Inner Voice

What is the connection between consciousness and language? Some would say that they are two aspects of the same thing. Not me. I have conscious thoughts that I cannot express in language. I have had conscious thoughts that were difficult to put into words and when I did, I was disappointed that the words seemed to change the thought and somehow degraded the feel of it.


The whole sight and sound world is modeled in my consciousness without any need for language. My awareness of my emotions is not verbal. Of course I very often think a category or proper name word for something I recognize, but I don’t exactly need the word to do the recognition.


Fairly often in conversation (interesting, heated or complicated conversation), I say something and it is not in my consciousness until I hear it. So it seems that there is a lot of consciousness without language and some language without consciousness. They cannot be two aspects of the same thing.


On the other hand, I do have an inner voice that seems to narrate my life. And this narration seems very important to the nature of my conscious experience. Language seems to supply a majority of concepts and symbols to the thoughts I am conscious of. It seems to help tie together the stream of consciousness.


I feel four levels of speaking. One level is saying something out loud. How this is done is not in my consciousness. All that is conscious is knowledge of the intent and knowledge that the intent is being carried out. Occasionally, as mentioned above, I do not even have knowledge of the intent to say something. It is also rare for me to completely form the verbal string before speaking. I do not have knowledge of the intent to say a particular sentence, but rather the intent is to say some semi-verbal idea. How it gets to be a fully verbal idea is a bit of a mystery as it does not enter my consciousness.


A second level is that I can speak to myself. This is just the same as speaking out loud including the knowledge that the intent is being carried out. Everything is the same as saying something out loud except that there is no sound and no outward movement of the mouth. This seems to be a motor act but with the ‘volume’ turned down to next to nothing. So a normal linguistic string can be included in my consciousness by speaking to myself. Reading is similar; it produces a sort of speaking to myself.


A third level is what I would call a semi-verbal inner voice. There is no feeling of intent or of the intent being carried out. It does not seem a motor act. It does not seem a linguistic string. It is more like a mixture of words and other symbols and relationships between them. It does seem to be an early part of speaking because when I do speak, it is a bit of this semi-verbal inner voice stream that is picked out to become the object of the intent to speak and so ends up as a normal linguistic string being spoken. The bulk of that inner voice is never spoken out loud or to myself but remains semi-verbal.

One thought on “Inner Voice

  1. Inner Voice offers an answer to the question that Wittgenstein would put to his students: can thought be said to exist without the use of words? To which he declined to give an answer — in words. The trouble with the word ‘thought’ is that it is a generic term covering a variety of mental processes, which fall into two principal categories: logical thought and intuitive thought.

    Logical thought, as its name implies, relies on the use of words, few of which have one precise and exclusive meaning but can be used in metaphorical and allegorical senses often, intentionally or otherwise, ambivalent. The tedious and prolix system of medieval disputation showed how differences of interpretation of quite simple propositions could over time be narrowed but never completely resolved. For one’s own personal use a group of words might prompt recall of an idea or argument, but there can be no guarantee that any number of words can precisely convey it to others.

    Intuitive thought, by contrast, can strike one in an instant and persist in memory without recourse to words to describe it. To that extent it may be accessible in some degree to the whole animal kingdom as evience of intelligence, though not intellect. Only the measured response to it, for good or ill, dictated by a logical process is evidence of that.

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