As a scientific study of language, linguistics primarily focuses on the description and explanation of a language (Allen, 1995). Basically, language itself is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols utilized for human communication. Therefore, in light of the above definition of language, it is clear that only humans have the capability to use language as a medium for communicating their thoughts because only human beings have vocal codes. On the contrary, other animals, regardless of their relationship with human beings are incapable of using verbal speech as a medium of communication. Researchers such as Call and Tomasello (2008) have proved that language is innate, being closely associated with the cognitive ability of humans; hence it is believed to control thoughts in adult human beings. On the contrary, thinking is not related to language in young children who are yet to develop speech, and in primates closely related to human beings, for example, apes which lack command in the language. Therefore, besides its primary communicative function, language has a direct and significant role to play in normal cognition ability as opposed to children, Neanderthals, and apes.
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Thinking and Language in Modern Adult Humans
Based on the arguments presented by socio-linguists such as Call and Tomasello (2008) that language is innate, which means that normal human beings are born with the language acquisition device (LAD); language comes from the mind hence being capable of controlling certain aspects peculiar to human mind like thoughts. According to this concept, children only need to be exposed to a language environment for them to automatically acquire their first language (Call and Tomasello, 2008). The fact that children acquire their first language as opposed to learning shows that language comes purely from the mind; thus language is necessarily required for thinking in adult human beings. Basically, all thoughts present in adult humans take the form of a language; or rather the thoughts are presented in the form of a language considering different ways in which different languages encode concepts. On the contrary, children, who are yet to develop language skills are incapable of thinking linguistically; thus their thinking resembles that of apes and Neanderthals. A normal human being is therefore regarded as cognitively mature after the acquisition of a language. Similarly to apes, young children possess proto-thought, which purely consists of visual images coupled with visually perceived scenes.
Comparatively, being innate, language is the medium of human conceptual thinking. As a rule, language is associated with a radical empiricism about cognitive abilities. Therefore, all human concepts and ways of thinking are directly linked to one’s language since they are communicated in the form of verbal speech (Call and Tomasello, 2008). In simple terms, language is in the mind and consequently, it cannot be separated from central mind processes like thinking. Therefore, adult human beings tend to depend on their natural language while thinking unlike young children who are yet to develop any form of a language. In as much as children are equipped with the sense of a language, being born with a human mind as demonstrated in their ability to acquire their first language, they cannot use language in the thinking process because they have not mastered language. Therefore, the inability of children to think linguistically is due to the fact that young children lack language command compared to adults who have mastered complex commands of their spoken language. It is important to note that human cognitive abilities are transformed after first language acquisition. Typically, language acquisition binds the mind, in which case the mind transmits ideas and concepts in the form of a language. This scenario is however absent in other hominids because their mind is language free; thus they are unable to perceive memes in the same manner as adult human beings.
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Since language is involved in conscious thinking, it means that thoughts take a linguistic form in human beings. This is so because innate speech stimulates conscious conceptual thinking. Language may therefore be confined to conscious thinking in adults. According to Boroditsky, Fuhrman, and McCormick (2011), there is a level of linguistic representation called Logical Forum (LF), which is the point where language faculty interfaces with the central cognitive systems. Therefore, modular thinking consists in the formation and manipulation of these LF representations. Boroditsky et al. (2011) give evidence that human beings think in terms of language because speech is stimulated by thought. In other words, a mental picture is presented in the mind and forms the message to be communicated through speech. The power to change the mental picture into lexical, phonological, and syntactic structures and pass thoughts in the form of speech is solely vested upon human beings. By contrast, other primates, namely apes and Neanderthals are unable to convert their cognitive images into speech because they lack language command; hence they cannot think linguistically.
Generally speaking, language brings about cognitive differences among individuals. For instance, human beings who possess language skills are different from their counterparts who do not possess any language abilities because human beings possess recursion, which is a primary characteristic that distinguishes the human mind from that of any other animal. As canvased by Call and Tomasello (2008), recursion not only is reflected in human mind, but stimulates the minds of other people thus acting as the main ingredient separating human language from other communication forms used by other animals. Based on recursion, it is therefore clear that thoughts go hand in hand with language, which proves that humans think linguistically unlike apes and Neanderthals. Similarly, the cognitive ability in young children depends largely on language development. In particular, children with advanced skills in language have higher cognitive abilities than their counterparts who have not mastered language. In light of the above; language functions as a conduit of belief, because it gives human beings an opportunity to have some thoughts. In particular, human beings use language to learn many life concepts that could not have been acquired in any other way other than through language. At the same time, language is required for the thinking process prevailing in human minds which makes them different from closely related hominids despite sharing the same ancestry.
