a thing as non-linguistic thought, or whether language is actually a precondition for thought as opposed to a representation of thought. Wittgenstein makes an important point when he states:

The limits of my language are the limits of my world. (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) 

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