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2The relationshipbetween language andthoughtIntroductionThe linguistic relativity hypothesisThought determines language The interdependence of languag ...
2The relationshipbetween language andthoughtIntroductionThe linguistic relativity hypothesisThought determines language The interdependence of language and thought SummaryReview exerciseOne feature that sets human communities apart from animal commu-nities is the use of language. Language is a vital part of every humanculture and is a powerful social tool that we master at an early age. Asecond feature of humans is our ability to solve complex and/orabstract problems. Although some animals are capable of solvingsimple problems none are capable of solving the problems involved in something like space exploration or even in the designing of apsychology experiment. For centuries philosophers have questionedwhether these two abilities are related and, if so, what the nature ofthe relationship between language and thought is. At the beginning ofthe last century psychologists joined this debate and it is a topic thatis currently generating a lot of research. Another factor in the study of language and thought is the role ofculture. When we study a language from another country we realisethat it is not just the words and grammar that are different but the9Introductioncustoms and traditions as well. Even the ideas of that culture and theway of dealing with life can be different. If people speaking differentlanguages have different customs and ideas it raises the followingquestion: do different languages lead to different ways of thinking?Although there is some debate about the extent of language inthinking (see, for example, Carruthers, 1996), as adults much of ourthinking seems to involve words and language. Furthermore, wecannot use language without thinking about what we want to say.Thus, in adults at least, language and thought seem closely entwined.There are four main views about the nature of this relationshipbetween language and thought:1.The language we speak determines or inßuences the way we think.
2.The way we think determines the use of language.
3.Language and thought are independent but gradually become
interdependent during infancy.4.Language and thought are independent.
The first of these views has been labelled the linguistic relativityhypothesis and is largely associated with Whorf; the second representsa view held by Piaget; the third by Vygotsky. These three views onthe relationship between language and thought are discussed in thischapter. The fourth view has been proposed by Chomsky and isdiscussed in Chapter 5. The linguistic relativity hypothesis (LRH)proposes that languageinfluences the way people perceive and think about the world. Thishypothesis concentrates on the differences in both vocabulary andgrammar between different languages and suggests that speakers of aparticular language are led to think, perceive and remember the worldin a way peculiar to that language. Users of different languages willtherefore tend to view the world differently. The theory is often tracedback to the work of the linguist Sapir (1929) who compared Englishto a number of Native American languages. He concluded that thedifferences between the languages changed the way people perceivetheir environments. However, the LRH has become most closelyassociated with the work of Whorf (1956). He was another linguistLANGUAGE AND THOUGHT10The linguistic relativity hypothesiswho studied Native American languages and he became convincedthat the differences between languages determinedthe types ofthought people were able to have. The theory is often referred to asthe SapirÐ Whorf hypothesis or, because of the greater influence ofWhorfÕs ideas, the WhorÞan hypothesis.Psychologists have recognised that there are at least two versionsof the LRH which differ in emphasis and implications. These twoversions of the hypothesis have been labelled ÔstrongÕ and ÔweakÕ:¥The ÔstrongÕ version is that language
determinesthought.¥The ÔweakÕ version is that language
inßuencesthought.Thus the strong version suggests that the language we speakdetermines the nature of our thoughts, including the types of ideas andconcepts we are able to have. It proposes that thoughts that arepossible in one language may not be possible in another. The weakversion, on the other hand, suggests that language has a more subtleeffect on thought and merely inßuences what we are likely to perceiveor remember about an object or event. If you have a word forsomething in your language you are more likely to recognise andremember it than someone who uses a language that does not have aword for it.More recently Hunt and Agnoli (1991) have suggested an alterna-tive form of the LRH. This is a cognitive approachto the relationshipbetween language and thought which focuses on the computationalcosts that different languages impose on thinking. In other words, thelanguage you speak makes it easier, and therefore more likely, to thinkin one way or another. The three versions are discussed below, but before exploring theevidence in detail it should be acknowledged that any