The Relevance of Piaget’s Early Work for a Semantic Approach to Language Acquisition
More than 50 years after its first publication, Piaget’s Le language et la pensée chez l’ enfant (1923) remains a very exciting work. Although Piaget was not interested in language per se but only in children’s utterances inasmuch as they reveal something about their way of thinking, it contains a very rich material for psycholinguists and prefigures some of the issues we have been struggling with recently. The chapter that was chosen for a closer look was the one on questions. The material for this chapter consists of 1,125 questions asked by one child over a period of 10 months in spontaneous conversation with an adult, which was noted for two hours each day. Observation started when the child was aged 6 years and 3 months and ended when he reached 7 years and 1 month. For developmental comparisons, three sets of 250 questions each were taken from the total: 250 questions asked between September 1 and November 3, 250 between March 3 and March 24, and 250 between June 3 and June 23. The questions formed part of a dialogue during which the adult remained fairly neutral, that is to say, often gave evasive answers. The exhaustive notation of all that happened during the observation period allowed for the elimination of pseudo-questions (such as polite refusals, as in “It’s time for dinner”—“Why?” and of polite commands, such as “Will you come and help me?”).
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