Language in Cognition

Peter Carruthers

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195309799
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Language in Cognition

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  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Language



The article discusses the ways in which natural language might be implicated in human cognition. The Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky developed his ideas on the interrelations between language and thought, both in the course of child development and in mature human cognition. One of Vygostky's ideas concerned the ways in which the language deployed by adults can scaffold children's development, yielding what he called a ‘zone of proximal development’. He argued that what children can achieve alone and unaided is not a true reflection of their understanding. Vygotsky focused on the overt speech of children, arguing that it plays an important role in problem solving, partly by serving to focus their attention, and partly through repetition and rehearsal of adult guidance. Clark draws attention to the many ways in which language is used to support human cognition, ranging from shopping lists and post-it notes, to the mental rehearsal of remembered instructions and mnemonics, to the performance of complex arithmetic calculations on pieces of paper. Researchers have claimed that animals and pre-verbal infants possess a capacity for exact small-number judgment and comparison, for numbers up to three or four. There is also some evidence that natural language number-words might be constitutive of adult possession and deployment of exact number concepts, in addition to being developmentally necessary for their acquisition.

Keywords: natural language; human cognition; linguistic scaffolding; cognitive processes; spatial cognition

Article.  9883 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Language

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