Wittgenstein published a short book in 1930, entitled Philosophical Investigations. In this book he looks at language as a series of ‘language games’. These consist of guessing riddles, giving orders, cursing, greeting praying etc. Wittgenstein argues that one can use these forms of language provided that a set of predetermined rules is used. In this he explains the rules behind all human forms of language. However, this caused me to ask the question, what role does language play in one’s thinking.
Do we in fact use these ‘language games’ in our thinking also, and do we therefore have ‘thought games’ to describe our thought patterns, or do we simply translate thought into language so naturally that we are unconscious of the process. These are the issues I will attempt to examine in this essay. As a child, we form the basis of our language through linking words to objects. We therefore realise through others calling a plant a plant or a spade a spade, that a spade is in fact called a spade.
In this way, we link a picture of an object, action, feeling etc. to a word to describe the thing in question. This results in a mental link between the picture and the word. However, if we can only think in language, how would a child with no language be able to think? If we allowed the child to grow up in a language-less world, would he be unable to think, or would his thoughts be simpler or more complex. I believe that we can’t take the example of a baby too far as much of the things done by a baby are reflex and therefore do not involve thought.
However, the issue of whether a person living without communication due to being deprived of language surrounding it when growing up is an interesting one. Surely a person without language can’t be considered to have less complex thought than one who does. It could even be said that his thought, although unintelligible to others may be more complex as it is not inhibited by the limits of language. The question that one must now ask is if this man cannot think in language, then what form would his thoughts take.
This question may have three different solutions, either he thinks in pictures and feelings which involve no language, or he will think in thoughts, common to all and not subject to the limits of language, or he will invent a language that only he understands in order to create the simplification and order necessary for the human brain to think. I will now look at the first option, he thinks in pictures and feelings.
This will not offer a complete solution to our problem as although feelings and pictures certainly form a part of human thought, even when the human has language, they can not be used for complex thought over logical puzzles such as building shelter, finding warmth or even food. This involves realisation of an object’s aptitude to fulfil a purpose, involving complex thought. This cannot be reasonably thought of as a complex form of thought, although pictures and feelings do form an integral part of all human thinking.
To illustrate this point I will take the example of a beautiful sunset, whilst anyone who has seen a sunset will be able to picture it in their mind, it is not ever accurately described by words. When the person attempts to translate the picture into words, justice is not done to the picture in the person’s head, as language simply simplifies the beauty of the scene into a form that can be easily conveyed to another person. Although the listener may see a similar scene, this will be mainly due to experience rather than the description.
In this way it can be said that beauty and ugliness are above language as they cannot be described accurately by language and are simplified. They are dealt with by the brain through pictures with feelings linked to them. This provides us with a ‘beautiful’ image. However, this does not involve language, and this form of thought, ‘simple thought’ can be described as being above the limits of language. Similarly with feelings, the word ‘love’ doesn’t adequately describe the emotion.
It is simply word that we have chosen to use to describe an emotion to convey what we are feeling to someone else. This person does not identify with us because the word love in itself conjures up the feeling, but they understand, through experience, the emotion that is being described, and the word ‘love’, conjures up a memory of the feeling as the word and feeling are linked in the mind of the listener. If one looks at the question: Are emotions thoughts? The answer is extremely difficult; essentially it is clear that both thoughts and feelings involve the mind of a person.
In this way therefore it can be said that they are similar in nature, and I believe that an emotion can be justified as complex thought, as emotion can be expressed in a similar manner to the way that thought can be expressed. Feelings can be suppressed, controlled and ordered, similarly to thoughts. However, although emotion can be described as a part of thought, and essential to the process of thinking, it can also be said that in many ways it is above thought.
If we look at science and social science, it is clear that social science is far more complex than science as social science involves human emotion, which can never be understood entirely. In this way we can say that human emotion can clearly be described as far more complex than thought, as it does not involve any sort of logic, or even semi-logical progression. This results in emotion being far more complex than logical thought progressions or pictures, and therefore difficult to express through language.
I am therefore justified in saying that emotion is complex thought which can be described as above the limits of language because of the practically impossible task of describing emotion accurately through language. If we look at language as a simplification of thought as in the case of a picture described previously, we can then reasonably deduce that there is a kind of ‘language of thought’ that is not really a language at all, but a kind message from the brain to itself which can be in the form of a picture, feeling, logical progression or memory.
Is there any proof for this kind of idea? Certainly, when the human mind recalls a memory it is not usually recalled as language unless something was said. Perhaps the best way to look at this proposition is to see whether or not it is possible for humans to think in language. It is extremely difficult to prove whether or not language is used in thought without assuming that every human being in the world thinks in the same manner as I do. I will therefore state this assumption before I begin. I also state that the only proof I can offer is an examination of my own thoughts.
I will look at the way in which I memorise information and then recall it as thought, and whether or not this process involves language. When a lesson is ended, after a teacher has talked for an entire thirty-five minute period, the pupil will have memorised at least some of what was said. If the pupil needs this information later, he or she will recall partially what was said, but also the circumstances, in which it was said, and the images and pictures that were conjured up by what was said.
In this way, the information recalled would be a thought as it contains more than just the words that were said. In this example, it is clear that the thought is beyond language. In a second example, when an individual goes through an emotional experience such as the death of someone close to them, when the memory of the funeral service is recalled, the memory will involve emotions, images and also words that were said. In this way it can be said that this memory is again more than language. However, it can also be shown that in recalling a memory, language can also be recalled.
In my opinion, therefore, it can be assumed that there is a sort of ‘language of thought’, which can involve some kind of language in the thought, but also more importantly involves images and feelings wrapped up in the thought in order to create a complete thought. This is the way I interpret my thought. I do not reject that in some respects, the language which we use shapes the way we think, as it allows us through speaking to others to expand our knowledge and therefore, think in different ways.
However, language does not control one’s thoughts, and although a second language will allow one to express one’s thoughts more accurately to others, as one would have more than one word for the same thing, it will not improve or expand the way one thinks or the depth of one’s thoughts. A second language simply allows one to express one’s thoughts more accurately. In conclusion, I believe that language is a means by which we express our thought; we use it simply as a tool in order to simplify or explain to others what is in our heads.
It is simply a simplification of complex thought so that it can be expressed and explained. Some languages express certain pieces of complex thought better than others, and in this way a second language can act as a tool to express oneself more accurately, however, it will not deepen the depth of one’s thoughts in itself. Thought can be described as the language of the brain, although it is far more sophisticated than this simple definition, a thought will involve feelings, images and in some cases an element of language to recall a complex piece of information.
I also believe that the language involved is not necessarily a language that would be recognised if spoken, but a kind of language of thought. In this way it can be said that although a person with no language would have no way of expanding their thought processes as he or she would never have anyway of learning, however, his or her thought processes would be as complex as any other human beings, as the language of thought, including images and feelings would exist in them as in any other ordinary human being.