Languages & Thought

  I speak three languages fluently: Italian, English, and French. Several people have asked me: in which language do I think? Maybe only in my native language, Italian? Maybe it depends on the situation? Or is it completely random?

  The truth is, I don’t know. Of course, when writing in a language, I’ll construct sentences in my mind in that language before writing them down. But that’s beside the point; most of the time, in fact, I just think. No specific language involved. This corroborates the idea that words and thoughts are separate: after all, words or sentences do “come out wrong” from time to time.

  This also means that I believe that the idea which states that speakers of a language which lacks a certain concept are unable to imagine it, is nonsense; if a notion cannot be described in a language, it means that its speakers rarely encounter that notion, not that they can’t imagine it.

  Language and thought ARE different, then, and gladly so: there are people who translate their thoughts directly into words, talking about everything that crosses their minds, and they are, as far as I’m concerned, quite obnoxious. As humans, we are smart enough to say what is appropriate in a certain situation and not just what we are thinking about at that moment. We are able to communicate more than simple feelings or pieces of information, as less intelligent animals do; we can refine our thoughts, distill them into ideas, and share them with others. And that’s what makes us special, what makes us sapient: the ability through elaborate language to reason as a society and not just as individuals.

…phew. Sorry for the rambling.