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Language as an exemplar of cognitive psychological concepts Thesis


Lack of adequate comprehension on interaction mechanisms between language and cognition is as old as the history of linguistics and psychology. Similarly, this subject matter has caught attention of laypersons and specialists. As a result, it has set a stage for growing debate that is not likely to die away in the near future.

In the history of psychology, researchers interested in understanding processes that take place in human mind first sought to comprehend the kind of prevailing challenges that existed between language, psychology and culture (Anderson, 2010). Henceforth, the issue occupied central position in cognitive psychology as researchers tried to establish the relationship between language and cognition.

Most importantly, in the history of linguistics, researchers have always been taken to task to explicitly explain relationship between language and thought (Caruthers, 2002). Moreover, the kind of interactions that exist between linguistic and conceptual representations during language learning have always interfered with understanding of linguistics and psychology (Caruthers, 2002).

On the same note, most researchers seem to agree that during language acquisition, learners tend to build on available cognitive concepts whereby they inject novel words to the readily available conceptual representations (Anderson, 2010). However, these psychological researchers still find it cumbersome to agree on the extent into which pre-linguistic concepts hampers or himders acquisition of language (Anderson, 2010).

The above debate is founded on two important questions. Whereas one side emphasizes that language is the foundation upon which cognitive concepts are created, the other side argue that cognitive processes affect language (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011).

However, it is imperative to note that, the notion that language shapes thought is widely accepted in linguistics, perhaps, as latter day researchers try to follow the legacy of Benjamin Lee Whorf who first presumed that language shapes the way we perceive, think, analyze, act, learn and build visual imageries in the world around us (Caruthers, 2002).

In spite of the fact that cognitive psychology also seeks to understand mental process of thoughts, cognitive scientists refute the notion that language precedes thought in a more universal manner (Anderson, 2010). Apparently, cognitive scientists base their arguments on ample evidence which indicates that human beings possess numerous paralinguistic conceptual systems (Holyoak & Morrison, 2010).

Nonetheless, whereas this paper does not aim to contest the evidence that cognition is not influenced by language, it seeks to emphasize that to some extent, language shapes all aspects of cognitive concepts such as thoughts, memory, learning ability, visual imagery, perception, decision making and representations.

Moreover, this paper is purposed to reinforce the fact that language is an exemplar of cognitive psychological concepts.

Language and thought

To begin with, it is imperative to mention that nearly all cognitive scientists have recently agreed that language is a separate component of a mind that is shaped through an input versus output mechanism (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011). However, they are unable to perceive how language faculty qualifies to be a separate and integral component of cognition.

Similarly, the debate on whether language precedes human thought still persists. Cognitive psychology seeks to explain the constructs of human mind that stimulate thinking. According to Caruthers (2002), language should be viewed as a medium upon which conscious thinking is conducted. However, he underlines that the inner speech as opposed to visuo-spatial lays the foundation for conscious conceptual thinking.

Besides, Caruthers (2002) restates that the above claim should not be taken to mean that propositional thinking is impossible without language bearing in mind that whereas language-thinking is conscious, unconscious thoughts are not dependent on language (Caruthers, 2002).

A similar line of thinking is embraced by Papafragou et al. (2007) who underscore that language is simply not just a vehicle of communication, but through usage, language elicits profound effects on cognitive development. The process of communication is a disguise in which human thoughts are embedded with an intention of modifying the attitudes and thoughts of others (Holyoak & Morrison, 2010).

They also emphasize that though the two sides portray wide disparities, the underlying conclusion is that language and thought are bound up in a cause-effect relationship. As a matter of fact, the above assumption by Holyoak and Morrison (2010) supports the statement that language is partly an exemplar of cognitive psychological concepts.


The cognitive concept of perception is very significant to an individual, more importantly, to young children during the initial developmental stages when they acquire the experiences of life (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011). On the same note, language has a role to play in creating and shaping these perceptions.

According to Caruthers (2002) a child awareness of his/her environment is dependent on language for its through language that a child is able to attach meaning to labels. As a matter of fact, perception is closely related to learning since as one becomes curious of labels around him/her, new information is acquired through language.

