Consciousness: Impossible sans Language

Every thought, every consideration, every observation, and every emotion is realized in our consciousness though the medium of language; without language, conscious human thought is impossible.  In other words, without a language as a medium, none of our human experience could even exist.

Korean SOS

SOS in Korea

The idea occurred to me prior to any kind of reading into the subject (later research found such references to this idea in such books as The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language by David Crystal) and I was struck at the realization of how deep the repercussions of a world without language would be.  If such a catastrophe were to occur and all knowledge of language of any kind were to disappear from our race, I concluded, we would plummet instantly into an animalistic, prehistoric, and utterly instinctual state.  Literally overnight our financial status, thoughts of loved ones, future plans (for the nest 10 minutes let alone the next 10 years), and our own well-being would revert to a level of importance no higher than eating and relieving oneself for the time being.

Let’s step back for a moment.  Consider that every thought you think only becomes realized in your mind once you have given language to it: You look at these words and they have meaning because they are language; You consider what you will eat next and all you options are weighed in words that are inseparable from thought; The feeling of discomfort is brought to your conscious mind on the wings of language, the list goes on.

Without language there is nothing or everything is the same: The livingroom couch is no different than your mother than she is from your computer.  Why?  With language such things are distinguishable as “couch”, “mother”, and “computer”, but without language such things would merely appear consciously as “?????”, “?????”, and “?????”.  In fact, a world without language would be as confusing and pointless as an entire paragraph written in the style of the example below:

“??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???” – ?? ????

According to the above quotation, who or what is the subject and what were he/she/it/they doing?  Also, what is the name speaker from whom such famous words were first quoted?  Without language, such conscious thoughts are impossible.

Language corresponds immediately with experience and does not necessarily need to be spoken to be considered language.  You can imagine nothing because you know that “nothing” does not mean “elephant” or “egg”.  However, given no knowledge (i.e. no experience) you would not be able to imagine “nothing” let alone even vaguely comprehend the assigned task.

Consider this, picture in your mind the most memorable time in your life.  Now, try to explain this time to me without using words while I stand inside an immovable soundproof box and you outside of it.  For me to later recount what your most memorable story was would be hopeless…I would never even hear the command to recount the story.

I challenge you know, oh reader, to really consider a life without words.  Communication would be impossible, personal experience would be fleeting and forgotten instantly, and our entire race would surely go extinct in a matter of a decade.

Pig on Coffee

Pig on Coffee

Please post your comments below~

Also, I HIGHLY recommend you listen to this podcast from Radiolab: Words


2 thoughts on “Consciousness: Impossible sans Language

  1. Although interesting, I am not convinced that, without language, “our entire race would surely go extinct in a matter of a decade.” The words I read above, as you suggested, are graphemes that I am giving value to. Symbols. If I were in the hypothetical box and you outside, I can draw the main elements of my “most important moment” or act it out through symbols (like Charades). I think the problem is that the definition of language offered above is too broad. If by language you mean written text, then most of our formal institutions would not survive, you are right. But communication is much, much more than written words. Plus, there are many other groups, such as indigenous tribes, that do not have written language and still survive. What is more, to say that consciousness derives from language presupposes that language comes first and is most easily accessible by our brains. Then, after we have learned the association between symbols and “meaning” we gain consciousness. It seems backwards. Consciousness derives from discrete experiences lasting different amount of times. From the accumulation of such discrete elements more complex, metacognitive processes emerge, such a verbal and written communication.

    Still, it was interesting to think about.

  2. Well no – without language you could have made no reply at all to the previous paper!!. Consider that without language the human race as it is could not have come to anything at all; there would have been nothing including everything we are used to from roads and houses and clothes or beer or wine or games or planes or cars – you name it – and we would not have it. We would certainly not be discussing “consciousness” and more complex things as this let alone “writing” or “signs” and “charades”!! It’s not what might happen to our race (this first paper is also absurd) it’s what we have that has only come about by language.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s