version of thehypothesis is difficult to test. One problem, outlined by Boroditsky(2001), is that people are tested in their native language and it may be that the instructions given lead to different ways of approachingthe task. We have a common concept of what the word ÔsameÕ meansin English but does a translation to a different language evoke anidentical concept? It may be that the translation to one language meansÔidenticalÕ but to another Ôthe most similarÕ. Secondly, there is aproblem of isolating what is the effect of language on thought fromthe effects of culture and shared experiences amongst people usingRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT11the same language. Thus, if differences in thought can be identiÞedbetween two groups, it is difÞcult to know whether this is the effect oflanguage, culture or both.The strong version of the LRH, that language determines thought, isusually linked to the work of Whorf (1956). Whorf did a detailedanalysis of a number of Native American languages and concludedthat the differences in language, both in grammarand the number ofterms used to refer to objects, must shape the way people think abouttheir world. For example, Whorf noted that Inuits use a number ofdifferent words for snow, which indicate whether it is falling snow,slushy snow, and so on, whereas in English there is only one term.Whorf believed that these differences in language would inevitablylead to differences in the way people thought about snow.1In anotherexample Whorf reports that Hopi Indians use just one word foranything that ßies whether it is a pilot, aeroplane, insect, etc. He alsonoted differences between Hopi and English grammar. For example,Whorf claimed that the Hopi language was a timeless language sincehe could find no clear grammatical structure to distinguish past,present and future. In English (and most other languages) the verbstructure clearly indicates the tense. Furthermore, in English we tendto talk about time as something that can be quantiÞed objectively (e.g.ÔI stayed for 3 hoursÕ). So, for example, days, hours, minutes, etc. areregarded as the same sort of objective data as kilometres, metres and millimetres. In contrast the Hopi tend to refer to time subjectivelyor how it appears to them (e.g. ÔI leave in the eveningÕ). Anothergrammatical difference is that a number of things that are regarded asobjects (nouns) in English are used as verbs in Hopi. English speakersregard lightning, smoke, ßames or waves as objects, and we talk ofÔsomesmokeÕ or Ôabolt of lightningÕ. The Hopi regard such transitoryobjects/events as verbs and would say Ôit smokesÕ or Ôit lightsÕ. SuchLANGUAGE AND THOUGHT121 The exact number of terms that Inuits use for snow is disputed and varies
with nearly every report. Harley (2001) puts the true Þgure at two but notesthat Whorf claimed there were seven. However, this figure has beeninßated from Ômore than 20Õ to Ôover 100Õ in some reports.The strong hypothesisdifferences, Whorf argued, have led to differences in concepts heldwithin each culture and determined the way people think. There have been very few studies that support the strong version of the LRH, and even these tend to yield ambiguous results. Forexample, Carroll and Casagrande (1958) compared the developmentof form and shape recognition between English and Navaho speakers.The Navaho language stresses the importance of form and shapebecause many verb endings change according to the shape of object.Thus the ending of the verb, to carry, varies when the object beingcarried is long and rigid (like a stick), long and flexible (like rope) or flat (like a sheet). There is no such emphasis in English. Carroll and Casagrande studied three groups of children; one group that spoke Navaho only (Navaho-Navaho), a second group of Navaho whospoke both Navaho and English (Navaho-English) and a third groupof American children of European descent who spoke English only(English). They found that the Navaho-Navaho group developed formrecognition earlier than the English group. This seems to be evidencefor the strong version of the LRH, since language seems to determinethe development of thought in the children. However the Navaho-English group developed form recognition laterthan the Englishgroup and this is inconsistent with the theory (they should have beenbetween the Navaho-Navaho group and English group).The strong version of the LRH has been criticised on a number ofgrounds. Lenneberg and Roberts (1956) pointed out that Whorf hadput forward a circular argument. He argued that because languagesdiffer, thinking must differ. However, he did not study thought,andany evidence of differences in thought came from an examination oflanguage. In other words he proposed that there must be differences inthought because he had found differences between languages. Anotherconsistent criticism of Whorf has been of the evidence he used. Forexample, Garnham and Oakhill (1994) describe how Whorf translatedNative American languages into English in a Ôsimplistic, word-by-wordÕ fashion (p.48). This results in apparently unusual combinationsof words which Whorf uses as evidence of differences in thinking.However, anyone who has studied another language soon realises thatword-for-word translations do not work since they usually result inRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT13Evaluation of the strong hypothesisnonsense sentences. One of the difÞcult aspects of learning another
