What the Child Brings to Language

  • William Kessen
  • Katherine Nelson
Part of the Topics in Cognitive Development book series (TOPCOGDEV, volume 2)


To the question “What does the child bring to language?” the best answer in our time is “The developmental theories of Jean Piaget.” Piaget has so restructured the way that psychologists think about children and so dominated theoretical discourse in the United States over the last 15 years that when we come together to talk about children, we find ourselves inevitably and appropriately talking about them in his language. Even when there are mild demurrers or reservations about the Geneva canon, they sound a bit like the English philosopher’s comment on the Gospels: “Jesus was somewhat muddled on this point.” We will not, therefore, pause to list and to praise the Genevan transformations of developmental psychology; rather, we will attempt to build out a short way from the platform of observation and speculation that Piaget has provided for us all.* In so doing, we will inevitably call attention to the changes in theoretical attitude that have been wrought in the fields of language development and early concept formation by the pressure of the Genevan critique. Of course, it would be a moment of memorial grandeur to assert as well that Piaget’s critique had at last and forever chased abstraction theory—in its classical and in its modern modes—off the psychological field, but the dragon still limps around, still breathing out obfuscating smoke. We hope to honor Piaget by striking anotherblow or two at that monster that has misled and stupified us for almost three centuries.


Human Thought Experimental Child Psychology Word Class Early Concept Speech Form 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bornstein, M. H. Qualities of color vision in infancy. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 1975, 19, 401–419.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bower, T. G. R. Development in infancy. San Francisco: Freeman, 1974.Google Scholar
  3. Eimas, P. D., Siqueland, E. R., Jusczyk, P., and Vigorito, J. Speech perception in infants. Science, 1971, 171, 303–306.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Gratch, G. A study of the relative dominance of vision and touch in six-month-old infants. Child Development, 1972, 43, 615–623.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Harris, P. L. Search strategies and object permanence. Unpublished paper, no date. Hebb, D. O. The organization of behavior. New York: Wiley, 1949.Google Scholar
  6. Kessen, W., Salapatek, P., and Haith, M. The visual response of the human newborn to linear contour. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 1972, 13, 9–20.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Nelson, K. Concept, word and sentence: Interrelations in acquisition and development. Psychological Review, 1974, 81, 267–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Nowlis, G. H., and Kessen, W. Human newboriN differentiate differing concentrations of sucrose and glucose. Science, 1976, 191, 865–866.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Piaget, J. The language and thought of the child. London: Routledge, 1959. (Originally published, 1923.)Google Scholar
  10. Piaget, J. Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. New York: Norton, 1951.Google Scholar
  11. Piaget, J. The origins of intelligence in children. New York: International Universities Press, 1952.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Piaget, J. The construction of reality in the child. New York: Basic Books, 1954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Piaget, J. Sagesse et illusions de la philosophie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965.Google Scholar
  14. Sinclair, H. Language acquisition and cognitive development. In T. E. Moore (Ed.), Cognitive development and the acquisition of language. New York: Academic Press, 1973.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jean Piaget Society 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Kessen
    • 1
  • Katherine Nelson
    • 1
  1. 1.Yale UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations