Do Languages Influence Intelligence?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by darksidZz, Apr 3, 2007.

  1. darksidZz Valued Senior Member

    It's a simple question. I believe that your language will determine whether or not you develop above average intelligence. I think that without language humanity wouldn't have built any of the scientific devices they now possess. Furthermore I feel we would lack the same systems used today for social, political, and meaingful debate.

    If all languages were similar would we be more inclined to agree with one another, or would there still be a divide between us based on race?

    I'd have to ask whether language is a helpful, beneficial thing for mankind, or a negative force that drives a wedge between our cultures. Another concern is this... if language is unique to each culture then is their scientific knowledge, etc. built upon their ability to communicate through it?

    How much does language influence society?
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  3. RoyLennigan Registered Senior Member

    To some extent, yes. I'd say that language and society are symbiotic (if that word can be used here). They mirror each other, changing with ourselves.

    I think that language has both the ability to obscure communication as well as clear it up. It puts an intangible absoluteness on things that doesn't actually exist in the real world. but since we think of things through language, we tend to get stuck in the thought that things actually exist seperate from one another. They don't.

    But on the other hand, if we didn't have language, everything would just be a jumble of different conflicting motivations and ideas that never go anywhere.

    I'd say we're working on it.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Huh? Without language humanity would never have emerged from the Mesolithic Era. The planning, organization, and passing of knowledge from one generation to another that marked the transition to the Neolithic Era with its agriculture and permanent settlements would have been impossible without language. It's been recently hypothesized that language was first invented before we left Africa. It's possible that language is the technology that made possible the diaspora of Homo sapiens in the first place, that without it we could not have successfully migrated into Asia Minor, where we invented civilization and all of those scientific devices.
    I guess you're being sarcastic. Without language how is there debate? There would be the limited communication of facial expression and body language that the other apes have. Notice that the apes who have been taught American Sign Language are so struck by the way it has enriched their own lives that they teach it to other apes.
    Americans on the north and south side of the Mason-Dixon line speak virtually the same language and are of the same race, yet we disagree violently. The Irish have been speaking English for centuries and they don't agree with the English. People within the same family hate each other. Language is a tool for communication but it is not a magical talisman that creates harmony.
    Language is mankind. Without it Homo sapiens would just be tribes of hunter-gatherers like our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas. It's just plain silly to talk about mankind in the absence of language.
    Language is just one aspect of human culture. Language and the rest of a culture evolve together and influence each other.

    Chinese has no verb tenses and therefore no conditional or subjunctive mode. It's said that makes it difficult to express speculative statements. Yet it does have a couple of different words for "if" and they seem to be all it takes to surmount the difficulty. German is hamstrung by an involuted syntax that often places the verb at the very end of a very long sentence. Yet Germans have had no trouble excelling in science and philosophy. Many foreigners feel ill at ease with English's lack of a formal form of "you," yet it doesn't bother us at all. We are befuddled by Japanese's ability to build a sentence with no subject, but they find it useful for constructing Zen parables.

    All of these differences make a language seem charming or frustrating to outsiders and they give a moderate impetus to the shaping of its speakers' thoughts. Yet we have remarkably little difference translating the weightiest books from one to another.

    Language helps reinforce diversity. I believe the richness that diversity has brought to the culture of our civilization is well worth the price we pay for it, in the form of the occasional misunderstanding.

    As for the original question, whether language correlates with intelligence... Yes, the ability to communicate in language is the ability to think in language, and most people think predominantly in words. Without language we would be much lesser animals. But if the question is whether the accident of speaking one language rather than another gives an advantage in developing intelligence, I don't think there's any evidence of that. The range of IQ among humans is so broad that it would be impossible to factor out the influence of language even if it existed.
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  7. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    If most thinking is done in words, it's strange that expressing thought in words is so difficult.
  8. valich Registered Senior Member

    To answer your question simply, there is no doubt that the complexity of a language that one grows up in determines the complexity of the neural networks that you henceforth solidify in your brain for later computational analysis and discourse. In this sense, language helps determine intelligence.
  9. John99 Banned Banned

    if only life worked that way/

    if only you can read a book and be smarter

    if only you can learn a new language and be smarter

    if only you didnt have to have a reason to scream look at me look at me.

    im special, how can i be called smart if there were no stupid people, foster the illusion make me feel good.

    lloka how johnh rights he stoopid not me.
  10. Roman Banned Banned

    By putting "an intangible absoluteness on things that doesn't actually exist in the real world", we're able to like, do stuff. Like type on the internets.
  11. RoyLennigan Registered Senior Member