language is to understand the meaningof idiomatic phrases sinceliteral translations seem meaningless. Imagine, for example, trans-lating the English sentence ÔItÕs raining cats and dogsÕ. Any literaltranslation would seem to be very strange. The fact that we cantranslate the intended meaningfrom one language to another despitethe linguistic differences suggests a universalityof thought. Greene(1975) also criticises the way Whorf translated Native Americanlanguages into English. She points out that if we were to do a similartranslation from English into Hopi there would be a number ofanomalies. For example, English does not use gender terms for objectsexcept for animals and people yet there is a tendency to refer to boatsas female (ÔsheÕs a fast shipÕ). Should the Hopi conclude that Englishspeakers have a strange belief that boats are female or should theyregard it as a figure of speech? Garnham and Oakhill (1994) alsobelieve that WhorfÕs use of ÔevidenceÕ about the different number ofwords for snow used in Inuit and English is invalid. They argue thatdiffering numbers of words are needed because of the needs of theenvironment not because of any fundamental differences in thought.They note that one group of English speakers, skiers, do have anumber of different words for snow, but these are not equivalent tothe Inuit terms because of the differing needs. There is little or no evidence that language determines thought andany evidence that has been presented is seriously ßawed. The strongversion of the LRH does not seem to be a plausible theory.The weak version of the LRH is that language influencesthought.There are at least two versions of the weak hypothesis: that languageinßuences perception or that language inßuences memory (Miller andMcNeil, 1969, refer to these as the weak and weakest form of the LRHrespectively).Evidence for the weakestform of the LRH, that language inßuencesmemory, was revealed in a study by Carmichael et al.(1932). Theyshowed participants a series of nonsense pictures (Figure 2.1),LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT14The weak hypothesisWeakest version of LRHRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT15Curtains ina windowDiamond ina rectangle
EightFigure 2.1The effect of labels on the subsequent redrawing of pictures.The reproductions of the original pictures in the centre tended to beinßuenced by the labels they were shown with (based on Carmichael et al., 1932)accompanied by a verbal label. However, half the participants sawone set of labels and the other half a different set. The verbal labelseemed to inßuence the memory of the nonsense picture. For example,when shown the Þrst picture in Figure 2.1, accompanied by the labelÔcurtains in a windowÕ, participants were more likely to remember thepicture as the drawing on the left. If, however, the label was Ôdiamondin a rectangleÕ participants were more likely to remember the pictureas the drawing to the right. This seems to show the influence oflanguage on the memory of objects.The weakversion of the LRH, that language influences perception,has been studied using cross-cultural studies of colour perception.There are differences in the way that speakers of different languagesname colours. Some languages have more labels for basic colours than others do, and there are also differences in the way colours aredivided into categories. If language influences perception then pre-sumably the differences in the labels for colour should influenceperception of colour. One study compared the recognition of yellowsand oranges by speakers of Zuni and English (Lenneberg and Roberts,1956). The Zuni language only has one term for the yellowÐorangeregion of the spectrum, and Zuni speakers were more likely to makeyellow and orange recognition errors. This suggests that languageinßuences perception of colour. Brown and Lenneberg (1954) showedparticipants a colour chip and then asked them to pick out the samechip from an array of chips. They found that colours are rememberedbetter if there is a simple name for them (e.g. colours like red and blueare remembered better than mixtures of red and blue). This was takenas evidence that language inßuences colour recognition.Although the weak version of the LRH was supported by a fewstudies it was soon challenged by a number of others. Berlin and Kay(1969) compared the basic colour terms used in ninety-eight differentlanguages. They found that there is a systematic way that colour termsare used which followed the hierarchy shown in Figure 2.2. If onlytwo terms are used then these refer to black and white (or light anddark). If a language has three terms they refer to black, white and red.If six terms are used they refer to black, white, red, yellow, blue andgreen, and so on. In all they found eleven basic terms used to refer toLANGUAGE AND THOUGHT16Weak version of LRHcolour, and if people from a variety of cultures