A highly subjective writeup on...
the process of thinking
Since I speak a few languages (this, this, this,
this and this), I often get asked what language I think in.
The person who asked me this was American, when I was about 15 years old.
She only spoke English. This made me think a lot. How do you explain these
concepts to someone who speaks one language? The result is basically this WU
Although there are several good explanations and philosophical / psychological
proofs for what I'm about to tell, I have to admit that I can't really understand
those explanations. In general, because things tend to get way too technical.
"Proofs" pointing towards that you don't think in a language.
Have you ever:
- Had a feeling you couldn't describe?
- Wanted to say some idea you've had, but just couldn't do it?
- Had to illustrate something you've tried to tell someone, because the
words weren't getting you where you wanted?
These three examples are essentially the same: You know there is something
you want to convey, but you just can't. The reason for this doesn't have to
be that you don't know enough words (although the english language has so many words you're hardly going to know them all), but it might
be that there is no word that describes the feeling / emotion / picture
you are trying to explain.
FROM THOUGHT TO WORDS
| THOUGHT |
| STORAGE | | TRANSLATOR |
+-- ENGLISH -----.
| >-- OUTPUT (Words)
+-- DUTCH -----'
I usually think of my brain and the processes going on in there as a computer.
Not because I'm so terribly, horribly smart, but because the processes
seem to be much the same. The psychological term used for the process labelled
"thought" above is mentalese.
I disagree with the general theory of Mentalese for several reasons,
mainly because it does not coincide with my experiences.
Instead of an universal "thought language" that everybody shares,
I believe that everyone is equipped with potential to develop their own
system of thought. The fact that some people are artists with words,
while others are artists with numbers, artists with
music, artists in sportsor artists with colours and shapes,
and the fact that not all people see those arts, or even recognize numbers or
paintings or music as art, proves to me that there is more difference than taste,
preference and culture - there must be sheer difference in the way information
is stored, processed and expressed.
As seen from the chart above, I don't believe there is a connection between
the storage and the translator. In other words; You can't say something without
thinking about it first (arguably, you can say something stupid that you
regret, but I refuse to believe there is no thought process involved).
My sister speaks the same array of languages that I do. She has lived in France
and gone to the IB (International Baccalaureate) school in Norway. This
results in that it is more or less random which language we
speak in when there is just the two of us. This has the interesting effect
that later, when my mother asks me what we spoke about, I will be able to tell
her exactly what we spoke about. I might even quote my sister,
but I might quote her in a different language - I can't remember what
language we used when talking together.
To me, that proves that information is stored independently from a language.