Structure and dynamics of human communication at the beginning of life

  • Hanuš Papoušek
  • Mechthild Papoušek


Although the beginning of postpartum social integration and communication has been long viewed as relevant to psychiatric theories, early parent-infant communication has become a matter of scientific investigation only recently. The present survey explains the significance of an approach based upon the general systems theory and explores to what extent the early parent-infant interaction can function as a didactic system to support the development of thought and speech. Evidence of this function has been found in those forms of parental behavior that escape the parent's conscious awareness and control, as exemplified in the vocal communication with presyllabic infants. Parents unknowingly adjust the structure and dynamics of speech to the constraints of infant capacities, detach prosodic musicality from lexical structure, and use it in particularly expressive forms for the delivery of the first prototypical messages. In this and other similar ways, parents offer an abundance of learning situations in which infants can try out various integrative operations.

A biological rather than cultural provenience of the support of communicative development indicates a potential relevance for the interpretation of speech evolution. In addition to qualities of the vocal tract and to complex symbolic capacities in humans, the early intuitive support of communicative development and its playful character are suggested as species-specific determinants of speech evolution. Implications for clinical research are suggested.

Key words

Infancy psychiatry Parent-infant interaction Preverbal vocalization Parental speech to infants Intuitive parental didactics 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hanuš Papoušek
    • 1
  • Mechthild Papoušek
    • 2
  1. 1.Project Developmental PsychobiologyMax Planck Institute of PsychiatryMünchen 40Germany
  2. 2.Laboratory of Comparative EthologyThe National Institute of Child Health and Human DevelopmentRockville Pike, BethesdaUSA

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