are asked to pick a colour chip that best represented the colour term they tended tochoose similar chips. These colours have been called focal colours.Furthermore, people tend to pick out the same eleven coloursregardless of how many colour terms there are in their language. Thisseems to indicate that there are universalcolour categories that are unaffected by language. In another study Heider (1972) comparedEnglish speakers, who use eleven basic colour terms, with Danispeakers who use only two Ð ÔmolaÕ for bright and ÔmiliÕ for dark.English speakers remembered the eleven basic (or focal) coloursbetter than non-focal colours (e.g. a pure red is picked out better thana red-orange). Heider found that the same was true of the Dani despitethe fact they did not have terms for the focal colours. Again this is strong evidence of colour categories being universal and does not support the LRH.The studies by Heider (1972) and Berlin and Kay (1969) were very inßuential, and many did not regard the weak version of the LRHas a credible theory for some time. However, a number of recentstudies have questioned the conclusions of the studies and haverevived the weak LRH theory. For example, Davies and his colleagueshave carried out a number of cross-cultural studies on a variety of colour sorting tasks. Studies by Davies and Corbett (1997) andDavies (1998) compared speakers of Setswana, English and Russiansince these languages differ in the number of terms used for colour,particularly in the blueÐgreen region. Setswana has a single term for blueÐgreen colours (botula), English has two (blue and green) and Russian has three (zelenyj: green; sinij: dark blue; goluboj: lightblue). The results from these studies revealed two things. Firstly, therewas a marked similarity of colour grouping for all languages. Thissuggests that colour grouping is universal and is inconsistent with RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT17If elevenIf sevenIf sixIf three
If two termspurpleyellowpinkorangegrey
Figure 2.2The hierarchy of the eleven basic colour terms (based onBerlin and Kay, 1969)the LRH. However, there were also small but reliable differences ingrouping in the blueÐgreen region, with Setswana speakers beingmore likely to group blue and green together. This Þnding is consistentwith the weak version of the LRH. Another study compared Setswanaand English speakers on colour triad tasks (Davies et al., 1998).English has eleven basic terms for colour but Setswana has only Þve.
Again the results showed marked similarity in results with small,reliable differences associated with linguistic differences. Davies et al.(p.1) concluded: there is a strong universal influence on colour choice but thisuniversal influence can be moderated by cultural influencessuch as language, a position consistent with weak WhorÞanism.Davidoff et al.(1999a, 1999b) have studied the Berinmo of PapuaNew Guinea using similar methods to those used by Heider in his(1972) study of the Dani. However, in contrast to Heider, they did notÞnd evidence that colour categories were universal; rather, they foundevidence consistent with the LRH. They identiÞed a colour boundaryin English (between blue and green) that does not exist in Berinmoand a similar colour boundary that exists in Berinmo (between ÔnolÕand ÔworÕ) that does not exist in English. They asked participants to remember a colour over 30 seconds then to select it from two similar alternatives. The English speakers showed an advantage for blue-green decisions and the Berinmo showed an advantage fornol-wor decisions. Davidoff et al.(1999a, p.204) claim that theirresults Ôare consistent with there being a considerable degree oflinguistic influence on colour categorisationÕ and therefore supportweak LRH. One of the problems of the weak/weakest version of the LRH isthat it is difficult to know exactly what the theory is and therefore what is being tested. The notion that language Ôinfluences thoughtÕ is imprecise. It begs the question what is language influencing Ð all thoughts or certain types of thought? If the latter, then what sort of thoughts are influenced? Hunt and Agnoli (1991) have claimed that the hypothesis that language influences thought is Ôso vague that it is unprovableÕ (p.377). Furthermore, on inspection of some of the studies in this area it becomes difficult to identify whether it is perception or memory of colours that is being investigated. ForLANGUAGE AND THOUGHT18example, the Davidoff studies looked at the inßuence of language onthe memory of a perceived colour. Is this evidence for the weak orweakest version of the LRH? Thus there is still debate about inßuenceof language on thought, but there does seem to be better evidence forthe weakest form of the LRH, that language inßuences memory.Hunt and Agnoli (1991) believed that, although the traditional viewof the weak version of the LRH was unprovable, there was evidencefrom a variety of sources that showed that language doesaffectthought. They argue that by taking a cognitive approach the effect of a language on thought can be quantified and therefore evaluated(see Key Research Summary, Article 1 ÔThe Whorfian hypothesis: A cognitive