Translating sentences from thoughts to words when we speak

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ToughDiamond
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26 Mar 2024, 9:13 pm

I don't seem to think in words. I seem to think in "mentalese," i.e. in wordless ideas. How easy it is for me to put my thoughts into words depends on the subject matter. For everyday ideas I don't have much trouble at all, but with some of my more complicated special interests I have trouble in writing down what's going on, even if it's only for my own reference. For example, if I'm doing a complicated mixing session in a multi-track program, I just work away with wordless ideas, and often don't even know the names of the objects in the graphical user interface. It's quite efficient and it works quite well as long as I don't hit any snags, but when I do, I try to describe the problem in words in order to clarify to myself what's going on, but all I get is a load of very long, complicated sentences that are very difficult to follow or make sense of.

I suppose it's quite common for people not to think in words. To me, language is just a secondary thing, the thoughts come first and then get expressed in words when it's possible to do so. But I don't know I particularly think in pictures either. At least, if my thoughts are pictures, I think I'd often have a hard time drawing them. They just don't always seem like pictures, or if they are, the pictures are so vague that I don't recognise them as pictures at all.

I find it rather hard to think about thinking, so my description may be rather garbled.



roronoa79
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27 Mar 2024, 1:09 am

I've always thought in thoughts more than words. Language can feel limiting, because you can only express a relatively small thought in a given sentence. The brain works so much faster than the tongue that it's impossible to ever truly keep up.
I personally agonize over being unclear. I always pick apart what I say and how it could be insensitive or misconstrued or inadequate. It usually leads to inane walls of text, like this. Writing essays in school was always a nightmare. Which sucks when people think you are smart yet you can't finish half of your written assignments.

Something that helps me is to try and break down whatever I am thinking into smaller specific ideas that are easier to arrange into words. Just go one thought at a time and try to keep things flowing naturally.
Learning another language also helped me personally. It gives new perspective to expressing thoughts. It's so nice when you learn a new word or phrase that really encapsulated something you had always thought but one's native language didn't really have one specific word for it.


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ToughDiamond
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27 Mar 2024, 2:29 pm

roronoa79 wrote:
I've always thought in thoughts more than words. Language can feel limiting, because you can only express a relatively small thought in a given sentence. The brain works so much faster than the tongue that it's impossible to ever truly keep up.
I personally agonize over being unclear. I always pick apart what I say and how it could be insensitive or misconstrued or inadequate. It usually leads to inane walls of text, like this. Writing essays in school was always a nightmare. Which sucks when people think you are smart yet you can't finish half of your written assignments.

Something that helps me is to try and break down whatever I am thinking into smaller specific ideas that are easier to arrange into words. Just go one thought at a time and try to keep things flowing naturally.
Learning another language also helped me personally. It gives new perspective to expressing thoughts. It's so nice when you learn a new word or phrase that really encapsulated something you had always thought but one's native language didn't really have one specific word for it.

That sounds rather like my experiences, especially the part in bold. To me, words are a set of "thought-labels" that somebody else coined, or representations of thoughts, and there may or may not be words to express my thoughts. Some languages are richer than others. I think English is quite rich.

On bit of possible evidence that nobody primarily thinks in words is that people from different countries often have different languages - they may have the same thought, but the words they use to express it will be different. There must be raw thought happening before it gets put into words. OTOH thought can be somewhat dependent on words, because words can help to clarify ideas and they can help us to remember an idea and to lay it out in front of us to examine. Rather like having a picture or diagram of something in front of us if we're trying to think about that thing. I feel pretty sure that words and pictures are secondary representations of our thoughts, and that the question "do you think in words or pictures?" is in a sense missing that fact.



utterly absurd
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27 Mar 2024, 2:58 pm

The hardest thing for me is when I've been thinking about something a lot but never talked about it, so I feel like I understand it very well and should be able to explain it. I am always surprised by my inability to come up with words to describe it. If I can't describe something I call it a "thing" and if people don't understand that, I spit out an incoherent jumble of words related to this "thing". I would be unable to speak without the word "thing".


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ToughDiamond
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28 Mar 2024, 12:51 am

utterly absurd wrote:
I am always surprised by my inability to come up with words to describe it.

