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Thought and Word
WE BEGAN our study with an attempt to discover the relation between thought and speech at the earliest stages of phylogenetic and ontogenetic development. (Video. Clarify phylogenetic and ontogenetic)
We found no specific interdependence between the genetic roots of thought and of word. It became plain that the inner relationship we were looking for was not a prerequisite for, but rather a product of, the historical development of human consciousness.
In animals, even in anthropoids whose speech is phonetically like human speech and whose intellect is akin to man's, speech and thinking are not interrelated. A prelinguistic period in thought and a preintellectual period in speech undoubtedly exist also in the development of the child. Thought and
word are not connected by a primary bond. A connection originates, changes, and grows in the course of the evolution of thinking and speech.
It would be wrong, however, to regard thought and speech as two unrelated processes either parallel or crossing at certain points and mechanically influencing each other. The absence of a primary bond does not mean that a connection between them can be formed only in a mechanical way. The futility of most of the earlier investigations was largely due to the assumption that thought and word were isolated, independent elements, and verbal thought the fruit of their external union. The method of analysis based on this conception was bound to fail. It sought to explain the properties of verbal thought by breaking it up into its component elements, thought and word, neither of which, taken separately, possesses the properties of the whole. This method is not true analysis helpful in solving concrete problems. It leads, rather, to generalisation. We compared it to the analysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen - which can result only in findings applicable to all water existing in nature, from the Pacific Ocean to a raindrop. Similarly, the statement that verbal thought is composed of intellectual processes and speech functions proper applies to all verbal thought and all its manifestations and explains none of the specific problems facing the student of verbal thought.
We tried a new approach to the subject and replaced analysis into elements by analysis into units, each of which retains in simple form all the properties of the whole. We found this unit of verbal thought in word meaning.
The meaning of a word represents such a close amalgam of thought and language that it is hard to tell whether it is a phenomenon of speech or a phenomenon of thought. A word without meaning is an empty sound; meaning, therefore, is a criterion of word, its indispensable component. It would seem, then, that it may be regarded as a phenomenon of speech. But from the point of view of psychology, the meaning of every word is a generalisation or a concept. And since generalisations and concepts are undeniably acts of thought, we may regard meaning as a phenomenon of thinking. It does not follow, however, that meaning formally belongs in two different spheres of psychic life. Word meaning is a phenomenon of thought only in so far as thought is embodied in speech, and of speech only in so far as speech is connected with thought and illumined by it. It is a phenomenon of verbal thought, or
meaningful speech - a union of word and thought.
Our experimental investigations fully confirm this basic thesis. They not only proved that concrete study of the development of verbal thought is made possible by the use of word meaning as the analytical unit but they also led to a further thesis, which we consider the major result of our study and which issues directly from the further thesis that word meanings develop. This insight must replace the postulate of
the immutability of word meanings.
From the point of view of the old schools of psychology, the bond between word and meaning is an associative bond, established through the repeated simultaneous perception of a certain sound and a certain object. A word calls to mind its content as the overcoat of a friend reminds us of that friend, or a house of its inhabitants. The association between word and meaning may grow stronger or weaker, be enriched by linkage with other objects of a similar kind, spread over a wider field, or become more limited, i.e., it may undergo quantitative and external changes, but it cannot change its psychological
nature. To do that, it would have to cease being an association. From that point of view, any development in word meanings is inexplicable and impossible - an implication which handicapped linguistics as well as psychology. Once having committed itself to the association theory, semantics persisted in treating word meaning as an association between a word's sound and its content. All words, from the most concrete to the most abstract, appeared to be formed in the same manner in regard to meaning, and to contain nothing peculiar to speech as such; a word made us think of its meaning just as any object might remind us of another. It is hardly surprising that semantics did not even pose the larger question of the development of word meanings. Development was reduced to changes in the associative connections between single words and single objects: A word might denote at first one object and then become associated with another, just as an overcoat, having changed owners, might remind us first of one person and later of another. Linguistics did not realize that in the historical evolution of language the very structure of meaning and its psychological nature also change. From primitive generalisations, verbal thought rises to the most abstract concepts. It is not merely the content of a word that changes, but the way in which reality is generalised and reflected in a word.
Equally inadequate is the association theory in explaining the development of word meanings in childhood. Here, too, it can account only for the purely external, quantitative changes in the bonds uniting word and meaning, for their enrichment and strengthening, but not for the fundamental structural and psychological changes that can and do occur in the development of language in children.
Oddly enough, the fast that associationism in general had been abandoned for some time did not seem to affect the interpretation of word and meaning. The Wuerzburg school, whose main object was to prove
the impossibility of reducing thinking to a mere play of associations and to demonstrate the existence of
specific laws governing the flow of thought, did not revise the association theory of word and meaning,
or even recognise the need for such a revision. It freed thought from the fetters of sensation and imagery
and from the laws of association, and turned it into a purely spiritual act. By so doing, it went back to the
prescientific concepts of St. Augustine and Descartes and finally reached extreme subjective idealism.
