Language as cognitive tool kit: How language supports relational thought

Dedre Gentner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


The extreme version of the Whorfian hypothesis-that the language we learn determines how we view the world-has been soundly rejected by linguists and psychologists alike. However, more moderate versions of the idea that language may influence thought have garnered recent empirical support. This article defends 1 such view. I propose that language serves as a cognitive tool kit that allows us to represent and reason in ways that would be impossible without such a symbol system. I present evidence that learning and using relational language can foster relational reasoning-a core capacity of higher order cognition. In essence, language makes one smarter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)650-657
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Language and cognition
  • Relational learning
  • Relational meaning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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