Letter | Published:

The Formation of Language

Nature volume 44, page 106 | Download Citation



I PERCEIVE that my note on the evolution of speech in the case of one of my children has excited some interest and called out communications both to myself and to you; but I must trespass again on your kindness to explain that what I considered noteworthy in that case was not the invention of words, which is not of rare occurrence, but the, to me, far more important phenomenon of the evolution of the habit of speech through the three stages, so distinctly marked in this case—of simulation, the faculty we share with the monkey, and which does not imply the possession of the idea; of invention of symbols, which indicates the birth of the power of conception, and perhaps the formation of what Max Müller calls “concepts,” and the perception by the young mind of a community of interest and intelligence ; and, finally, the faculty of learning from others ideas already formed, or what must be considered the germ of science: and it was the clear demarcation of the three states which interested me more than the mere invention of words. And this interest is the greater as the case appears to illustrate a law that the development of the individual follows the lines of the universal, so that the child but repeats, in a very much abbreviated sequence, what humanity had gone through as a whole. My purpose in bringing the case before your readers was rather to invite the repetitions of my observations with a view to the establishing of the law, than to publish an isolated phenomenon.

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  1. Rome, May 8.

    • W. J. STILLMAN


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