Thinking and Speaking

Author’s Preface

THIS BOOK is a study of one of the most complex problems of psychology, the interrelation of thought and language. As far as we know, it has not yet been investigated experimentally in a systematic fashion. We have attempted at least a first approach to this task by conducting experimental studies of a number of separate aspects of the total problem. The results provide a part of the material on which our analyses are based.

Theoretical and critical discussions are a necessary precondition and a complement of the experimental part of the study and constitute a large portion of our book. The working hypotheses that serve as starting points for our fact-finding experiments had to be based on a general theory of the genetic roots of thought and language. In order to develop such a theoretical framework, we reviewed and carefully analyzed the pertinent data in psychological literature. Concomitantly, we subjected to critical analysis the leading theories of thought and language in the hope of overcoming their insufficiencies and avoiding their pitfalls in our own search for the theoretical path to follow.

Inevitably, our analysis encroached on some neighboring fields, such as linguistics and the psychology of education. In discussing the development of scientific concepts in childhood, we made use of the working hypothesis concerning the relation between the educational process and mental development, which we had evolved elsewhere using a different body of data.

The structure of this book is perforce complex and multifaceted, yet all its parts are oriented toward a central task, the genetic analysis of the relationship between thought and the spoken word. Chapter 1 poses the problem and discusses the method. Chapters 2 and 3 are critical analyses of the two most influential theories about the development of language and thinking, Piaget’s and Stern’s. Chapter 4 attempts to trace the genetic roots of thought and language; it serves as a theoretical introduction to the main part of the book, the two experimental investigations described in the next two chapters. The first study (Chapter 5) deals with the general developmental course of word meanings in childhood; the second (Chapter 6) is a comparative study of the development of the “scientific” and the spontaneous concepts of the child. The last chapter attempts to draw together the threads of our investigations and to present the total process of verbal thought as it appears in the light of our data.

It may be useful to enumerate briefly the aspects of our work that we believe to be novel and consequently in need of further careful checking. Apart from our modified formulation of the problem and the partially new method, our contribution may be summarized as follows: (i) providing experimental evidence that meanings of words undergo evolution during childhood, and defining the basic steps in that evolution; (2) uncovering the singular way in which the child’s “scientific” concepts develop, compared with his spontaneous concepts, and formulating the laws governing their development; (3) demonstrating the specific psychological nature and linguistic function of written speech in its relation to thinking; and (4) clarifying, by way of experiments, the nature of inner speech and its relation to thought. The evaluation of our findings and of the interpretations we have given them is hardly the author’s province and must be left to our readers and critics.

The author and his associates have been exploring the field of language and thought for almost ten years, in the course of which some of the initial hypotheses were revised, or abandoned as false. The main line of our investigation, however, has followed the direction taken from the start. We fully realize the inevitable imperfections of this study, which is no more than a first step in a new direction. Yet we feel that in uncovering the problem of thought and language as the focal issue of human psychology we have contributed to some essential progress. Our findings point the way to a new theory of consciousness, which is barely touched upon at the end of our book.