The use of linguistic labels, for instance, a ‘cloakroom room sign in a restaurant’ creates a conducive environment for simplified learning to take place (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011). On the contrary, the claim that our concepts of perceptions entirely depend on linguistic input is fallacious, since to some extent our concepts are informed by our experience with properties, events and things in the world (Anderson, 2010).

For instance, a closer analysis of child language acquisition process indicates that, children are first exposed to an idea physically, and then their care givers repeat the name of the idea severally to promote subsequent labeling. However, when dealing with abstract concepts successful learning is dependent on provision of linguistic fundamentals (Nelson, 1996).

Nelson, (1996) further explains that, in order to facilitate understating of abstract concepts, a learner should to be exposed to linguistically formulated theories.

This implies that it is through language that we able learn and comprehend some cognitive concepts that would otherwise be beyond our intellectual horizons (Holyoak & Morrison, 2010). Moreover, the above notion further reinforces the main hypothesis of this paper that language and cognition are intertwined in causal-effect relations.


On the same note, cognitive psychology is concerned with gaining understanding of how concepts are represented in the mind. Language therefore can be used to determine whether speakers without a common language portray different conceptual representations (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011).

According to Anderson (2010) it is possible to obtain answers for this hypothesis using language, since the kind of lexical and grammatical resources available to an individual will determine whether a speaker will give a constrained conceptual representations output.

This implies that language is the vehicle upon which new concepts are absorbed into the mind and through speech individuals are able to reproduce representations of the learned concept (Papafragou, Massey & Gleitman, 2006). However, the above notion does not eschew from the fact that individuals are capable of conceiving new thoughts irrespective of linguistic input.

Furthermore, Caruthers (2002) deduce that language should be viewed as a structure upon which an individual builds a system of conceptual representation.

He further accentuate that different natural languages might portray some disparities in category marking and as a result the speakers of that language will exhibit differences in speech and comprehension; thus language can be used to study conceptual representations though speech and reading performance (Papafragou, Massey & Gleitman, 2006).

Memory Augmentation

Memory acquisition and retention have been a concern in cognitive psychology. Accordingly, various descriptive and experimental researchers have been motivated by a growing interest to understand whether language categories impact the learning and retention of memories (Papafragou, Massey & Gleitman, 2006).

More specifically, researchers have been at pain to prove whether color-categories embedded in a language have a role to play in color memory, learning and comparison (Nelson, 1996).

Research has shown speakers of different Languages indeed exhibit disparities in color interpretation owing to the fact that an individual will only remember and represent color terminologies that are encoded in their language (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011). Language is a tool via which an individual acquires specific categories in culture and color is one of those categories.

However, the question whether these linguistic labels affect perception, learning and memory stills persists. Cognitive psychologists have used the category of color to investigate and identify color blind individuals (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011). Firstly, cognitive psychologists have to establish what color themes are encoded in a participant’s language before they can conclude whether they are color blind (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011).

Similarly, research findings have indicated that naming practices among speakers of a certain Language influences recognition of color (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011). Besides, we also use linguistics artifacts to prompt memory recall (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011).

For instance, we can leave a note on the mirror to prompt recall of certain idea. However, for recall to be activated effectively, visual representation has to be delivered to the left hemisphere where language system is embedded (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011).

This implies that language as an exemplar of cognitive concepts is limited in scope; hence we can conclude that it influences the cognitive concept of memory not wholly, but partly.

Language and concepts development

Language has been recognized as a foundation via which various conceptual beliefs about the world are input into our mind. The development of linguistic and cognitive concept goes hand in hand during the various stages of child development (Papafragou et al, 2007). Moreover, the linguistic ability of a child will determine their cognitive capacities.

Research has shown that, children with limited linguistic exposure exhibit some deficits in cognitive concepts and vice versa (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011). For instance, deaf children who are born of hearing parents exhibit considerable cognitive limitations before they learn how to sign (Papafragou, Massey & Gleitman, 2006).