The psychology of thought was moving toward the ideas of Plato. Speech, at the same time, was left at
the mercy of association. Even after the work of the Wuerzburg school, the connection between a word
and its meaning was still considered a simple associative bond. The word was seen as the external
concomitant of thought, its attire only, having no influence on its inner life. Thought and speech had
never been as widely separated as during the Wuerzburg period. The overthrow of the association theory
in the field of thought actually increased its sway in the field of speech.
The work of other psychologists further reinforced this trend. Selz continued to investigate thought
without considering its relation to speech and came to the conclusion that man's productive thinking and
the mental operations of chimpanzees were identical in nature - so completely did he ignore the
influence of words on thought.
Even Ach, who made a special study of word meaning and who tried to overcome associationism in his
theory of concepts, did not go beyond assuming the presence of
with associations, in the process of concept formation. Hence, the conclusions he reached did not change
the old understanding of word meaning. By identifying concept with meaning, he did not allow for
development and changes in concepts. Once established, the meaning of a word was set forever; its
development was completed. The same principles were taught by the very psychologists Ach attacked.
To both sides, the starting point was also the end of the development of a concept; the disagreement
concerned only the way in which the formation of word meanings began.
In Gestalt psychology, the situation was not very different. This school was more consistent than others
in trying to surmount the general principle of associationism. Not satisfied with a partial solution of the
problem, it tried to liberate thinking and speech from the rule of association and to put both under the
laws of structure formation. Surprisingly, even this most progressive of modern psychological schools
made no progress in the theory of thought and speech.
For one thing, it retained the complete separation of these two functions. In the light of Gestalt
psychology, the relationship between thought and word appears as a simple analogy, a reduction of both
to a common structural denominator. The formation of the first meaningful words of a child is seen as
similar to the intellectual operations of chimpanzees in Koehler's experiments. Words enter into the
structure of things and acquire a certain functional meaning, in much the same way as the stick, to the
chimpanzee, becomes part of the structure of obtaining the fruit and acquires the functional meaning of
tool. The connection between word and meaning is no longer regarded as a matter of simple association
but as a matter of structure. That seems like a step forward. But if we look more closely at the new
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approach, it is easy to see that the step forward is an illusion and that we are still standing in the same
place. The principle of structure is applied to all relations between things in the same sweeping,
undifferentiated way as the principle of association was before it. It remains impossible to deal with the
specific relations between word and meaning.
They are from the outset accepted as identical in principle with any and all other relations between
things. All cats are as grey in the dusk of Gestalt psychology as in the earlier fogs of universal
While Ach sought to overcome associationism with the
combated it with the principle of structure - retaining, however, the two fundamental errors of the older
theory: the assumption of the identical nature of all connections and the assumption that word meanings
do not change. The old and the new psychology both assume that the development of a word's meaning
is finished as soon as it emerges. The new trends in psychology brought progress in all branches except
in the study of thought and speech. Here the new principles resemble the old ones like twins.
If Gestalt psychology is at a standstill in the field of speech, it has made a big step backward in the field
of thought. The Wuerzburg school at least recognised that thought had laws of its own. Gestalt
psychology denies their existence. By reducing to a common structural denominator the perceptions of
domestic fowl, the mental operations of chimpanzees, the first meaningful words of the child, and the
conceptual thinking of the adult, it obliterates every distinction between the most elementary perception
and the highest forms of thought.
This critical survey may be summed up as follows: All the psychological schools and trends overlook
the cardinal point that every thought is a generalisation; and they all study word and meaning without
any reference to development. As long as these two conditions persist in the successive trends, there
cannot be much difference in the treatment of the problem.
The discovery that word meanings evolve leads the study of thought and speech out of a blind alley.
Word meanings are dynamic rather than static formations. They change as the child develops; they
change also with the various ways in which thought functions.
If word meanings change in their inner nature, then the relation of thought to word also changes. To
understand the dynamics of that relationship, we must supplement the genetic approach of our main
study by functional analysis and examine the role of word meaning in the process of thought.
Let us consider the process of verbal thinking from the first dim stirring of a thought to its formulation.
What we want to show now is not how meanings develop over long periods of time but the way they
function in the live process of verbal thought. On the basis of such a functional analysis, we shall be able
to show also that each stage in the development of word meaning has its own particular relationship
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between thought and speech. Since functional problems are most readily solved by examining the
highest form of a given activity, we shall, for a while, put aside the problem of development and
consider the relations between thought and word in the mature mind.
