“Thought and language are intimately associated. The expression of a thought is not merely a postscript to the process of thinking the thought in the first place. It’s not as if our thoughts exist and grow in some pure, ethereal “thoughtworld”, devoid of any manifestation, until such time as we choose to pluck one out of the mist and condense it into base words. No! The act of expressing a thought is part and parcel of the thinking itself. Language is the vehicle of thought.” (Chris Crawford)

I have always felt that the ways that we communicate affect how we think. When I was in high school I spoke 3 languages (English, Spanish and German) and had studied a bit of Latin and French. I choose which college I wanted to go to because I was impressed that they taught 13 foreign languages. I was intrigued by the observation that some languages have multiple words for something that another language covers in a single word. It wasn’t till much later that I realized that I probably wanted to study cognitive science, rather than spoken language fluency.

In the meantime I majored in computer science. It was practical, yet interesting. (It balanced my impractical other-major of visual art.) I added C++, Pascal and assembly language to my collection. One way of thinking about programming is that it is the act of naming things. In writing classes and methods, we define nouns and verbs. Writing code is the perpetual evolution of a specific language, customized for describing the task at hand.

I agree with Chris Crawford that communication develops thought. The passage above is from his book You Should Learn to Program. I already know how to program, but enjoyed his first chapter. It reminded me of why I like to keep a web log. Writing about a topic causes me to think more clearly about it. I realize that I have more questions and I make connections in my mind. Thought doesn’t just happen in your head.

“A clearer view of human intelligence and cognitive development emerges if human-class intelligence is recognized as inherently a socially distributed phenomenon.” (Daniel Bullock)

read more top ten reasons for a web log

2 thoughts on “language is the vehicle of thought

  1. “Writing about a topic causes me to think more clearly about it.”

    Oh, absolutely, I agree. My bedside journal used to serve that purpose for me, giving me a place to organize my thoughts by having to express them. For me it’s easier to do that in writing than in speech, mostly because you have more time to choose and review your own words when you’re writing them. I’ve been writing less in my journal since I started blogging because now I use that forum to express myself.

    Just the act of choosing words to speak or write makes us mindful of what we’re trying to say. Is there a word or words for what we’re thinking? If not, can we invent something? One thing about blogging, you anticipate having an audience for your words. Even if you don’t ;-), you’ll probably take a little more time when writing about particularly sensitive topics, or when you really want to get your point across.

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