The relation between language and thought revealed in reflecting upon words used to express the conception of a problem

University dissertation from Lund University Press, Box 141, S 221 00 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: The way relationships between symbols and thoughts are created is a general problem in learning, mainly described as "how students' learn to mean". This general problem raises some basic questions concerning how students' relate understanding to words used in learning. The present research provides an alternative perspective on the relationship between thought and language derived from the phenomenographic tradition and from the later philosophy of Wittgenstein. The general aim of the thesis is to analyse, describe and discuss aspects of learning and understanding concerning the relationship between thought and language. In the empirical investigation twenty-seven students from two institutes of higher education, a school of nursing and a teacher training college, participated. Qualitative interviewing was the instrument used both to stimulate students' reflection on their expressed conceptions of a particular problem presented and to document their reflection. Contextual analysis was the method used. The results of the empirical analyses are presented in related descriptive categories focusing on to three aspects of learning and understanding concerning relationships between words used and conceptions of a problem; 1) the character of relationships experienced 2) the different qualities in the process of students reflecting on relationships 3) the change of conceptions The theoretical investigation concerns, on the one hand the principle differences between understanding objects of knowledge and understanding language meaning in relation to learning and on the other hand the relationship between thought and language in theories of language meaning and understanding in the philosophy of language. One of the main conclusions drawn is that the proposed identity between thought and language within the theory of representationalism, well represented in social constructivism and individual constructivism, can not be presupposed in an educational perspective on learning as it focuses too much on learning to understand language meaning more than learning to understand objects of knowledge.

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