psychology perspectiveÕ, on p.110). Central to theirargument is the notion that different languages make certain thoughtseasier or harder. Thus some thoughts or lines of reasoning are easierin some languages than others. Hunt and Agnoli refer to the relativeease of thoughts as the computational cost,and it is this cost thatinßuences the likelihood of thinking in a particular way. A word orstatement may be easy and natural in one language but difficult or unmanageable in a second. A person using the first language ismore likely to think about the word or statement because it is lesscostly. Hunt and Agnoli cite the example of the word mokita from theKiriwina language of New Guinea, which translates into English asÔtruth everybody knows but nobody speaksÕ. In this case the wordmokita is more economical to use and think about than its Englishcounterpart. Although English speakers can understand the concept itis easier for a Kiriwina speaker to use this concept. Hunt and Agnoli(p.387) conclude:Our review has convinced us that different languages posedifferent challenges for cognition and provide differentialsupport to cognition.In other words, different languages make it easier or harder to think incertain ways.RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT19The cognitive approachThere are a number of studies that support their hypothesis. Hunt and Agnoli describe differences in arithmetic capability that existbetween speakers of different languages. These differences tend to besubtle but nevertheless consistent. For example, English-speakingchildren have to learn a relatively large number of terms that refer tonumbers. In addition to the basic terms of 0Ð9, 10, 100, etc., English-speaking children have to learn separate words to refer to 11Ð19 andeach decade term (20, 30, etc.). In contrast a child learning Chineseonly has to learn fourteen basic terms (0Ð10, 100, 1,000, 10,000). Thenumber 11 does not have a special term but is referred to as 10 plus 1.When learning arithmetic English-speaking children initially haveproblems learning the range of numbers in the teens, but Chinese-speaking children do not. This presumably reßects the extra
costoflearning extra numerical terms. Hunt and Agnoli cite further evidencefor the cognitive hypothesis from studies of bilingual participants. For example, Hoffman et al.(1986) studied the use of stereotypes in bilingual EnglishÐChinese speakers. They gave the bilingualspeakers descriptions of people that conformed to either English orChinese stereotypes. Later they were asked whether certain behav-
iours would be characteristic of a person. When asked in English theparticipants used English stereotypes, but when asked in Chinese theyused Chinese stereotypes. Thus the language used seemed to inßuencethe ease of use (cost) of a stereotype.A number of studies have added support to the cognitive version of the LRH by demonstrating the inßuence of language on differentaspects of thought, including spatial thinking, development ofconcepts and conceptions of time. For example, Boroditsky (2001)compared conceptions of time between Mandarin and Englishspeakers. She found that English and Mandarin speakers refer to timein a different way and, in a series of studies, found that this differencewas reßected in the way that people thought about time. She drew twomain conclusions from the studies: 1.Language Ôis a powerful tool in shaping thoughtÕ about abstract
ideas (p.1).2.Native language is important in Ôshaping habitual thoughtÕ (p.1).
These conclusions are consistent with the cognitive view of the LRH.LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT20Evaluation of the cognitive hypothesisAlthough the cognitive approach of Hunt and Agnoli (1991) hasreawakened interest in the LRH it has not received unconditionalsupport, and there are some elements of the theory that have not been fully investigated. For example, Eysenck and Keane (2000) pointout that although Hunt and Agnoli emphasise the importance ofÔcomputational costsÕ this has not been quantiÞed in the studies. Untilthese costs can be quantified there is essentially little differencebetween the weak and cognitive versions of the LRH. Also, as withall forms of the LRH, when comparing speakers from differentcultures it is difficult to isolate any effect of language from othercultural inßuences.1.There seems to be little evidence for the
strong versionof the LRH and there is a consensus of opinion that language does notdeterminethought.2.There is a variety of evidence for the
weak versionof the LRH, butthis version Ð that language inßuences thought Ð is vague. Thereseems to be better evidence that language inßuences some aspectsof thought (e.g. memory) more than other aspects (e.g. perception).3.The
cognitive versionof the LRH Ð that a speakerÕs languagemakes some thoughts more difÞcult (or costly) than they would bein another language Ð is currently generating a lot of interest. Someresearch seems to support this version. RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT21Progress exercise
Review the LRH by answering the following questions:1.What are two of the main problems of the strong version of the LRH?
