Ba Hai standing in her bar at new year with potted plumb and kummquat trees.

Thought and Language


Therefore we say that language is not a sufficient and necessary reason for the process [of thinking].

Inhelder & Piaget (1964)


Deceived by our own internal evidence, we make internal speech the object of...inspection and identify the verbal symbol with the very process of thinking...no large scale investigation has ever discovered any substantial relation between intelligence level and linguistic measurements.

Hans Furth (1966)


The picture is of Bà Hải who runs a beer bar. She is profoundly deaf, although not a bad lip reader, and it is clear, by the way she has run her bar for many decades, that there is nothing amiss with her ability to function in a complex society. Above Furth was not denying that linguistic ability can be a reasonable indicator of intellectual development, but rather that this obscures the deep and complex relation between thought and language. He argued, in his seminal book, that thought provides the ground and the nurture of language, but that it was possible to demonstrate that the thought processes of the profoundly deaf, who had no natural language, were the same as those of the hearing. Thought precedes and is independent of language, a fact, in view of our continuous stream of internal words, it is sometimes hard to believe.

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The photograph was taken at the Vietnamese New Year celebrations when plumb-trees-in-blossom, and kumquat-in-fruit, take over houses. The bar is on a corner by the market in Tĩnh Gia, Thanh Hóa Province. The quote is from Inhelder & Piaget’s book The Early Growth of Logic in the Child, published by Harper & Row, New York p.293. Furth’s lines are from Thinking Without Language, published by Collier Macmillian, London pp. 197 + 199.

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