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bishoff11's avatar

How did humans think before there was language?

Asked by bishoff11 (25points) December 24th, 2007
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11 Answers

alexSaysArff's avatar

I believe that humans always had some sort of language. Languages back in the pre-historic times might not had a constructed alphabet, how grammar was used, etc. Besides speaking, they communicated well through music and simple writing through symbols. There is no true evidence on how language began. But, we know that language evolves just like humans. In example; Indo-European family langauge group off shoots into different language groups, then those become more narrow and specific languages.

skfinkel's avatar

The question of language and thinking was explored in depth by Piaget and Vygotsky—only they were looking (not together—and in fact had different ideas) at the development of each child. The question is, is there thinking before language develops? While this is not your question, perhaps there are some ideas in their work that could be used to answer yours.

felipelavinz's avatar

I support skfinkel’s answer: I really wonder if in the absence of language one might talk about “thinking”. Sure, some people might say that animals think, but you would have to agree that getting food from a machine it’s not quite the same thing as math, philosophy or literature, all of them are only conceivable on a very abstract level, and language (not just talking, but also the capacity of generating a speech) it’s an absolute need for this.

s3rvant's avatar

From the Christian point of view, language was available immediately after creation, see Genesis.

felipelavinz's avatar

From the pastafarian point of view, the Flying Spaghetti Monster was drunk when he created life, so there’s no certainty of when was language created.

bishoff11's avatar

Well Well! It seems I have received an answer from almost every perspective which is, of course, a great phenomenon. Going a bit further in the hypothetical, suppose a human is born without all sensations (including touch). Could such a person think as we generally use the term? My own view is that, at some point in our evolution, the same entity that created the “big bang” decided to imbue our animal with a consciousness, a sense of self, an ability to imagine the future, and the ability to think.Ecce homo! I think, therefore I am! My entity is not the same as the God of the Old Testament. My entity did not “creatively design” human beings – it worked with what was there. If we humans were “designed ”. then the designer did a very poor job. Look at our immune system- enormously over complicated and inefficent. Look at our oxygen intake system – less than 40% of the oxygen we inhale reaches the cells.
Thanks for all your answers – so far!

extolsmith's avatar

I speak therefore I am.

cahiocao's avatar

No. “I am therefore I speak.”

I think the best way to approach this question is to first understand what language does for us now. While we think using language, we don’t actually have to – it’s entirely possible, albeit difficult, to think purely in emotions and visual cues. Language, in our minds, is more like…a metronome and an compressor. A guideline to keep our thoughts fluent and coherent in a ‘train’ of thought; an algorithm to abstract complicated things in our mind into much smaller and more manageable pieces.

Take away these abilities and our minds now have to toil exponentially harder to ‘think’ – we can’t come up with sophisticated ideas anymore because our minds simply can’t keep track of everything necessary to produce those thoughts – the memories, visuals, emotions, ideas…etc.

So in other words, humans without language more than likely thought just like Animals using primarily visuals and emotions in extremely short, jarring trains of thought – far removed from the sort of reasoning processes we take for granted today. It wasn’t because they were stupid of course, but because without language, their mental faculties simply weren’t enough to effectively process all the concepts necessary for higher thinking.

felipelavinz's avatar

Jane Goodall, an “an internationally recognized authority on the primate world” said on a TED Talk about what separates us from the apes: the only thing that we have and makes us so different from apes and other living creatures it’s our sofisticated spoken language

Language it’s not just about sentences, writing or reading, it’s about creating an entire symbolic world that lies above the entire “natural” world. When word emerges, we are hopelessly separated from things, and the only way we have to communicate with other human beings it’s through language. Language it’s fundamentally a social phenomena, and it’s waiting for everyone of us before we are even born; it’s prior and greater than our individual existence. Even emotions and visual cues are shaped by the language that has preceded our and their existence; even everything pre-verbal needs to be translated into language to find it’s space in social relations.

cahiocao said “in other words, humans without language more than likely thought just like Animals using primarily visuals and emotions in extremely short, jarring trains of thought”… but it’s that really what we call thinking? And this is where we get to an unavoidable point in every discussion: the definition of the concepts we’re talking about.

So, I would have to say: to me, that’s not thinking.

bishoff11's avatar

My final comment: In short, the consensus seems to be “they didn’t think – at least in the way we think of thinking (heh heh) today. Thanks again to all who answered! Bish

Trance24's avatar

Hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Im agnostic therefor I am open to anything. I am open minded. But I must say I disagree with the fact we were placed here with language already to go.

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