Date: Sun, 16 Nov 1997 11:52:10 -0500

From: Gregory {Greg} Downing downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]IS2.NYU.EDU

Subject: Language and Thought (Was Re: Double negatives (was one as a pronoun?))

At 06:38 AM 11/16/97 -0500, you wrote:

In a message dated 97-11-16 00:21:30 EST, you write:

Which is the chicken? Which the egg?

Mr. Lance,

Your question is very astute. It is the question, "Did cognition

predicate language, or language, cognition?" It would seem that is a

question that psycholinguists and philosophers have been trying to tackle for

a few years now, and it is still a contaversy.

Dave [Pass]

We are not exactly the first to worry about this -- a major issue at the

heart of the whole history of modern philosophy of language (since the 17th

cent.) has been the complicated relationship between these two things, from

at least as early as Locke, and then the counterattack in the opening

section of Berkeley's _Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human

Knowledge_, where B. argues (quite counterintuitively for the book's

original 18th-cent audience) that words created thought by giving people

conceptual tools to work with, whereas before lang. they only had

impressions that popped like bubbles as the mind went on to other things.

See also the opening overview in Hans Aarsleff's _From Locke to Saussure_


For my own work in later-19C theories of language, I've been looking

recently at the hugely popular Max M"uller's work, especially his late 2-vol

work on _The Science of Thought_ (1887), which though it is admittedly

popularizing in some ways and rather fuzzy in its thinking, lays out Max

M"uller's (and some contemporaries') neokantian theory of the origin of

language. They see language as arising from instinctual vocalizations made

when early people engaged in certain actions. This _clamor concomitans_

supposedly became associatively connected with people's conceptualiztions of

the accompanying actions, thus generating words with meanings. Thus, a sound

instinctively made while digging became the verb "dig," etc.... Of course

there are piles and piles of problems inherent in such pre-20th-cent

theories, but the basic idea -- that language and thought helped each other

to develop, rather than a straight-out "one caused the other" analysis -- is

generally valid I suspect, and continues to be the case as thoughts develop

words and words develop thought in visible language-change at present.

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]