2.What is the difference between the weak and the weakest version of the
LRH? 3.Describe one cross-cultural study that supports the cognitive version of
the LRH.LRH: summaryThe theory that language depends on thought is associated with Piaget (1950, 1967). Piaget studied cognitive development in children and believed that development takes place in a number of stages (thisis described in detail in the forthcoming book Cognitive Developmentin this series). These stages are sequential and at each stage a childacquires new cognitive skills. For example at about 10 months of age children develop object permanence, a recognition that objects still exist even if they cannot be seen. Piaget believed that languagedevelopment was as a result of cognitive development. In other words,language is dependent on the type of thoughtsa child has. In order touse language appropriately a child must Þrst develop the ideas or con-cepts. Piaget noted that a child might use words before understandingwhat they mean but that this is not using true language. A child maymerely repeat words, or play with words, without understanding theconcept that this is merely egocentric speechwhich is not intended to convey information. In adult language the purpose of speech is toconvey ideas or information and it is social. Speech can only be usedin this way if the child understands what the word/s refer to. Forexample, a child may use the word ÔbiggerÕ after hearing an adult sayit but cannot use the word to communicate about the conceptof biggeruntil this concept has developed. Thus suggests that the thought orconcept determines the use of language.A variety of studies support this theory. One group of studies hascompared the development of concepts in children with their use of language. For example, Tomasello and Farrar (1986) studied thecomprehension of relational words (ÔgoneÕ, ÔdownÕ, ÔupÕ) during thedevelopment of object permanence. They found that words thatindicate change to the object while it is still present (ÔupÕ, ÔdownÕ)were understood before words which relate to absent objects (ÔgoneÕ).Sinclair-de-Zwart (1969) studied a group of children and firstlydetermined whether they could ÔconserveÕ. This is the ability to realisethat when something changes shape it does not change in mass orvolume (e.g. a thin tube of water poured into a squat beaker changesshape but does not change in volume). She found that children whoLANGUAGE AND THOUGHT22Thought determines languageStudies of developmentcould conserve understood words and phrases such as ÔbiggerÕ or Ôas much asÕ but that the children who could not conserve did notunderstand the words. Furthermore, even if the children who couldnot conserve were given language training relating to these words they still did not use them correctly. These studies suggest the conceptmust emerge before a child can use the language relating to theconcept.Another way of investigating PiagetÕs theory is to compare thecognitive development and language development of children whenone of these abilities is impaired (Harley, 2001). If languagedevelopment does depend on cognitive development then impairmentof language development should have little or no impact on cognitivedevelopment. However, if cognitive development is impaired itshould have an effect on language development. A variety of studiesshow that, in general, this is the case. For example, language devel-
opment can be impaired in deaf children but a number of studies haveshown that their cognitive development is normal (e.g. Furth, 1971).In contrast, impairment of cognitive development is often linked to impairment of language. Harley (2001) points out that there is somecorrelation between cognitive skills and language skills. Generally,children with learning difÞculties develop language slower than otherchildren do. However, one must be cautious in drawing conclusionsfrom these studies since they are correlational. Correlations do notshow cause and effect (i.e. that impairment of thought developmentcauses impairment of language difÞculties) and it is possible that boththe learning and language impairments are caused by another factor. Although Harley (2001) has showed that there is a general linkbetween cognitive and language developments there are a number of exceptions. For example, Yamanda (1990) has reported a casestudy of ÔLauraÕ who had severe learning difficulties but normallanguage development. Laura had an IQ estimated at 41; she showedproblems with most cognitive tasks yet was able to perform complexlinguistic tasks. Yamanda believes that this suggests that cognitiveprocesses (thought) and language are distinct. Bellugi et al.(1991)have studied children with Williams syndrome. This syndrome causesimpairment to cognitive abilities and low IQ levels but does not RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT23Problems of PiagetÕs theoryaffect language skills (in fact people with Williams syndrome seem to enjoy using language and use it well). Both these studies suggestlanguage is not dependent on thought but rather that the two abilitiesare separate.Another problem of PiagetÕs theory is that it seems to under-estimate the role of language in promoting cognitive and socialdevelopment. Some studies suggest that, rather than just being aproduct of cognitive development, acquisition of language skills canaccelerate cognitive development. For example, Luria and Yudovich(1971) have reported the cases of twin boys who at the age of 5 hadvery poor language and cognitive skills because of an unstimulatingenvironment. They were placed in separate homes and one twin wasgiven special training in language but the other was not. The twingiven language training made more rapid progress in a variety of otherways. This study suggests that, rather than being simply a result of cognitive development, acquiring language promotescognitivedevelopment. Vygotsky (1962) studied child development and, based on hisobservations of childrenÕs early speech and monologues, proposed a complex theory of the interaction between thought and language(this is also described in the forthcoming Cognitive Developmentbookin this series). He suggested that initially thought and language areindependentand have separate origins. During this stage thoughts are non-verbal and are primarily based on images whilst language is pre-intellectual and is not linked to thought. At around the age of 2thought and language start to become connected, and children start LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT24Progress exercise
Brießy explain why:1.The study by Sinclair-de-Zwart (1969) supports PiagetÕs theory.
