July 25, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Think Before You Speak

Children are capable of thoughts before they have the words to vocalize them, according to a study published in Nature July 221 (see also summary by Paul Bloom in the same issue2 and report on Science Now).  This contradicts the postmodernist view that thought is conditioned by language, and instead suggests that humans are innately capable of conceptualizing things, and that words are merely the tools for expressing thought.  Psychologists experimented with 5-month old infants and concluded that “Language learning therefore seems to develop by linking linguistic forms to universal, pre-existing representations of sound and meaning.”  Babies have a plasticity to concepts regardless of language, but “as they grow up, children place less importance on concepts that aren’t emphasized in their language.”  Bloom thinks this reinforces the old view of St. Augustine on learning to speak: “By constantly hearing words, as they occurred in various sentences, I collected gradually for what they stood, and having broken in my mouth to these signs, I thereby gave utterance to my will.” 


1Hespos and Spelke, “Conceptual precursors to language,” Nature 430, 453 – 456 (22 July 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02634.

Ever have a thought in your mind but couldn’t express it in words?  Maybe that’s the frustration a baby feels.  She is thinking, “Action-oriented orchestration of innovative inputs generated by the escalation of meaningful indigenous decision-making dialogue can maximize the vital thrust toward a non-alienated viable urban infrastructure contingent upon third-generation time-phase conceptualization,” but all that comes out is “goo goo gah.”  Mothers seem to understand all this on their internal Babynet wavelength, but dads should learn to pay better attention.

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Categories: Human Body

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