Thursday, 20 February 2014

Tom Bartlett On Thought

Tom Bartlett at 10:37 on 19/2/14 wrote to sys-func:
There are different types of thought, not all of which fit easily with a notion of inner speech and which relate to internalised speech in different ways.

The other day on the plane I thought:
"That attractive woman opposite me is picking at the bobbling on her jumper; I often do that; she looks quite style conscious, perhaps she knows if picking the bobbling off will improve or spoil the look of the jumper in the long term; perhaps I could ask her and so pass the journey in an enjoyably flirty manner." (Of course I didn't.)
I thought all of this in an instant and without language as a mediating (formational?) tool and would suggest that such a thought would be possible to those "without language" (I know this is dangerous ground, but it's an idea worth pursuing...).

At other times I do have extended periods of inner discourse (though I often mutter it out loud, much to the embarrassment of my wife and kids). On these occasions language and meaning arise together and I am very aware of stress patterns etc. (as I am now as I think and write this almost simultaneously). But this is only one form of thought and one relation between thought and language.

To put the problem in a nutshell, is anyone suggesting that those born deaf do not think or that they think in signing? To repeat a question from yesterdebate, did Helen Keller not think until she "had language"? Or were her thought processes some kind of language, which developed and altered her way of thinking? Might (some forms of) thought then be internalised interaction but not necessarily "linguistic"?

Alternatively, do higher primates think? Or does simply being aware of being afraid, without naming the emotion, count as thought?

Blogger Comments:

[1] As the quote makes plain, what Bartlett thought was language: a mental projection of meaning, and so, by definition, would not be possible for those "without language".

[2] The notion that language can "arise" without meaning is nonsensical.

[3] Signers mentally project the ideas of language, just like any other meaners.

[4] If SFL is any guide, our fellow higher primates, as Sensers, are Mediums of the four general kinds of mental process: perception, emotion, desideration and cognition, though what they project through desideration and cognition are not the ideas of language — unless, like Kanzi, they are language users.  They do use protolanguage though, which means the distinctions of their inner domain of experience, cognition and desideration, are cross-coupled with the distinctions of their outer domain of experience, intersubjective and objective, yielding the four microfunctions.

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