Language and Cognition

     Communication is a vital aspect of the world.  Communication is the means of exchanging information in an effort to relay thoughts, feelings, or ideas.  Communication occurs in various ways from sounds to symbols or signs to language.  All animal forms use communication; however, only humans use language as a means of communication.  For communication to occur, individual’s must have the ability to comprehend the structure of language.  A bird may hum in order to communicate to others, or a bee buzz; however, this is not defined as a language because there is no structure to the sounds being used (Galotti, 2014)..   As people converse, they take for granted the language skills encompassed in their mind that make it possible for communication through language occurs.

Language and Lexicon

            Language is a system of communication that uses arbitrary sounds with discrete meanings (Galotti, 2014).  Thoughts, feelings, and ideas become expressions of language and are communicated through methods including signs, body movement, or speaking (Galotti, 2014).  In order for the communication of  language to occur, there must be actual words that form from the sounds that we relate to our thoughts.  People behold a mental dictionary that contains infinite words, phrases, and sentences that are brought about through cognitive functions which produce the languages spoken today (Galotti, 2014).  The lexicon stores the spelling, pronunciation and meaning of words collected.  As thoughts develop, cognitive functions relate ideas heard to the previous dictionary stored and expand a person vocabulary of a language (Galotti, 2014). Understanding language in its entirety includes knowing the features that makeup a language, the structure of language, and the cognitive processing of language.

Key Features

 Noam Chomsky claims language appears to be a mental organ in itself because of the different levels of abilities in speech (McLeod, 2007).   Additionally, Chomsky believed that a language is an innate ability that strengthens through exposure in the environment and repetitive use (McLeod, 2007).   From the point of birth until the age of five is a child’s most crucial time of learning.  At this age, a child begins identifying  sounds with objects in turn creating a lexicon which will increase with each new stimulus and sound (Golatti, 2014).  

 Language must be communicative or allow the comprehension of speech used between two individuals (Golatti, 2014).  The words of speech must have arbitrary meanings which allows for the differentiation between other words and meanings (Galotti, 2014).  Language must be generative, or have an unlimited amount of words used for expression, while remaining dynamic (Galotti, 2014).  These features accommodate both human and nonhuman forms of language.  When a dog barks, an individual is alerted that the dog is in need of something or feels threatened.  Other dogs begin to attempt to reiterate those sounds they heard creating a choir of barks.  However, there is no known definitive meaning to each sound, declaring that it is not a language, but a form of communication that alerts humans and other animals.  There is one feature that makes sounds an actual language:  Structure is vital to declare a language a language (Galotti, 2014).  When an individual speaks, it is through a strict structure of words and phrases which brings about the meaning behind the communication (Galotti, 2014).

Structure and Processing

            There are four levels of language that make it structured.  Phonemes are the distinct units of sound that differentiate between words in a language (Galotti, 2014).  Phonemes are  the sounds, spelling, and pronunciation of the different words of a language.  Words are distinct elements of speech that carry a meaningful value alone, or they can combine with other units of speech and create a sentence.  A sentence is the use of one or more words to convey a thought, idea, or emotion.  The combination of phonemes, words, and sentences in printed form are referred to as text.  Text is a visual form of communication in which an individual reads the thoughts and ideas.  Text allows the brain to use the processes that will decipher spelling and inaudibly sound, sometimes a more difficult task that listen and repeat as with verbal communication (Cognatti, 2014).

Cognitive Processing

            Cognitive psychology is the study of learning through the conscious and unconscious mental activities that makeup cognition.  Cognition involves perceptions, reasoning, thinking, and decision making that are involved in an individuals experience (Galotti, 2014).  Vygotsky claims that cognitive development results from the internalization of language (McLeod, 2007).  As Chomsky felt that the language is an innate ability, Vygotsky agreed to an extent.  He believes that learning occurs before development, meaning that as we learn, our perceptions are internalized and develop cognition (McLeod, 2007).  

 As humans develop, they are introduced to stimuli and sounds which create neuronal pathways in the brain.  These pathways establish motivation and reaction to experiences.  In the development of language, as sounds, or phonemes are heard, the brain begins the process of relating and storing them for future use (McLeod, 2007).  As communication is encouraged and developed, the cognitive processes in the brain begin to process the sounds or words heard and store them in the lexicon among other similar words and sounds (McLeod, 2007)..  The lexicon, like the rest of the brain, has infinite storage space, but is easier to recall information if the information is practiced often (Galotti, 2014).


            Language is essential for communication, understanding, but most importantly, learning and development.  Animals communicate through the sounds primarily associated with certain species.  Humans, however, must have a structured language for communication to be successful.  This language may occur on a verbal basis, through body or sign language, or simply in a written and read form.  The human brain stores an infinite amount of words and sounds that can be combined to communicate thoughts, feelings, and ideas.



Galotti, K. M. (2014). Cognitive Psychology: In and Out of the Laboratory, (5th ed.). Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection database..

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html


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