WordClerks

Words are thoughts and we can't think without them. Or can we?



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Words are thoughts and we can't think without them. Or can we?

I first heard this when Michelle Pfeiffer said it in the movie Dangerous Minds in 1995. Do you remember it? When Coolio was cool and he was singing - I'll see you when you get there, if you ever get there.... Long before he went onto Big Brother.

But in one of the scenes in that movie, where the teacher Miss LouAnne Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer) was trying to teach the class a lesson on something, says "words are thoughts we can't think without them". In trying to get their attention!

But how true is that? Strictly speaking?

For years people have been asking such questions like Is it Possible to Think without Language? And or is it possible to think without words? Can thoughts exist without Language? Do we need Language to Think? And how do animals think if they don't know what words are? And questions like this, questioning just how much we really need words to be able to think at all.

When you're born, you don't know how to speak and you're just trying to make sense of the world. As you grow, you learn words, and what those words mean. Then you're able to talk them and realize, if you use them together, you can ask your momma for sippy sippy when you're hungry. You can ask for blankey when you're cold. Even though if you want those things, your mind will create a picture of them first. A mental image if you will. But pictures have objects in them. And objects have names to them. And as you learn what those objects are called that you picture in your mind, you can speak them using language.

So that said, are thoughts words, and can we think without them? We certainly can't talk without words! Although we know cavemen used to grunt at things. They used words like uhg and arg as they didn't really know any words back then. Eventually we started coming up with different kinds of uhg's and arg's for things. We started learning words for the first time. And these days we have many different languages, dialects and words for things. If you believe the evolutionaries anyway. I personally believe that words existed long before mankind came along! But that's a matter of opinion and faith.

What do you think? And is me asking you that, proof that we do need words to be able to think? How else could you think of anything to say without words? How else could you tell me what you think unless you think of some words first to tell me?

I guess it's true then, words are thoughts, and we can't think without them.

But then, we can still picture images in our mind.

So in fact, words aren't thoughts, but we can't speak without them.

What do you think?

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Lynne

This is certainly an interesting conversation. Babies do think and they don't read,write or speak... the same can be said of animals.

Here's an interesting thought, different languages. My husband told me a while ago that he has sometimes started to think in English LOL. Before he met me he always thought in Afrikaans but since we got together he speaks a lot more English and when he speaks English now he thinks in English too.

I can't think in Afrikaans yet though. I think in English and translate it to Afrikaans to speak so I guess maybe we do think with words.



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idealmike

Thanks Lynne. I think so too. It's just something (one of the many random things) I sometimes find myself pondering and thinking about. Like do we think in pictures, or do we think in words? A lot of people just laugh when you ask them a question like this. But I think that's just a defense mechanism because they can't give you an immediate straight answer for it. Although, some people just outright say, words, we think in words. But we only learn to do that, we only learn to think with words when we come to learn what words mean. Otherwise, before that, we are like animals and only think in pictures. They think in pictures, in experience, they remember those experiences and apply them in their life when they need to. Like learning how to hunt when they are hungry or learning to avoid predators. They can't think in words like "Oh I need to fly away else I'm lunch". They just know what they need to do in pictures because they've seen what happens if you don't. Lunch! Words are thoughts and we can

And that's a very interesting thing indeed and quite funny too. It makes perfect sense though and some people are able to think in different ways when they learn to speak different languages as well funnily enough. Or if say they are around or grow up with someone that speaks a different language or dialect especially. I know some people that speak in really broken English. Jamaicans actually. I know one guy who comes over from Jamaica every year in the summer and he talks such broken English you're gobsmacked and don't know what to say lol. Because the way I usually talk or the majority of people I talk to are well spoken and well versed in English you know? In fact, the Jamaican language is known as Cceole and the average Jamaican is often described as speaking patois or creole, but it's basically just really bad English lol It depends on the degree of pride of the talker. Although Jamaicans' attitudes are very divided over the language they mostly speak.

