Monday, June 19, 2006

Is Inner Speech an Action?

Speaking aloud is, normally, a form of intentional action (involuntary ejaculations excepted). Private thoughts are not, seemingly, in the same way intentional (deliberately planned cogitations "let me think about that..." excepted).

What about inner speech? Lev Vygotsky, David Velleman, Dorit Bar-On, and others plausibly regard inner speech as an internalized form of external speech. Vygotsky argues that it occurs developmentally only after outer speech, as a kind of suppressed form of it. Velleman suggests that it requires some kind of restraint (restraint we often don't feel when we're alone in car) to hold speech impulses in, rather than giving vent to them outwardly. If Vygotsky and Velleman are right, it seems natural to suppose that inner speech, like outer speech, is a form of intentional action (maybe even more robustly intentional for requiring an additional act of suppression?). Bar-On quite explicitly endorses the idea of inner speech as a type of action near the end of her 2005 book.

But now if inner speech is a type of thought -- perhaps even the most pervasive form of conscious thought, as Peter Carruthers and William S. Robinson come near to suggesting -- it starts to look like thinking might be intentional action after all. Not just deliberately planned thought, but also all those spontaneous subvocalizations that spring to mind unbidden.

Does this seem as strange to you as it does to me? But where to put on the brakes?

1 comment:

kebec1 said...

Don't know about others, but 95%+ of my thoughts occur w/o words. So, thoughts with internal speech are not at all "pervasive". And when I do speak internally, it is definitely with intension (so it's an "action"?). I do it as a sort of rehearsal (e.g., in anticipation of a phone call), or to test or concretize or clarify an emerging idea (e.g., "so, late 20th century 'conservatism' is actually quite radical; how about that!").