Your Questions About An Impaired Use Of Language

June 28, 2013
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Mary asks…

Any arguments for why humans can’t think without language?

I got really unlucky and have to debate for why human’s “can’t” think without language. I just can’t find any sources that argues for this side but I’ve seen at least a dozen sources defending how deaf people and babies can think without language.

So are there any sources out there books/articles that argues for why we can’t think without language?

admin answers:

People can think without language — it’s even a scientific fact and you can’t argue against a fact. However, if you play a bit with the wording, there is a psychologist, Lev Vygotski, according to whom internal language (basically speaking to yourself in silence) is the basis for the mental processes of higher order such as deduction (an inference whose conclusion is of no greater generality than the premises which brought it), meta-cognitive abilities (the ability to think about your own thinking processes) and essentially any cognitive operation you would classify as a “formal operation” under Piaget’s terminology. In short, without some form of language, you cannot access to the mastery of theoretical frameworks, of abstract concepts and so on; you are limited to concrete operations which grants you with a basic functional understanding of reality, but doesn’t give you the abilities required to have the presence of mind to proceed systematically when trying to isolate the variable which is independent (the cause) in a causal relation or to project many possibilities or explanation so that you can then be methodical when verifying them.

If you want an example of the second one, when you hear people concluding out of someone’s mistake that he’s an idiot and don’t really go further, they’re essentially failing to present you with many ideas: it could be the circumstances (he could be tired, stressed, etc.); it could be that he was simply ignorant of something; it could have been a perceptual misinterpretation (for complex psychological reasons, he simply couldn’t read the message the way the author intended it to be read or something along those lines)… Middle aged adults are often caught doing this — some of them do it purely because they’re reverting to short cuts that people grow as a compensation for the decrease in cognitive speed that occurred as they aged; others do it because they don’t see the other options.

Anyway, to answer your question directly, it depends on what is meant by “thinking” — some thought processes require a form of language to be applied. But, be careful… Here, I doubt that being deaf or mute can impair your ability to do so since they DO use some form of language and at time even can understand what you say: some read on your lips, some use their hands… That’s still language as far as science is concerned and, if you would like to verify, I think it does refer to very similar brain processes with minor variations. The thing I referred to is the third stage of three levels of language: the first one is the social language (talking to other people); the second one is the egocentric language (that’s when you talk to yourself by speaking out loud); the last one is the internal language (talking to yourself in your head). A peculiar fact is that, to children of about 4 years old, the last one is inaccessible, inconceivable: they don’t understand what you are doing, reading in silence. An other peculiar fact is the way people learn stuff and how it relates to this: every time you talk to yourself aloud instead of “thinking to yourself,” you’re training yourself to be dumber. For a kid under 7, it’s normal to do it; they even seem to narrate a scenario involving themselves and, at nights, they can even talk to themselves aloud when in their beds… And that’s not weird since it’s what you’re doing in your own head all the time — talking to yourself. However, once you’re able to do it, you should privilege it more often because, since it’s a more evolved process, it encourages you to retain a higher level of ability regarding your thoughts.

In a simple line, you could say that not using some form or an other of language limit greatly your ability to think and, if you segment thought into qualitatively different types of cognitive processes, it’s even possible to sustain that a whole series of mental operations are entirely inaccessible to those who don’t learn some language.

Joseph asks…

What placements/aspects would make someone interested/study in sign language?

Specifically people who translate sign language and they have no disability at all.

admin answers:

Gemini rising, or possibly Mercury in Gemini. Gemini rules the hands, and Gemini Ascendants will often “talk with their hands,” anyway. I have Gemini rising, and I learned sign language as a child. I have continued to use it every chance I get, even substitute teaching in a Hearing Impaired classroom, and filling in for the one-on-one translator for a H.I. Student in mainstream classes.

Charles asks…

How in the world can they tell if someone with severe autism is retarded?

If someone does not comprehend language or even the most basic requests, how can they test IQ? I am talking about someone that knows only about 20 words.
Perhaps mentally handicapped would be a better word.

admin answers:

You can give a CTONI (Comprehensive Test of Non-verbal Intelligence) and then combine that with some sort of adaptive scales like the ADI (Adaptive Behavior Inventory) or the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales.

There are actually other intelligence tests that do not require verbal instuctions or responses, but that’s the one with which I am most familiar.

Just keep in mind that in order to diagnose mental retardation–which is still the terminology used by IDEA, by the way–you have to be able to demonstrate low intelligence, impaired adaptive behaviors, and, in the case of children, poor academic performance.

For what it’s worth, I do not like the supposed “new” terminology of “intellectually disabled” because it implies that IQ is the only factor, and neglects the adaptive behaviors component of the diagnosis. If “MR” is not a good term, “intellectual disability” isn’t much better.

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