This implies that language to some extent influence a child’s thinking and indeed language makes human beings to have a superior cognitive capability than animals (Anderson, 2010).

However, language development should not be viewed as superior to cognitive development rather the two should be viewed as parallels whereby language is just a developmental aspect of cognition whose role ceases once the beliefs and the necessary concepts are acquired (Holyoak & Morrison, 2010).

The fact that adults whose language storage systems in the mind have been damaged continue to function normally indicates that language is just an equal but not superior aspect of cognitive development (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011).

This confirms that while language may be completely a different aspect from cognition, there are quite a number of underlying similarities, differences and common perspectives that exist between the two parameters.

Research in aphasia indicate that depending on the degree of damage an individual portrays some aspect of visuo-spatial thinking, therefore, language should be viewed as an important aspect of cognitive development, but not as a mandatory element without which cognitive mental process cannot function (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011).

Scaffolding element of language

The scaffolding aspect of language has also interested scholars over recent decades. On the other hand, this has not surfaced without various controversies which have existed as each side attempts to prove the extent to which language shapes cognitive processes (Caruthers, 2002).

Indeed, quite a number of research studies in cognitive psychology have attested to the fact that language development is quite often laced with myriad of scaffolding elements. In addition, both empirical and theoretical research studies have concluded that speakers of different languages are likely to carry out similar tasks in different ways since their reasoning is also likely to be different (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011).

However, it is not clear as to what extent language influences decision making and whether different reasoning perspectives are informed by differences in culture (Nelson, 1996). As indicated above, culture, language and cognitive seems to be intertwined at some cross roads and therefore is difficult to draw distinct boundaries to point out where one aspect ends and the other one begins.

Moreover, research among children showed that the ones who tended to verbalize while performing demanding task exhibited high level of problem-solving skills than those who did not (Carruthers, 2002). This indicates that language is a necessary foundation for the acquisition and development of cognitive skills involved in decision making.

According to Fausey and Boroditsky (2011) the supra-communicative conception of language is responsible for certain processes of extended thinking and reasoning. As exemplified elsewhere in the text language is not just a communicative tool but is also a supplement of various cognitive powers.

On the same note, inner speech serves as base upon which complex reasoning and thinking takes place, hence the scaffolding aspect of language indicates that to some extent is language is partly an exemplar of cognitive psychological concepts (Fausey & Boroditsky, 2011).

In a nutshell, it is imperative to note that the subject on language and cognition has been researched far and wide. These researches have also been diversified in both scope and findings. Despite existing disparities in opinions, one aspect is certain that language and cognition are somehow intertwined.

However, controversies arise as researcher tries to prove which of the two a superior is or else which presupposes the other during development. Nonetheless, this paper concludes that to some extent, language has great role to play in cognition.

Therefore, language can be deemed as the foundation upon which cognitive psychological concepts such as memory, perception, decision making, and visual representations are studied and understood. Needless to say, this paper does not refute the notion that cognitive concepts can be present independent of language.


Anderson, J. (2010). Cognitive psychology and its implication. New York. NY: Worth Publication.

Caruthers, P. (2002). The cognitive functions of language .Behavioral and brain sciences, 25, 657-726.

Fausey, C. M. & Boroditsky, L. (2011). Who dunnit? Cross-linguistic differences in eye- witness memory. Psychon Bull Rev, 18, 150-157.

Holyoak, K. & Morrison, R. (eds.). (2010). Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Nelson, K. (1996). Language in Cognitive Development; Emergence of the Mediated Mind. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Papafragou, A. et al. (2007). Evidentiality in language and cognition. Cognition, 1003, 253–299.

Papafragou, A. Massey, C. & Gleitman, L. (2006). Motion Events in Language and Cognition. Somerville,MA: Cascadilla Press.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Language as an exemplar of cognitive psychological concepts." May 8, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/language-as-an-exemplar-of-cognitive-psychological-concepts-thesis/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Language as an exemplar of cognitive psychological concepts'. 8 May.

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