Partnering Language and Thinking

Have you ever wondered why no one can remember any memories from before the age of about 6? The common theory is that the brain organizes your memories in the language which you have just learned to speak. Over time, all those previous memories become an unrecognized format. So if your thoughts are modeled as language, what does that say about how language limits your ability to think?

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, points out how deeply language affects our thinking. Western thinking is linear. Very cause and effect. So is our language: subject-predicate. I did this. He caused that. Eastern language structure is much more circular, and so is their thinking. From reincarnation to greater notions of causality, eastern cultures see more dimensions and reinforcement effects. Looking at the most successful new technology and Internet services, the majority seem to be viral networks: MySpace, Flicker, YouTube, blogging,, or Squidoo. The Internet has vastly reduced the barriers to connectivity, between businesses and between people. Should our language evolve to do the same?

This brings up an obvious question: How has our language evolved? Last year’s word of the year was podcast. Audio transmissions are becoming much more a part of our lives. It started with the familiar incantation of music. Now I listen about a quarter of my ear bud time to podcasts on business and entrepreneurship and I am looking for lectures on a variety of new topics.

But the word that has most recently struck me is “partner.” My mother recently referred to her 70 year old friend and her partner. I was shocked and responded “My god, Regina is a lesbian?” Well, no she is not. It has just become such a popular term that even heterosexuals are using it, but it still retains its gay undertones. So as “partner” proliferates, so does acceptance of gay unions.

That’s why Republicans are fighting gay marriage now, because people are gaining sensitivity to it. Their only chance is to fight it now. It may not be because of language, but the change in our language is a pretty clear indicator of the way people’s opinions, their thoughts, are changing.

How has language constrained (or enabled) your thinking?