2.The study by Yamanda (1990) does not support PiagetÕs theory.
The interdependence of language and thoughtto use language in their thoughts and their speech begins to representtheir thoughts. Language and thought start to become interdependent.However, the interdependence of language and thought is not aninstantaneous process and the two gradually become more and moreinterdependent between the ages of 2 and 7. Vygotsky believes thatlanguage has two functions, to communicate to others (an externalfunction) and to monitor thoughts (an internal function). Adults aregenerally good at separating the two functions but children up to theage of 7 can Þnd this difÞcult. Between the ages of 2 and 7 childrenoften talk about their ideas and thoughts and as a result commu-nication can be confused. Like Piaget, Vygotsky called this type ofspeech egocentric but in contrast to Piaget he saw egocentric speechas a form of self-guidance which occurs because it has not beeninternalised. Vygotsky stressed the importance of language in the cog-nitive development of children and the interdependence of languageand thought. He claimed that:The relation of thought and word is not a thing but a process, acontinual movement back and forth from thought to languageand from word to thought. (Vygotsky, 1972, p.186) Vygotsky developed his ideas from his observations of childrenand their use of language. If a young child is given a difficult task to perform they will often talk through the solution. This use of speechis not used to communicate but to direct and monitor thoughts and seems to show the confusion between the internal and externalfunctions of language. He believed inner speech can be studiedthrough egocentric speech and is therefore available to observationand experimentation. The theory is also supported by evidence thatlanguage skills can help enhance cognitive development (e.g. Luriaand Yudovich, 1971).One problem in evaluating VygotskyÕs theory is that, although he described his ideas in detail, he did not describe the detail of themethods he used in his studies of children. It is therefore difficult to replicate his findings and, in HarleyÕs (2001) view, difficult toassess.RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT25There are a number of views on the nature of the relationship betweenlanguage and thought. One view, the linguistic relativity hypothesis(LRH), is that the language a speaker uses affects the way the speakerthinks. There seems to be little evidence for the strongest form of theLRH; that is, that language determines thought. The original evidenceused by Whorf was ßawed and no evidence has emerged subsequentlythat fully supports the strong version. The evidence about the weakversion of the LRH, that language influencesthought, is much lessclear-cut. There seems to be some evidence that language inßuencesmemory and perception, but the vagueness of the hypothesis makesthe extent of the inßuence of language difÞcult to quantify. The recentintroduction of a cognitive perspective has revived this debate andthere is growing evidence that the language a person uses does affectthe way information is processed. However, the cognitive approachhas not received unconditional support. Studies of child developmentled Piaget to believe that language is dependent upon thoughts. Histheory suggests that language cannot be used to communicate ideasuntil the child has developed the appropriate concepts. There is someevidence that children need to understand concepts before usinglanguage about these concepts. However, some children with learningdifficulties are capable of a sophisticated level of language despiteimpairments to most other cognitive functions. Vygotsky believes that language and thought are initially independent and separate butthat during childhood thought gradually becomes more and moreverbal and that language requires and reßects thoughts. By the age of7 thought and language become interlinked and interdependent.VygotskyÕs ideas have generated much interest and seem to explainsome aspects of childrenÕs behaviour, but the studies he used tosupport his ideas have been difÞcult to replicate.LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT26SummaryGarnham, A. and Oakhill, J. (1994) Thinking and Reasoning. Oxford:Blackwell. Although this book is primarily about thinking andproblem-solving it does have a good chapter on the relationshipbetween language and thought.Harley, T.A. (2001) The Psychology of Language: From data totheory(2nd edn). Hove: Psychology Press. This book has a verygood chapter on the relationship between language and thought.Although the book is aimed at undergraduates it is clear andlogical.RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT27Fill in the blank areas in the table below.Description of theorySupported byCriticised by
Strong LRHGreene (1975)Garnham and Oakhill (1994)Weak LRHLanguage inßuences thoughtsCognitive LRHHoffman, et al.(1986)PiagetVygotskyLuria and Yudovich (1971)Review exercise
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