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Fodor (1975) argues that language is a distinct input-output module of the mind. According to this argument, language is directly linked to the central cognition in adult human beings. By transferring thoughts from the mind in the form of speech, there is a high possibility that adult human beings use language in the thinking process. Besides, children cannot use language to think because they know none. The same applies to apes and Neanderthals. Despite sharing the same ancestry with humans, apes have a lower cognitive ability compared to human beings. Though apes are socially organized and have the ability to use simple tools, as well as predict the next move others might take based on their emotions, they are unable to communicate using verbal speech because they lack vocal codes. Due to this, apes are incapable to pass their thoughts linguistically being unable to think using language.
Language and Thought and Innate in Adults and Children
In as much as thinking in adult human beings is influenced by a language in one way or another, there is no great difference in thinking in adult human beings and children, apes, and Neanderthals. The fact that human beings have the ability to utilize language to express their thoughts does not make their thinking process different with that of children and apes (Whorf, 1956). Based on the innate nature of a language, human beings, regardless of their stage in life ought to think the same. It should be noted that all human beings are born with language acquisition that enables them to automatically acquire any language they are exposed as children. Furthermore, according to the Theory of Mind, which is an important stage of development in early childhood social cognition, as it gives children the ability to socialize with other people as well as perceive things from their point of view (Call & Tomasello, 2008). Some scientists have even proved that babies are also aware of other people’s thoughts and wishes. Therefore, if mature humans can think linguistically, then the same should be applied to children because children have the theory of mind, in addition to the fact that language is encoded in their brains; thus a child has the same cognitive ability as older human beings (Whorf, 1956). Similarly, since all human beings have the same brain composition, then their thinking ability is the same despite their developmental stage. The only difference is the thinking capacity, which majorly depends on the developmental stage.
In relation to Neanderthals and apes, the fact that they are unable to utilize speech does not make their thinking ability different from that of human beings considering the fact that they share the same ancestry. For instance, both human beings and apes share the same hominid intelligence; thus all hominid ancestors possess a more sophisticated social intelligence. More so, apes lead interesting social lives by forming troops and developing social alliances to the extent that young males gang up to drive older dominating males in the troop and take charge. Their activities provide evidence that just like human beings, apes are able to think and develop plans to be executed later on. Similarly, the Neanderthal man was able to think critically as evidenced in their ability to make tools from stones, and their ability to create and use other simple tools. Carving tools from stones is not an easy thing to do because it requires one to think critically in addition to using much energy. In regard to their way of life, it is unfair to claim that apes and Neanderthals think the same way as young human beings simply because they cannot express themselves in speech like adult human beings. In light of the above, language does not necessarily control the thoughts in adult human beings, because just like in the case with other hominids and young children, thoughts are independent of language.
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Consequently, thoughts are separated from language because even adult human beings who are unable to communicate using language are capable of thinking the same way as adults who use language. Fodor (1975) is of the opinion that thinking is independent of language despite resembling language in specific aspects. For instance, language may only control innate speech as opposed to the entire thinking process. With that said, thinking in adult human beings may only differ from that of children and Neanderthals due to the fact that adults have the ability to make innate conversations. In Piaget (1923) view, even though adults possess the ability to engage in innate conversations, children also have the ability to do so because their thinking proceeds and is largely independent of their language acquisition.
Though apes do not use verbal language to communicate their thoughts, they use non-human forms of communication, which means that their thinking may not differ from that of human beings. More so, thinking in apes and Neanderthals is not equivalent to thinking in children because even though they cannot speak, apes are more advanced; thus they think the same way as human beings. Since language is primarily a medium of communication, regardless of whether it is verbal or non-verbal, Neanderthals, like human beings may have had some language forms that underpinned their thoughts. If this is true, then thinking is not different in Neanderthals and children because humans descended from Neanderthals hence inherited many aspects from them, among which are the thinking abilities. Additionally, if adult human beings can think using a language, then apes can also think in terms of non-verbal language which makes their thinking abilities the same. It is no wonder that apes can estimate the distance of food sources, as well as exploit others by taking advantage of their weaknesses, a trend common among human beings. Such trends in the lives of apes may weaken the claim that human beings think linguistically unlike children, Neanderthals, and apes.
Evidently, language seems to control the cognitive abilities of normal human beings. Apart from serving its primary role as a medium for communicating thoughts, language is considered to greatly contribute to the cognitive abilities in human beings. Serving as a major distinctive feature that makes humans different from other species, human beings underwent an evolutionary process that gave them genetic characteristics that enabled them to acquire and use language thus making them unique. Since it is inborn, language controls the mind to some extent. In terms of thoughts, language helps human beings to pass across their inner thoughts hence to some extent, human beings think in terms of their language. Similarly, human beings often engage their minds in innate conversations so that language plays an important role in the thinking process. Since close ancestors of humans, especially apes, are unable to communicate using human language, it is can be regarded that their thoughts, unlike the thoughts of human beings do not depend on a language. As a result, thinking of apes, as well as that of Neanderthals is similar to that of human children simply because none of them can articulate in the form of speech. However, this opinion has its shortcomings because since language is innate, it ought to play the same role in all human beings irrespective of their developmental stage.