Language and Thought

Wolfram Hinzen

in The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Minimalism

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199549368
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Language and Thought

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  • Linguistics
  • Semantics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology


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This article explores the relation between language and thought. The term ‘thought’ is an abstraction. It has its uses: for many philosophical purposes one may simply want to abstract from the linguistic forms that structure propositions, and concentrate on their content alone. But that should not confuse us into believing in an ontology of such entities as ‘thoughts’ – quite apart from the fact that, if we posit such entities, our account of them will not be generative and be unconstrained empirically. Where the content of forms of thought that have a systematic semantics corresponds to a so-called grammatical meaning – meaning derived from the apparatus of Merge, phasing, and categorization – minimalist inquiry is a way of investigating thought, with syntax–semantic alignment as a relevant heuristic idea. Having the computational system of language in this sense equates with having a ‘language of thought’, with externalization being a derivative affair, as independent arguments suggest. Thus, a somewhat radical ‘Whorfian’ perspective on the relation of language and thought is developed, but, it is a Whorfianism without the linguistic-relativity bit.

Keywords: thought; language; meaning; Whorfian perspective; semantics; minimalism

Article.  11057 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Semantics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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