The relationship between language and cognition is direct and proportional, the mental processes involved in the analysis and understanding of the external environment is expressed through language. Figuratively if the mind is the master then the servant is language. A known dictum says that what the mind conceives the body can achieve, or more specifically, the mouth can express. Thus, what goes out of our mouth in the form of sounds or words is based on our ideas and thought patterns. On the other hand, any damage to one’s cognitive abilities would also result to a deficiency in language abilities or even language impairment. It is believed that language abilities occupy a large part of the brain (Eysenck & Keane, 2000), thus a person who suffers from brain injury may lose the ability to speak. It is also why exercises that target to increase language skills or vocabulary are often in the form of mental exercises. Understanding the relationship between language and cognition provides us with the framework from which to understand how mental processes are translated into observable behaviors or patterns. It is evident that what we know or what we come to perceive as reality is translated and expressed into words and communicated to other people.
Language is such a basic and fundamental aspect of one’s life that it is almost impossible to go through a day without communicating, moreover, language is the medium with which social norms and cultural traditions are handed from one generation to another. The relationship between cognition and language offers the cognitive psychologist the means of examining how a behavior such as speaking is formed from the coordination of different mental processes (Whitney, 1998). With this knowledge, the scientist is more adept at understanding the symbolic meaning of words and how the human mind often fails to process communication correctly which results to errors and miscommunication.
Language is a social tool; it is the means by which knowledge is transferred and where social and cultural expectations and values are communicated. It is the most effective means of socialization, it is where children learn how to behave as children, how girls come to know their femininity and how boys are approved or rewarded for being brave and strong, it is also where morality is construed and defended. The language patterns of women and men have been an issue explored by several gender theorists; they say that women use language differently than man, that women have more relational and emotional words than man who are direct to the point and equality oriented (Halpern & LeMay, 2000). For example, a woman asked to react to a homeless stranger would either say kind words or even fear or anxiety laden words while men may respond curtly or even avoid responding at all. The difference in language based on gender has contributed to the perpetuation of the gendered culture. On the other hand, language differences in the use of slang or popular culture terms have been observed between generations, for example, weed in the adults of today would mean smoking marijuana while to the youth of today it is nothing but a kind of grass because marijuana is not party of their consciousness at least for some. Communication errors arise from the incongruity between what is communicated and how it is processed, when an individual tries to communicate with someone from another culture, there is bound to be misunderstandings as the foreigner may not be equipped to process the language of the speaker or have limited knowledge of the language. Errors can be minimized by using a number of strategies to help in the communication process or get past through the language barrier, one of which is to prepare and study the language of the culture one is going to interact with, another thing is to make use of facial expressions and gestures to aid in the communication process (Goldin-Meadow, 1999), and most importantly to pay attention to the different cues or prompts that would enable the speaker to understand the message that is being communicated.
Eysenck, M. & Keane, M. (2000). Cognitive Psychology: A Student’s Handbook, 4th ed.
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Goldin-Meadow, S. (1999). The role of gesture in communication and thinking. Trends in
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Halpern, D. ; LeMay, M. (2000). The smarter sex: A critical review of sex differences in
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Whitney, P. (1998). The psychology of language. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.