The Short Humour Site

Home : Writers' Showcase : Submission Guidelines : A Man of a Few More Words : Links

A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

The Language of Thought

English psychologists had long believed that all human beings thought in English. Translation, deep in the brain, from a native tongue to English would be followed by the process of thinking. Finally, the result would be re-translated to the thinker’s native language. This process would clearly take time, and this had seemed a natural explanation for the general slow-wittedness of foreigners - a limitation in their mental functioning which even shouting at them using a stereotypical impersonation of their national accent, often failed to address.

Brain research in the early twenty-first century, however, discredited this theory. It became possible to monitor electrical activity in brain areas associated with thought and then compare this to language patterns. This study clearly showed that thought could occur in any language. For some people the language of thought was their mother tongue, for many, however, it was not.

The linguistic differences between the language of speech and the language of thought were shown to be significant determinants of behaviour.

In relation to driving skills, it is well known that Italian has numerous words for acceleration, lights, horns and gesticulations, but no words for braking or safety. Those who think in Italian, therefore, may present difficulties for other road users.

Concern about the speech development of some Arabic desert Bedouin children was traced to their thinking in the language of Arctic Inuit people. Eighty words for snow, thirty words for describing the proximity and mood of a polar bear and fifty ways of saying ‘Not bloody reindeer stew again?’ were of little use to them.

As a language of thought is innate it is not restricted to contemporary speech. This can present problems for those who think in classical languages such as Latin. Such people find it impossible to talk of any development since 400 AD. Television, telephones and computers are alien to them. Purchasing airline tickets is, of course, out of the question. Indeed few modes of transport remain which rely solely on horses, wind or slaves. Many simply spend their lives in historical re-enactment societies.

Those who think in Swedish are fortunate in having a word for everything, but, as all words are unpronounceable and at least fourteen syllables long, this can cause serious communication delays.

Regional variations within the same thought language are being investigated. It has proved difficult, however, to examine the word content of dialects like Scouse or Glaswegian because many vocalisations have not yet been translated into any language. It would appear, nevertheless, that the latter has some one hundred words related to sexual intercourse, allowing at least one to be inserted as an adjective into every sentence.

Feminist psychologists have postulated that male and female versions exist within the same thought language. Male versions are suggested as typically having many words for sex and football but no words for domestic chores, birthdays, anniversaries or commitment. Female versions may have literally hundreds of words for describing the decor and state of cleanliness of ladies lavatories.

When choosing friends and partners, therefore, seek people who think the same language.