I'm often taken by surprise by that too. While the idea is just a thought in my head, it seems like it'd only take a quick sentence or two to communicate it clearly. But when I try, it's another matter entirely.

It can also be a problem to make sure I'm being polite, but that's just an extra problem. The difficulty I'm describing here is simply the challenge of putting my thoughts into words that explain the matter clearly. Mind you, I sometimes wonder why I bother, when I see the apparently half-baked way in which many people communicate. Still, I suppose NTs usually know what they mean. They expect the reader / listener to fill in the gaps by considering the context, and NTs seem to be good at that. I can do it, but it can take me a long time.

Vaguely related, I remember when I was trying to explain the concept of an internal standard in clinical chemistry, where when you're assaying a batch of serum samples for some metabolite or other, you include a sample of known concentration as a crosscheck on whether or not your assay is working properly. My listener couldn't fathom what I was talking about, until somebody chipped in with "It's like your QCs when you're doing VMAs." Suddenly my listener understood, though I'd never have got it from those acronyms, which were quite unknown to me, but clearly not to them.



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02 Apr 2024, 7:20 am

This is a great thread. I wish more Wrongplanet threads were like this. I think in pictures and words, but sometimes the words I say are just an effort to describe the picture which flashes up in my head. I find puns funny but my wife only puts up with them. When I hear words my brain often produces two or more pictures from them and these pictures can seem funny to when they conflict or mix in a funny way. My wife thinks of exactly one thing to go with a word she hears, so puns aren’t funny to her, just wrong or downright irritating or insulting.
There is no humor. When I do math i see the problem in my head like a blackboard and I can talk about it while I am trying to work it out. My oldest is like that too. My youngest “talks out” math problems in his head. If I try to explain a solution while he is working on a math homework problem he can’t work on the problem at all, i am interrupting. This is different than his brother. I have learned to shut up until he is done.


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02 Apr 2024, 7:43 am

ToughDiamond wrote:
utterly absurd wrote:
I am always surprised by my inability to come up with words to describe it.

I'm often taken by surprise by that too. While the idea is just a thought in my head, it seems like it'd only take a quick sentence or two to communicate it clearly. But when I try, it's another matter entirely.

It can also be a problem to make sure I'm being polite, but that's just an extra problem. The difficulty I'm describing here is simply the challenge of putting my thoughts into words that explain the matter clearly. Mind you, I sometimes wonder why I bother, when I see the apparently half-baked way in which many people communicate. Still, I suppose NTs usually know what they mean. They expect the reader / listener to fill in the gaps by considering the context, and NTs seem to be good at that. I can do it, but it can take me a long time.

Vaguely related, I remember when I was trying to explain the concept of an internal standard in clinical chemistry, where when you're assaying a batch of serum samples for some metabolite or other, you include a sample of known concentration as a crosscheck on whether or not your assay is working properly. My listener couldn't fathom what I was talking about, until somebody chipped in with "It's like your QCs when you're doing VMAs." Suddenly my listener understood, though I'd never have got it from those acronyms, which were quite unknown to me, but clearly not to them.


Sometimes I know what I am thinking but the words that come out don’t match. In computer science “SMTP” stands for “Simple Mail Transport Protocol” while “SNMP” is “Simple Network Management Protocol”. They are two very different things with different uses. No-one could mix up the two ideas if they knew the details. I have swapped them in conversations with colleagues and never even noticed the gaffe until the other person says “what are you talking about?”. It happened more than once. I had to stop using the acronyms in conversation and say the whole name out just to be sure I didn’t swap them and make a fool of myself. When I wright trying to spell correctly, get grammar right, punctuation, paragraphs takes so much “thinking space” I can actually forget what I was trying to say. It is incredibly frustrating. If I dictate it doesn’t happen as much, but speach-to-text computers systems are crazy frustrating too (not sure why).

When I am speaking out loud I often make errors in my head, catch them and correct them before I say them out loud with my tongue. When I was talking medication for ADHD one med (I was trying) made this happen more often. At higher doses the mistake would already be said out loud (and I wouldn’t notice). My wife started to point it out to me. I told my doc and he said he had never even heard of such a thing as a side effect of that med. I don’t take that med any more.


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