Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog


Thinking in languages

I’m thinking of…
Originally uploaded by gutter

Phyllis says people have often asked her whether her kids are thinking in English or French when they are speaking the latter, and I remember being asked similar questions when I was a kid.

I must admit I find it a puzzling question because I don’t think of thinking as being in a language most of the time. I’d say something like 4/5 of thought happens in swift, intuitive, pictorial ways, and it’s only put into words in a final output stage.

So when I’m speaking Spanish (just to take a language I’m fairly fluent in but where I have severe gaps in my vocabulary), most of my thinking is the same as the same as if I had been speaking Danish, but when I have to output it, I have to express myself using fewer words, and I will occasionally be unable to express exactly what I wanted to say. That doesn’t mean I have a word or a sentence ready in Danish, just that I’m thinking of a concept that doesn’t have an output mapping.

So I must say I disagree with Wittgenstein: Die Grenzen meiner Sprache sind nicht die Grenzen meiner Welt.

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