Language of thought and my granddaughter

The great linguist Noam Chomsky is famous for his theory of universal language and grammar. He argued convincingly that language is innate in human beings. Evolutionary psychologists and cognitive scientists like Steven Pinker came up with experimental evidence in support of this theory. Contrary to the general belief that language shaped thought, they could prove that it’s thought that shaped our language. So, if language is innate to humans, then what could the basis for it? It’s the language of thought, as Steven Pinker argues. These ideas made me curious and encouraged me to passively observe my two-year old granddaughter.

My granddaughter is able to talk three-word sentences, her vocabulary being limited. For instance if she needs to convey a message with three words, no problems. She would fill in the rest with some gibberish like ”va va vavava”, the English equivalent of bla bla bla! If she needs to convey a complicated message like – I got hurt when I ran up to climb on the stool, she would do one better. She would say in tamil –   anga uva dhabhal, followed by her bla bla bla (literal translation of which is: over there fell hurt). Not satisfied with this, she would then run all the way and demonstrate how she fell! What we see here is a great slow motion action replay! It’s not merely a language of thought but it’s also a language of action! Her language of action comes in handy especially when wants to express a fact of being full when she is being fed. It’s quite simple. She would initially protest saying – No No No. If it goes unheeded as mothers are known to disregard a kid’s first refusal, she would just spit out the whole food neatly tucked inside her tiny mouth! She does the same thing when she is being given water to drink, effectively demonstrating that actions speak louder than words!

Very often her language of thought provides unintended humour too. Once she saw her grandmother watering plants. She came running to me and reported – Patti thanni potta! That remark was enough to cause a burst of  laughter all around.( ”Thanni potta” in tamil is a slang expression for drinking alcohol!).

One final example for the language of thought. Children seem to have an innate mechanism in their brain circuitry for reward & punishment. Much before she started speaking,  my granddaughter would quickly respond to bribes. There is a fixed rate for everything – eating food without any fuss, for doing the favour of drinking water or for not insisting on carrying her in the park.There is a price for everything. Of course, the price and demands keep escalating as she grows up.

Published in: on April 30, 2016 at 10:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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