Language Matters: Words for Thought

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein

We think in words.

We tell ourselves what we want to hear, we talk ourselves out of (or into) things, we listen to that little voice in our heads that tells us what to do, we talk through an idea (or we think out loud), and we sometimes escape to hear ourselves think.

How many times have you grasped at an idea, knowing that you knew what you wanted to express but you couldn’t quite express it, so you grappled with your thoughts and muttered some related words to yourself until you finally hit upon that right word with a “Eureka!” moment and felt immense relief at having found the word that matched your meaning?

But what if you didn’t know that word?

How would you express that meaning?  More importantly, would you even be able to conceive of that concept if you had no word to associate it with?

Studies have shown that vocabulary size in children is associated with the ability to grasp new concepts and understand new information.  Kids with more word knowledge have an easier time thinking about unfamiliar subjects because they have more words to think with.

Words are like tools.  If all you have are nails, planks, and a hammer, you could build a rough shelter.  But if you want a big, elaborate house, you’re going to need more specialized tools.  Similarly, basic words can communicate basic concepts, but if you want to express full, complicated ideas, you’re going to need more sophisticated words.

What do you think?  Let us know in the comments!

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