The Language of Thought
English psychologists had long believed
that all human beings thought in English. Translation, deep in
the brain, from a native tongue to English would be followed by
the process of thinking. Finally, the result would be re-translated
to the thinkers native language. This process would clearly
take time, and this had seemed a natural explanation for the
general slow-wittedness of foreigners - a limitation in their
mental functioning which even shouting at them using a
stereotypical impersonation of their national accent, often
failed to address.
Brain research in the early twenty-first
century, however, discredited this theory. It became possible to
monitor electrical activity in brain areas associated with
thought and then compare this to language patterns. This study
clearly showed that thought could occur in any language. For some
people the language of thought was their mother tongue, for many,
however, it was not.
The linguistic differences between the
language of speech and the language of thought were shown to be
significant determinants of behaviour.
In relation to driving skills, it is well
known that Italian has numerous words for acceleration, lights,
horns and gesticulations, but no words for braking or safety.
Those who think in Italian, therefore, may present difficulties
for other road users.
Concern about the speech development of
some Arabic desert Bedouin children was traced to their thinking
in the language of Arctic Inuit people. Eighty words for snow,
thirty words for describing the proximity and mood of a polar
bear and fifty ways of saying Not bloody reindeer stew
again? were of little use to them.
As a language of thought is innate it is
not restricted to contemporary speech. This can present problems
for those who think in classical languages such as Latin. Such
people find it impossible to talk of any development since 400 AD.
Television, telephones and computers are alien to them.
Purchasing airline tickets is, of course, out of the question.
Indeed few modes of transport remain which rely solely on horses,
wind or slaves. Many simply spend their lives in historical re-enactment
Those who think in Swedish are fortunate in
having a word for everything, but, as all words are
unpronounceable and at least fourteen syllables long, this can
cause serious communication delays.
Regional variations within the same thought
language are being investigated. It has proved difficult,
however, to examine the word content of dialects like Scouse or
Glaswegian because many vocalisations have not yet been
translated into any language. It would appear, nevertheless, that
the latter has some one hundred words related to sexual
intercourse, allowing at least one to be inserted as an adjective
into every sentence.
Feminist psychologists have postulated that
male and female versions exist within the same thought language.
Male versions are suggested as typically having many words for
sex and football but no words for domestic chores, birthdays,
anniversaries or commitment. Female versions may have literally
hundreds of words for describing the decor and state of
cleanliness of ladies lavatories.
When choosing friends and partners,
therefore, seek people who think the same language.