I understand that generalizing from one example can be fraught with problems; at the same time, here is an experience that might bring some clarity to the question, "when we think, do we have to think in words, or can we think without using words?"
Years ago, our family went to a state park. we were walking along a paved path near the edge of the cliff, and the place at which we were walking had a fence along the edge of the path because the cliff edge was quite close there. My wife, myself, my 2-1/2 year old daughter, and 16-month old son were strolling together, and my son toddled along ahead of us until he was about 18 to 20 feet away. He was past the end of the fence, because the fence stopped once the cliff edge was eight feet away from the path.
My son stopped, looked at the end of the path, then looked back at me, made eye contact, and grinned. Right after that I had a blur of sensory impressions; after which I saw my right hand clutching the front of his overalls. I was on my stomach around two feet from the edge of the cliff.
There was not enough time for verbal thoughts to have formed and been processed. Somehow, as soon as I saw my son's grin, I knew immediately that he was going to dash for the edge of the cliff, and I realized that he did not know such a death might well be fatal. Apparently (I do not have a clear recollection; I am taking my wife's word for it!), i immediately took three relatively small stepts, two much larger steps, then launched myself, catching the ground with my left hand to propel myself forward, so that I could intercept him before he reached the cliff edge.
Clearly there is some fairly sophisticated processing going on here; none of it reached the level of verbal thought.
I guess my questions are: (1) how much influence do self-reported empirical events like this one have in developing a broader, more general answer to the question about thought? (2) is there actual "thinking" involved here or is this more a 'fight-flight response mechanism' that doesn't quite rise to the level of actual 'thought'?