But if you hang out with that guy too long, you end up sort of thinking like him or being able to see how he thinks about things in the way he describes things and that and it's kind of funny but he's cool and that's just the way that they speak! And think! Words are thoughts and we can



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Lynne

Now we know what goes on in Mike's head.. and it goes on in words not pictures right?



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ballyhara

Is like when we are babies, we use our instinct, so we have a very basic thinking, we react according to the situation. But once we learn a language, we are more organized, controlled, focused. Is normal to mix languages when you think if you are learning a new one, that has happened to me too. I even dream in another language, but that shows me I'm really learning it.



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Cristian

I guess that's why out earliest memories are around 3 years of age. But I think it is totally possible to think without language.
Just think about people that are unable to hear from birth, there are people out there that never heard a sound in their life, not to mention the fact that they have no idea about the spoken language, so how do they think? In what language?
I guess once they start learning to write and read they can have some sort of idea in their head.



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Barida

You have a valid point in the sense that not all words are thoughts we can think without. I guess the write up never considered that at the end.



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EliteWriter

This was really an insightful and thought provoking discussion. I ended up confused actually as I never thought about this that way. I used to think that words were indeed what everything revolves around, regardless of the language. But as others commented, it is true that deaf people and infants still think depending on their age, even though they do not know what is the meaning or formulation of words, especially in the case of infants. So at the end of the day I think that we can indeed have thoughts even if we are not considering a language in the equation.



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Barida

I agree with you that we can have thoughts without any language coming into play and that's the reason humans are quite different from other animals on earth.



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DenisP

This was always a topic of discussion which I found extremely intriguing and thought provoking. I have always felt that it was impossible to not have thoughts, even without the presence of language. Thoughts, on the most primitive level, are derived from sensory experiences. As long as one has a functioning brain, I was always 100% positive that they are capable of some degree of thought. That being said, I certainly do believe that language is required for any level of complex thought. I often get the spark for some sort of idea, but I cannot flesh it out in my head without using words first.



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Barida

It's all about having an active brain and that's the reason it is always difficult for a mad person to make meaningful thoughts as well.



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peachpurple

Words are embedded into our brain before we could think of a certain topic to ponder about. However words don't have to be in your brain when you are dreaming, just a vision. A child who is thinking of how to get a candy doesn't have to think of words in order to obtain it, he just wail of cry and keep point at it until he gets it. Now, words are not necessary for a child,



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Barida

The power of sight and being able to analyze comes into play at this junction and that's the reason you even see gestures by kids that makes one wonder how it got to that point.



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Barida

In as much as it is possible to have thoughts without words, there is a basic point to be considered and that is in regards to the power of sight. Those that can see without being able to hear can have abilities to think and reason to a certain degree as well.



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Corzhens

I think it is possible to think without words because that’s what the mute and deaf do, they think in terms of shapes and sizes, figures and colors, movements and action. So if they mean jump then they might be figuring a grasshopper or a child with a skipping rope. But for us ordinary mortals who have lived with words, it would be a mixture of words and actions and sizes and shapes. Like when we think of the word gargantuan, it can be an elephant or something so large as a mountain but more likely it is not the word gargantuan that is in our mind.



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cmoneyspinner

It has to be possible to think without language. Otherwise, what about people who are born mute and deaf. Don't people communicate with a deaf child somehow without words? Isn't that why we have sign language. Although the “signs” are “words'. They're just not spoken words. Interesting. What was decided? Can we think without words or not?



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Kakashi2020

I agree, language and thought are both inherent to humans and animals alike, there's no such thing as a language without thought or vice versa. Even primitive man has a means of communication.



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emiaj55

I think language has been generalized as spoken but actually, if we think about them, language is not only of spoken words. That is why there are such things as language of love:comprising of actions that communicates the notion that one person loves the other without really explaining them with words. Same is true with persons with disability In hearing and speaking. They too, do not have the full grasp of concept of Language as a spoken medium of communication. It is like explaining the rainbow to the blind. and yet they could learn to communicate perfectly, and the people around them learns to communicate with them as well. That being said, I would dis agree that words are thoughts. Words are products of thoughts.



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