What the Child Brings to Language
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.
KeywordsHuman Thought Experimental Child Psychology Word Class Early Concept Speech Form
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