We use language to communicate with others. By communicating, we can exchange our knowledge and views with others.
Based on the adage “knowledge multiplies when shared”, when our knowledge is shared with others, they can test, build, expand, refine, etc. on it, thereby optimizing and multiplying it, which is further tested, built, expanded, refined, etc. when they share with others, thereby further optimizing and multiplying it, and so on.
Sharing knowledge this way sets humans apart from other animals and organisms who do not possess such language. It also explains the reason why, despite being genetically similar to other animals and organisms, humans are so intelligent.
Even when it makes language the core tool responsible for the intelligence of mankind, communication is not the primary function of language.
In detail: We all know that we use our brain to gain and utilize knowledge using our thought process. As thoughts work internally in our mind, our brain uses language to communicate them with others in a comprehensive manner.
Even when it helps in communicating with others, communication is not what language is originally designed for, as explained below.
If you want to call a person out of a huge crowd, you need to know his name. Without using the name, it becomes difficult to call that person.
In the same way, the optimizing aspect of natural selection has designed our brain to assign names to concepts and store them in the memory.
Concepts are mental representations of something we have experienced, learnt or imagined, which can be of physical or mental nature.
Storing concepts by their names in the memory makes it possible to recall such mental representations at a later stage by their names, as and when required.
Recalling them this way enables us to arrange them in meaningful ways, which we do using grammar of the language we are communicating in.
It helps us plan and manage our ongoing and future interactions in optimized manner.
It is only after we arrange them into language in such a way, that we can use it to communicate with others.
Based on the same, its primary function is not communication, but recalling and managing memories to optimize our interactions, which makes language primarily a sophisticated memory management tool.
Using language 1) we can recall and process contents of our interactions that are stored in the memory in the form of information and knowledge and project them into future and 2) pass on its benefits by directly or indirectly exchanging such contents with others in multiple ways.
Such benefits enrich our thought processes and provide knowledge by enabling us to contemplate, deliberate, ponder, etc. over them to optimize our interactions.
The same makes language the chief contributing factor responsible for the development of human intelligence, only limited by how developed languages are and how they are utilized.
Concept Based Understanding
My name is Parag. Although it has a meaning, there is no connection of such meaning to me. If that is the case, what is the reason behind naming me?
My name is just a token to identify me. If I didn’t have a name, it would be difficult for others to interact with me. Similarly, if I didn’t have names for other people, it would be difficult for me to interact with them.
The same is with concepts. Assigning names to concepts makes it possible for us to recall them at a later stage in our thought processes.
Our brain uses a web of links using such concepts along with values based on attributes to manage information it receives (as explained in detail in the post How Does Our Mind Develop?). They help us gain knowledge and skills, which contribute to the development of our personality and how we gain understanding of other people’s minds.
Thoughts and Language
Many people believe that thoughts cannot exist without language. The fact is that most of our thoughts have nothing to do with language. E.g. while choosing between a red dress and a black dress to wear, you do not have to convert your choice into language by saying to yourself, “I will wear the black dress”. You simply pick up the chosen one.
Similarly, while walking in a crowded market, you do not use language to make multiple decisions while steering through the crowd. That does not mean that you did not make decisions – It is only that your decisions did not use language.
Language is only required to recall specific information from the memory. E.g. when you buy a cell phone, you may need to deliberate by saying to yourself, “It’s better to have a larger display for the price compared to a larger memory, as I’m only going to use it to make phone calls and check emails.”
The reason for the same is that such deliberation requires one or more chains of thoughts progressing in a sequential manner, in which each thought is based on previous ones in the chain.
Such manipulation can best be done by using language, as language helps recall specific information or knowledge from the memory based on concepts using the thought process.
As animals and other organisms do not possess such language, it is not possible for them to recall memories from their earlier interactions when required to plan and manage their ongoing and future interactions.
It is for such reason that they cannot recall specific information or knowledge from the memory, nor can they imagine future situations.
The same is the reason behind the mystery of why animals and other organisms live only in the present moment.
Their memory recall is limited to reflexively recalling memories from their earlier interactions that are contextually connected to their ongoing interactions.
Even with such limitations, they exhibit intelligent behaviour, which is either hard-wired in their brains from thousands of generations by the process of natural selection or is limited, as it does not have the boost of intelligence offered by language.