Language and Thinking
Language is the one aspect, which distinguishes human beings from lower species of life (Faccone et al. 2000). Sternberg (1999 as qtd in Faccone et al.) lists its properties as including communication, arbitrary symbolism, regular structure, structure at multiple levels, generation and production and dynamism. Sternberg assumes that language is most likely acquired naturally from the environment where a person is raised as an infant. The stages seem universal. The first is the cooing stage at two to four months. At this initial stage, an infant seems able to produce and possible phonemes or basic speech sounds. An infant’s need to distinguish between phonemes of different languages gradually disappears around 8 months. This is when he recognizes the relationship between sound and meaning in his native language. This is how language begins to have importance to him. The findings of Sternberg’s study reveal that human beings are born with some kind of internal tool or system that facilitates their ability to learn language as infants. Sternberg’s study also suggests that language does not influence thought, as an infant can recognize and utter phonemes different from those of the language of his native environment. The second stage if the babbling stage when the infant begins to connect consonants and vowels. Many of his learned consonants come from the language to which is exposed, often belonging to other languages or he himself constructs. His mouth cavity also begins to develop into that of the adult. The infant starts to control his speech muscles like the tongue, lips and palate. And following the second stage of babbling, the infant learns defined and clear one-word and two-word utterances (Faccone et al.).
It can be gleaned that a person learns language from infancy. He soon learns that language is important. It allows him to communicate with others (Stok 2012). Civilization came to be because of communication. He realizes that he needs language to express or transmit his thought to others. Human beings need and use language in speaking and writing in order to communicate and continue communicating. Thousands of languages have been devised to put one another’s messages across. Although thoughts can be conjured without language, thinking requires language for cognitive thoughts. Again, cognition sets a human being apart from the lower forms of life. He is capable of analyzing and interpreting his environment. He does this by using words, sentences and paragraphs to convey his message to others. But thinking by oneself does necessarily require the use of words (Stock). Introspection is necessarily without language (Stok).
How Language Relates to Thought, Emotion and Action
The subject infant and children learn to use language through a series of cognitive development stages (Oster, 2013). If they are not able to use it as a communication tool as they mature, he will not be able to develop critical thinking and other significant interaction capacities. This shortage can lead to emotional and cognitive difficulties and dysfunction. Language spans written words and symbols. Language is used to express needs or emotional responses to any life situation. The inability to use language effectively strongly limits a person’s capacity to express his need or intent. It is expressed or transmitted beyond the sounds or words, which proceed from the mouth or mind. In speaking, it is complemented by facial expression, hand gestures, and movement of arms and legs. Persons who have achieved a high level of cognition can communicate their thought with the mere blinking of the eyes or the movement of their fingers. Those who develop the capability to communicate can also express their emotions and the ability to think and respond effectively. Thus, children who suffer delays in their development of cognitive language skills encounter social and educational disadvantages. Causes may be malnutrition, a lack of exposure to adults with strong communication skills or shyness and separation from other children. Kindergarten children who suffer this kind of delay, for example, are behind his peers. Their need to learn necessary critical thinking will be jeopardized (Oster).
Past researches revealed the important function of language in the development of action control (Karbach et al. 2011). A more recent study investigated the role of verbal processes for action-effect learning among four-year-olds. They were guided through an acquisition phase, consisting of key-pressing tasks, followed by a particular sound. They were asked to either label their actions with the corresponding effects, verbalize task-irrelevant words or perform without verbalization. Results showed a link between language and action, which was complex and operating in many levels. Language appears to perform many functions in regulating activity. Action was strongest when it was verbalized along with the corresponding effects. These results implied that task-relevant verbal labeling serves to integrate event representation. This points to the usefulness of language as a tool for directing or redirecting attention to certain features of a given task and to implement and apply tasks representations in planning and guiding the behavior of preschoolers (Karbach et al.).
II. Language and Culture
Researchers have embarked into studies on the influence of language on thought by using and comparing languages to study the comparison (Faccone et al. 2000). Most of them hypothesize that, although specific languages affect a specific part of the brain used, it is not language that produces the linguistic different thought patters among these languages. It is culture (Faccone et al.).
Linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, his student, first emphasized the power of language to reflect culture and influence thinking (Otto 2013). They proposed that the way a person thinks and sees the world is determined by his language. Cultural differences provide evidence that some languages have specific words for specific concepts, while, in other languages, several words are used to represent that specific concept. Language is also used pragmatically, as in the American language, where new skills are often taught and learn by means of verbal instruction. In comparison, new skills are learned through nonverbal instruction in other cultures. Some cultures emphasize or encourage independent learning while others emphasize or encourage cooperative learning (McLeod 1994 as qtd in Otto).
Social roles also influence the use of language in different cultures (Otto 2013). This can be seen at home and in school among the various cultures and sub-cultures. Nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions, and contextual cues, such as shared experiences, are used to communicate their roles in these cultures. In some of them, children who have not learned to speak or express themselves are spoken about, not spoken to (Heath 1983 as qtd in Otto). These children are instructed and expected to respond to adults only when they are addressed. These children may not start a conversation with adults or join adult talks on their own. In other cultures, children who aggressively or enthusiastically offer to answer questions in school are viewed as show-offs. They are not asked to respond to recitational questions but only of clarification or for new information. This is why when these children are asked to answer recitational questions in the classroom, they get confused and hesitate as to the purpose of the inquiry and the response expected or sought from them (Otto).
Culture, Language and Thought Process
From findings of studies and experience, language is not only for communication
(O’Neill 2006). It also asserts a strong influence on culture and even thought processes. American linguists and anthropologists of the early part of the last century accepted the theory of Sapir and Whorf that language filters what is viewed in the real world. Sapir and Whorf used cross-cultural comparisons to support their hypothesis. One was color. Color reflects that portion of electromagnetic radiation of visible light. Sapor and Whorf assumed from data that colors are not objective determining segments of reality. All normal persons have similar sense perceptions of color whatever differences they may have in color terms. The structure of human eyes is essentially the same. People the world over see more or less the same colors. But as a societies’ economy becomes more complex, these color terms also increase in number. The spectrum of visible light undergoes more divisions. As the environment changes, culture and language also change and create new terms to describe that environment (O’Neill).
A longitudinal study offered evidence of the greater importance of family context in language acquisition than socioeconomic level or ethnic identity (Otto 2013). Hart and Risley (1995, 1996 as qtd in Otto) found that children in families, which indulged in much talk developed higher levels of language and stimulated vocabulary growth and vocabulary use. This was most pronounced in school when children reach age 9. Hart and Risley also identified five quality features in parents’ interaction with their children in those cultures. These were language diversity, feedback to the children, symbolic emphasis, guidance and responsiveness to questions from the children (Otto).
Recent studies also predict that children from diverse linguistic backgrounds are more likely to succeed in school when their indigenous language and literacy socialization patterns are similar to those used in the…