Language, thinking and intelligence

In my tiny mind I have come to the conclusion that to think rationally and logically you need to use language. Try as hard as I might, I can not conciously think without using English or numbers. Even on picture puzzles I find myself thinking in english along the lines of 'well if I put that there and that goes there…etc" This is completly different to the intuitional way of thinking when you ‘realise’ something with out putting any mental effort in.
As far as I am aware language is just another form of symbology, as in we use words to represent other things, to substitute an idea for an object.
So thinking this I come to the conclusion that intellegence can only develop with the advent of language and just maybe intelligence will grow the more complicated a language is, or as a language grows?
I’m sure there must be some information on this idea, can anyone expand on this notion for me please?


Thinking gradually further I suppose imagination came before logical thinking. For example our ancestors maybe saw a buffalo one day and studied it then went home to his cave and that night recalled the image of the buffalo ( a form of thinking), associating animals with food imagined how the buffalo moved and it’s habits and imagined what he could do to kill it for food, then using logic refined his technique and tools (through realisation, a form of thinking, that an acute edge cuts better than a blunt edge and then logic to think that the knowledge of a sharp edge would be useful in this situation)? But then he also needed to develop some sort of communication to tell his hunting partners of his plan?

— Welcome to the forum Mentulzen.

— I am not the best person to explain this, but here goes…

— Language and thinking are inseparable. Some have even said that the brain arose due to the need for communication among a species that had no claws. The Linguist and humanist Noam Chomsky goes as far as to say that our brains are specifically hardwired for language. He points to the very difficult rules in any language and that even some children know instantly when someone has violated those rules. Another thinker in this region is Ludwig Wittgenstein. One of the things he and others have said is that language is primarily social and that consequently there can not be a language solely to express one’s inner experiences. Have you ever had some brilliant quip on the end of your tongue, only to have it come out all garbled? That is similiar to what Wittgenstein is saying, but he also says more.

Thanks Marshall for the welcome and the reply.

I don’t really understand what you mean by a species that had no claws. I was of the understanding that all living things able to move location have some sort of brain, primitive or advanced, but you seem to be saying that is not the case? Or that very primitive creatures of old did not have brains as we know them?

Brains specifically hardwired for language is a nice concept, and if intelligence is the result of language then the brain being hardwired for language(a primary tool of our brain) would have arisen from the evolutionary process?

You say some children know instantly when someone has violated rules of language, while I agree with that, I have to point out that children have to learn language structure and one of the hardest concepts it seems is the tense of a word. (I have two daughters, oldest four, the youngest two years old)Things like, ‘I have dided that’ instead of ‘I have done that’
These type of rules seem to change depending on the type of word and situation it is used in. In their brains they apply the rule they have learnt for a similar word only to find later that there is a subtle rule to apply.
(I only speak English, and only learnt very basic rules of grammer at school, I doubt if I could tell you the difference between a noun and Pronoun)

As far as I understand it the basic rules of language are common through out all languages, but when it comes to things like tense and gender, it can vary across the board.

So yes maybe the common language rules are hardwired but the more ambigous concepts of language are not.
Language being primarally social I would agree with, though I do tend to talk to myself sometimes :wink: ,but I’m not interly sure what you mean by ‘inner experience’. Thinking on it, everything I experience is internal for me. for example I see with my eyes, smell with my nose etc, but ultimately all my experiences are finally observed within me…
By inner experience do you/they mean an experience arising from no outside stimulation?

As for brilliant quips, alas for my slow brain they are few and far between, but yes, when they do appear they more often than not come out garbled.

Noam Chomsky and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
I shall do a search for them when I have the time, but by any chance do you have any links to hand that I may follow, nothing to technical though, I pretty much need things in laymans terms, but even technical ones will do if there is nothing else.

‘but he also says more’…
what a way to leave it !


A similar idea is put forward in “The Myth Of Irrationality” by John McCrone. Although a lot of the book is rather nasty ad-hominem arguments against Rousseau, Nietzsche, Freud etc., the linguistic parts were interesting. The accounts of feral children (i.e. those brought up by animals) and how impaired their memory and abstract thought was show that without language- learnt at a young age- humans are little more than animals. I read it a few years ago so I don’t remember the other parts so well, I should probably re-read it.

— I’m sorry that i did’nt further clarify my thoughts. The “no claws” clause was intended to convey this: The human brain has expanded to an enormous size (brain / body mass) based on fossil evidence, etc. Man is different from the animals that have teeth, claws, stings, etc. Man’s means of survival is his brain. perhaps communication aided him in his survival in the fact that he would be able to coordinate hunts, warn of approaching predators, and maybe even occaisonally have the chance to say something coy to his mate.
— I’m afraid that the two philosophers i’ve given you may not be the first you should look at to learn about this or even the most representative but they are two in this area of knowledge that i have some scant acquaintance with.
— These two sites ought to get you started. The first is a Wittgenstein encyclopedia entry, and the second is an interview with Chomsky.
— Language is a tool of thought, we have to use it even in order to talk about it, it is the inescapable iron cage within which we are trapped.
— Inner experience. One thing Wittgenstein asked which made me wake up and smell the coffee was: How do you describe the aroma of coffee to someone who has never smelled it? Language by it’s very essence must have common experiences as it’s basis, otherwise those experiences can’t be communicated.

The way people use lauguage gives people a sense of there intelligence, as usually a person with bad English is unconsciously talked to as a child or as stupid; if another person talked to same person with longer more descriptive words in a commanding voice, he would be unconsciously seen as a more intelligent man–despite the fact that the foreigner was a Dr.
The amount of language a person has in his vocabulary, the more we feel we can communicate well this person; pets are seen as stupid, but i do though understand the noices they make, in there need to communicate, its just i couldnt communicate back well to know if they understand me.

like when you walk past there food ball and they make a noice kind of thing, not that im well emersed in animal language… :slight_smile:

— Gorillas that have been taught sign language think their non-sign-language cousins stupid when released in the wild. I even heard of a chimpanzee once that upon seeing a duck for the first time made the signs for water and bird. I have seen my late dachshund display more than a handful of emotions.
— What really bothers me is that people in this country that have English as a second language and are not quite fluent are often condescendingly looked upon . I wish Americans would give these people a break, they are bilingual and some of them are smarter and harder working than a lot of Americans. Even though a lot of immigrants have degrees they frequently wind up in the restaurants here and Roanoke already has more restaurants per capita than almost any other city on the east coast.

— I have just read some arguments that fly in the face of Chomsky’s innate language argument (Terrence W. Deacon The symbolic Species: The co-evolution of language and the brain). He argues that yes language is complex but language has evolved and it has specifically evolved to be understandable by children, furthermore, the complex grammar of a language that innate-language linguists make out to be so complicated is able to be learned by computer neural nets.

Reply to Marshall McDaniel

I found a review of Terrence W. Deacon’s book at
but I couldn’t get at the reason you say that: “the complex grammar of a language that innate-language linguists make out to be so complicated is able to be learned by computer neural nets.” I find that surprising since I was under the impression that even the best text interpreting software is easily confused by every day idioms, or phrases from television ads or old jokes.

— Terrence W. Deacon’s quotes Elman’s Rethinking Innateness.

— In Deacon’s words, “This simulation thus demonstrated that it was possible to design a device that could learn to predict grammatically correct sentence structure in a purely inductive fashion, given nothing more than a corpus of positive examples of allowable texts.”[/url]