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The Problem of Language

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  • The Problem of Language

    The problem of language can be said to be invariably one of the most turbulent, disturbing and ambiguous problems which has occupied philosopher’s minds for centuries.
    This is because language is that which is used to communicate ideas, be it scientific or philosophical. Hence one cannot orally communicate without language.

    The need to establish a lingua franca (a language used to identify the various kinds of languages that may be used when diverse linguistic group must find a common medium of communication), has been a great concern to the people especially philosophers in order to enhance their trading and academic activities etc. it is in this bid to uphold a language that some lacks and problems have been discovered in the languages of both African and Western philosophy (most especially African philosophy) because critics hold it that the language of an African man is incomplete, lost, completely different from one ethnic group to another, and their issue of borrowing words from other non-African language et cetera, this put together all other prejudice and bias mind has culminated to the denial of anything like African philosophy. Therefore, this has been the object of our discussion which is to determine its veracity, make a comparison with that of the Westerns and proffer possible solutions. But before we go further, in other to avoid ambiguities it is pertinent to clarify some of our key terms after which we shall move to the crux of the work.

    Determining the relationship between language and thought is the major problem of language and thought. That is to say, finding the role of language in thought vice versa, determining whether language is dependent or independent on thought, vice versa. There are three distinguishable views involved in this foregoing argument. They are;
    1. The monistic view/ reductionist view
    2. The dualistic view
    3. The moderate view.
    THE MONISTIC VIEW; this is the view that language and thought are but one and the same mental activity. The proponents of this view, reduced thought to language, to an inner silent speech (here it drives the name reductionist).
    This relationship is apparent in the ancient Greek meaning of the term logos as both word (language, speech, discourse etc.)and thought (reason, sense etc.). Thus, in affirmation to this, Thomas Hobbes in Language and Thought: a Problematique in African Philosophy, notes that:

    The Greeks have only one word – logos, for both speech and reason; not that they thought that there was no speech without reason, but no reasoning without speech.
    Therefore, with the position of Hobbes, thought is not possible without language vice versa.Plato also throws a light to this by saying that thinking is nothing but discussing only that it is a silent discussion.
    Notwithstanding this view, the identification of language and thought as one and the same thing cannot be correct, because if they are correct, the question of the relationship between them would not have arisen in the first place. Thus, this gives rise to dualistic view.

    DUALISTIC VIEW; this view treats language and thought as completely separated from each other. Most of the proponents of this view see language as a means of expressing thought, which they consider pure and autonomous. Some of this thinkers are; St. Augustine, Rene Descartes, John Locke, and G. Ryle (the contemporary thinker etc.).
    St Augustine, in defense of the purity of thought and its autonomy, affirmed that language plays no role in man’s thinking and it is completely separate from thought, His reason being that it is in thought that man resembles God and not in language,for thought is spiritual while language which is of the senses is mundane.
    Rene Descartes in affirmation to this holds that thought exists purely independent on language. That a thinking mind can exist independent of the body. He gave an instance with those born deaf and dumb who are in the habit of themselves inventing certain signs by which they express themselves. This for Descartes is a proof that thought is independent of language.

    THE MODERATE/ SYMBIOTIC VIEW; the proponents of this view are of the opinion that language and thought are different but not separate from each other and that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. The proponents of this view include; Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes, George Berkeley, De Saussure, Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, etc. Aristotle recognizes that language and thought bear some relationship to each other. In his words, words are “symbols of thought”, letters are “symbols of words”.
    De Saussure, contributed his own quota by an analogy that language and thought are like two faces of the same coin and that they are like nebula where nothing is written and in which there are no pre-established ideas.

    However, despite all these propositions, we still maintain the view that language plays the role of informing the human mind on what to think and where there is no such information, there is nothing to think about.[1] Thus, language and thought, notwithstanding the fact that they are two different realities, are inseparable from each other.
    [1] Language as a means of informing and of representing; thought being the conscious intellectual activity of the mind.