The leading idea in the following discussion can be reduced to this formula: The relation of thought to
word is not a thing but a process, a continual movement back and forth from thought to word and from
word to thought. In that process the relation of thought to word undergoes changes which themselves
may be regarded as development in the functional sense. Thought is not merely expressed in words; it
comes into existence through them. Every thought tends to connect something with something else, to
establish a relationship between things. Every thought moves, grows and develops, fulfils a function,
solves a problem. This flow of thought occurs as an inner movement through a series of planes. An
analysis of the interaction of thought and word must begin with an investigation of the different phases
and planes a thought traverses before it is embodied in words.
The first thing such a study reveals is the need to distinguish between two planes of speech.- Both the
inner, meaningful, semantic aspect of speech and the external, phonetic aspect, though forming a true
unity, have their own laws of movement. The unity of speech is a complex, not a homogeneous, unity. A
number of facts in the linguistic development of the child indicate independent movement in the
phonetic and the semantic spheres. We shall point out two of the most important of these facts.
In mastering external speech, the child starts from one word, then connects two or three words; a little
later, he advances from simple sentences to more complicated ones, and finally to coherent speech made
up of series of such sentences; in other words, he proceeds from a part to the whole. In regard to
meaning on the other hand, the first word of the child is a whole sentence. Semantically, the child starts
from the whole, from a meaningful complex, and only later begins to master the separate semantic units,
the meanings of words, and to divide his formerly undifferentiated thought into those units. The external
and the semantic aspects of speech develop in opposite directions - one from the particular to the whole,
from word to sentence, and the other from the whole to the particular, from sentence to word.
This in itself suffices to show how important it is to distinguish between the vocal and the semantic
aspects of speech. Since they move in reverse directions, their development does not coincide, but that
does not mean that they are independent of each other. On the contrary, their difference is the first stage
of a close union. In fact, our example reveals their inner relatedness as clearly as it does their distinction.
A child's thought, precisely because it is born as a dim, amorphous whole, must find expression in a
single word. As his thought becomes more differentiated, the child is less apt to express it in single
words but constructs a composite whole. Conversely, progress in speech to the differentiated whole of a
sentence helps the child's thoughts to progress from a homogeneous whole to well-defined parts.
Thought and word are not cut from one pattern. In a sense, there are more differences than likenesses
between them. The structure of speech does not simply mirror the structure of thought; that is why
words cannot be put on by thought like a ready-made garment. Thought undergoes many changes as it
turns into speech. It does not merely find expression in speech; it finds its reality and form. The semantic
and the phonetic developmental processes are essentially one, precisely because of their reverse
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The second, equally important fact emerges at a later period of development. Piaget demonstrated that
the child uses subordinate clauses with
, etc., long before he grasps the structures of
meaning corresponding to these syntactic forms. Grammar precedes logic. Here, too, as in our previous
example, the discrepancy does not exclude union but is, in fact, necessary for union.
In adults the divergence between the semantic and the phonetic aspects of speech is even more striking.
Modern, psychologically oriented linguistics is familiar with this phenomenon, especially in regard to
grammatical and psychological subject and predicate. For example, in the sentence
The clock fell,
emphasis and meaning may change in different situations. Suppose I notice that the clock has stopped
and ask how this happened. The answer is,
The clock fell.
Grammatical and psychological subject
is the first idea in my consciousness;
is what is said about the clock But if I hear
a crash in the next room and inquire what happened, and get the same answer, subject and predicate are
psychologically reversed. I knew something had fallen - that is what we are talking about.
completes the idea. The sentence could be changed to:
What has fallen is the clock
; then the
grammatical and the psychological subject would coincide. In the prologue to his play
Duke Ernst von
, Uhland says:
Grim scenes will pass before you.
is the subject. The
spectator knows he will see events unfold; the additional idea, the predicate, is
What will pass before your eyes is a tragedy.
Any part of a sentence may become the
psychological predicate, the carrier of topical emphasis: on the other hand, entirely different meanings
may lie hidden behind one grammatical structure.' Accord between syntactical and psychological
organisation is not as prevalent as we tend to assume - rather, it is a requirement that is seldom met. Not
only subject and predicate, but grammatical gender, number, case, tense, degree, etc. have their
psychological doubles. A spontaneous utterance wrong from the point of view of grammar, may have
charm and aesthetic value. Absolute correctness is achieved only beyond natural language, in
mathematics. Our daily speech continually fluctuates between the ideals of mathematical and of
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Each of these perspectives makes different predictions about the independent influence upon U.S. policy making of four sets of actors: the Average Citizen or “median voter,” Economic Elites, and Mass-based or Business-oriented Interest Groups or industries.
Each of these theoretical traditions has given rise to a large body of literature. Each is supported by a great deal of empirical evidence — some of it quantitative, some historical, some observational — concerning the importance of various sets of actors (or, all too often, a single set of actors) in U.S. policy making. This literature has made important contributions to our understanding of how American politics works and has helped illuminate how democratic or undemocratic (in various senses) our policy making process actually is...
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