Wordplay is a blog project featuring posts from students enrolled in ENG 320 Grammar and Linguistics (Fall 2019)

Language and the Thought Process

by Peyton Flack

Have you ever wondered how language affects our thoughts? Are our thoughts limited to the words we know in our language? What language do bilingual people think in? Can they think in both languages at once? How does knowing two languages affect their thought processes? So many questions. Unfortunately, the relationship between language and thought is hard to study, but there have been some experiments performed to try and answer some of these questions.

Image source: Howard, H.

Are our thoughts limited to the words we know in our language? The simplified answer is no, our thoughts are not limited to the words we know in our language. This can be shown through the continuous invention of new objects and words throughout the decades. Words like iPad, cell phone, and computer didn’t exist in the 1400s, but someone was still able to think up them up and name them. Abby Kaplan states in Women Talk More than Men and Other Myths about Language Explained that there is no reason to think that people are prevented from thinking new ideas because there is not a word for that idea. Children are an excellent example of this. They create new words or combine already known words to name objects they might not know the proper name of. For example, if a young child sees an airplane but doesn’t know that is what it is called, they could name it “aircar” for the obvious reasons that it holds people and “drives” in the air. This leads us to the next question.

When learning a new language, you will inevitably learn a new concept. Some languages don’t have an exact translation for the words in another language. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or that our thoughts are limited. Kaplan states that this thought can be appealing to bilinguals. Some bilinguals believe that they think or feel differently when using different languages. Others state that the act of using two different languages depends on the situation and what is associated with that particular situation. Kaplan also explains that some bilinguals may remember the content of a conversation, but not what language it was spoken in. According to psychologicalscience.org, this could be because bilinguals have different processing modes for the speech of each language. These can be firing at one time if there are similar sounds in both languages.

Image credit: bilingualkidspot.com

As you can see, some of these questions have a simplified answer, and the others have possible suggestions as to why it happens. The study of language and the thought process is difficult to conduct and, as seen above, a lot of the answers are just theories or possibilities as to why our brains work the way they do. Hopefully, these theories and possibilities helped ease your curiosity for language and the thought process or urged you to do more research on your own.


bilingualkidspot. (2017, June 4). What Does Bilingual Mean?: When Can Someone be Called Bilingual? Retrieved November 20, 2019, from https://bilingualkidspot.com/2017/06/04/what-does-bilingual-mean-definition/.

Gonzales, K. (2013, May 20). Study Shows How Bilinguals Switch Between Languages. Retrieved November 20, 2019, from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/exploring-how-bilinguals-switch-between-languages.html

Howard, H. (2015, September 12). 20 Awesomely Rando Words Oxford Added to the Dictionary This Year. Retrieved November 20, 2019, from https://www.teenvogue.com/gallery/oxford-dictionary-adds-new-words

Kaplan, A. (2016). Women talk more than men: –and other myths about language explained. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Peyton Flack is a junior at CSC studying Elementary Education. She plans on student teaching in Colorado and graduating in December 2020. She hopes to teach Kindergarten or First Grade in a rural school district.


One thought on “Wordplay: Language and the Thought Process

  1. Peyton,
    I never have really thought about how bilingual people think, but this was a really cool subject to introduce it. I think that by being bilingual, you have just so many more options for defined meanings of things, especially if there isn’t a direct translation of a word. Reading you post also makes me wonder how people change their thinking based on who they may be around. Great post!


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