    Yes, I agree with you. But being human is a balance between faith and questioning. Faith lets us take the world as it is, without question, and so we see it as it really is, if we dissassociate enough. But if you live only with faith, then you never really know anything more than your own existence. By questioning, we have uncovered this vast array of possibilities that we were never aware of before. But the more possibilities there are, the less sure we are of anything. That is why we make laws (of science) and conclusions; because we need to stop at one point and use it because it helps us out (or, if it doesn't, then we don't stop).
  12. Rantaak Registered Senior Member

    Thought is expressed via language. If you alter the dynamics of a language, you alter the dynamics of how people express thought. For example, Rap music has becoming more and more popular in the U.S. over the years. It has also coined hundreds of terms. What do these terms actually mean? Many people (mostly teenagers) use these terms to think. This results in a lack of thoughtfulness, among other things. Chances are, hopefully, once they grow older and once some of them are forced to act more professional, they will grow out of this particular way of language and show better skills of articulation and thought. Or maybe they'll just pretend to...

    That's how language affects intelligence, behavior, and thought.
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    For whom? I haven't had that problem since I was about 12.
  14. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    For most people, who clearly aren't thinking in words.

    "If I could say it, I wouldn't have to dance it" Martha Graham
  15. valich Registered Senior Member

    Life does work this way. Note thast I am talking about language that you grow up with, i.e., as a baby. Still, it is a fact that parents who encourage their children to read, and read to and with them as they grow, are more intelligent.

    I do not understand the ending remarks of your post.
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Yes, I'm a musician in addition to having a real job, so I understand that some people develop lives in which many of their important thoughts are non-verbal. But with every paradigm shift in civilization, those choices of lives become scarcer. These days it's down to the dancers and other artists, probably athletes and certain craftsmen, maybe bus drivers, perhaps mathematicians (I studied to be one and my thoughts about math were formed in words but maybe that's why I ended up not becoming one after all) and I'm sure I missed a few people.

    But I'm convinced that the activities and interests that fill the lives of the vast majority of people in the 21st century can only be effectively managed mentally by using words. How would you plan a day of bookkeeping, selling shoes, chasing criminals, programming computers, or even cooking a meal or bulldozing a building site, except in thoughts that are mostly composed of words? Every visual image of a Ferragamo shoe or a plate full of basic food groups is supported by copious verbal description in order to make it something more than a daydream.

    Even raising children and farming have become word-intensive occupations in our era.
  17. Jeremyhfht Registered Senior Member

    My point:

    Languages evolve depending upon the culture. If a culture is centered around thinking, either be it science or abstract thought (greek, for example), their language will have more abstract-words. While more religious languages tend to be confined (ancient hebrew) to what the culture knows.

    Overall, language doesn't inherently decide ones intelligence. What your culture is, how you were raised, and your own mental capabilities/interests tend to have much more of an influence.

    Remember: The people are the ones responsible for the language. Not the other way around.
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Good point, with plenty of supporting evidence. Languages that are imposed on or adopted by communities of non-native speakers undergo profound changes to adapt to their thought patterns.
    • The Latin that was brought to the Germanic-speaking Franks has changed far more than that retained by the Italians, a striking example being its unique preference for the present perfect over the preterit to express past tense.
    • Yiddish has been shorn of most of German's convoluted grammar and syntax in favor of a more streamlined, pragmatic structure.
    • The Bulgars are the only people to add definite and indefinite articles to their adopted Slavic tongue.
  19. Medicine*Woman Jesus: Mythstory--Not History! Valued Senior Member

    M*W: And a good point it was!

    The way I see it, survival is what necessitates a method of communication. Language is that vehicle. As for language increasing intelligence, that happens indirectly. Survival is more assured when people can communicate amongst themselves. The more a group communicates, the more likely a greater learning will occur and, therefore, a higher level of intelligence will be the result, I think.
  20. TimeTraveler Immortalist Registered Senior Member

    yes it does.
  21. Xev Registered Senior Member

    I'd also point out that a language that can be easily used to convey symbolic and quantitative thought gives its speakers an obvious advantage in technical fields. Grammar can force logical thought.
  22. Ripley Valued Senior Member

    I always thought of thought to be fast. Clarifying it as language of course can be inhibiting. And do you know, some of my better and most beautiful thoughts will be degraded and strained with language. -- The listener: it also depends very much on he who listens...
  23. Ripley Valued Senior Member

    And a change of personality.

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