Psychoanalytic Psychology 2008, Vol. 25, No.

2, 220 –241

Copyright 2008 by the American Psychological Association 0736-9735/08/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0736-9735.25.2.220

Thoughts and Words
W. W. Meissner, SJ, MD
Psychoanalytic Institute of New England East

The present essay is intended to complement and extend the previous discussion of the acquisition of language (Part I). The further question arises of the relation between thought and language. The argument is presented that the capacity for thought arises developmentally before the emergence of the capacity for linguistic expression. Also functionally, on the mature and adult level, thought is regarded as independent of and antecedent to verbal expression. The word, in this sense, is a partial and incomplete expression of the fullness and complexity of the thought behind it. The relation of thought and word is traced developmentally in terms of Vygotsky’s analysis of concept development, in which thought and language follow different paths of development and achieve final integration and synthesis in adolescence. The development of thinking capacity and the evolution of inner speech points to the autonomy and independent synthetic capacity of the subjective self even before the development of linguistic competence. Beyond the reach and comprehension of the word, the thought remains active and alive nonetheless in the private inner world of the subjective self. Keywords: thought, word, concept formation, self, consciousness
Given the acquisition of language, as discussed in part I (Meissner, 2008), further questions arise concerning the relationship between language and thought, and the implications of their connection for the understanding of the self. The related issue regarding the status of the self focuses around the question whether there is a self existing and actively thinking antecedent to or independent of the use of language or not. As an intermediate step leading toward that consideration, one of the salient questions is whether there can be any thoughts without words. In this present essay, I will explore some aspects of the complex relationship between thought and language. In a subsequent discussion

W. W. Meissner, SJ, MD, Psychoanalytic Institute of New England East. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to W.W. Meissner, SJ, MD, St. Mary’s Hall, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. E-mail:




(Meissner, 2008), I will address the implications of the process of language acquisition and the connections of thought and word for the emergence and linguistic function of pronouns. The meaning and use of pronouns, particularly the first person pronouns, has direct implications for the understanding and functioning of the self.

On the Relationship of Thoughts and Words
The problem of the relation between thought and language is highly controverted. Opinions vary between those who take thinking to be identical with verbalization or who at least regard language as essential to and united with thought—a view of thinking Vygotsky (1962c) characterized as “speech minus sound”—and others, who regard thought as independent of language or who view the word as not identical with the preceding or underlying thought, so that language is essentially the modality of expression of already formed thought.1 Freud would have to be counted among those for whom conscious thought and language were interdependent (Schmidt-Hellerau, 2001). As Wilson and Weinstein (1992) observed: “Freud stipulated that language allows thoughts to become conscious. It is only through language that one is enabled to have any memory of a thought process” (p. 356). However, late in his career he seemed to entertain some doubts that the connection was so absolute about the preconscious. In his Outline (Freud, 1964) he wrote: “It would not be correct, however, to think that connection with mnemic residues of speech is a necessary precondition of the preconscious state. On the contrary, that state is independent of a connection with them, though the presence of that connection makes it safe to infer the preconscious nature of the process (p. 162).2 Thus, words in the Freudian view may arise preconsciously, but not without metaphoric and metonymic connotations and connections stemming from the unconscious—a view echoing somewhat

1 Sapir (1921) was an early advocate of the no-thought-without-words view. But by thought he seems to have had in mind propositional thought, which he distinguished from imagery. Any attempt to consciously relate images, in his view, automatically called silent language into play. He remarked: “One may go so far as to suspect that the symbolic expression of thought may in some cases run along outside the fringe of the conscious mind, so that the feeling of a free, non-linguistic stream of thought is for some minds of a certain type a relatively, but only a relatively, justified one” (p. 16). A more contemporary exponent of the same view is Jacques (1991) who commented, “First, we cannot think outside language, and the language in which we think is necessarily the language in which we communicate” (p. 191). Further: “In any case, thought is not something inward; it cannot exist outside words (words that might at least potentially be spoken), or outside an interlocutive relation that is at least possible; it does not exist outside the word. Thought is of the order of meaning. It is what a person says to him or herself, and it must not be confused with the ability to conjure up an idea or representation in the mind” (p. 215). I may be misreading the last sentence, but it strikes me as suggesting that thought is really subvocal speech and shouldn’t be confused with anything like an idea. E contra, I would presume that thought is precisely concerned with ideas, and that transcription of thought into silent speech is a further step toward possible communication. Another exponent of the no-thought-without-words view is Cavell (1993) who argues that mental phenomena are synonymously social or interpersonal and that “language is the condition for the mental in general, whether conscious or unconscious” (pp. 38-39). 2 In addition, as Leavy (1978) added, “The word, to be sure, is formed in the preconscious, but its metaphoric and metynomic bonds are forged in the unconscious and remain there, determinative of subsequent connections” (p. 278).

but as far as meaning goes the original single word is equivalent to a whole sentence. “The autistic-contiguous mode of experiencing is a presymbolic. Only gradually does he develop the linguistic tools to parse the undifferentiated meaning into semantic units. This does not. 237). I would presume that originally the recognition and differentiation of these differences mentally gives rise to their expression in words rather than the opposite. Study of American Indian languages led Whorf (1950) to conclude. It is no surprise. Thus. spoken to. 83). Ricoeur (1978) pointed out the deficiencies in the knowledge of linguistic theory available to Freud in his day. in actual usage the thought so formed gives rise to expressive words. which he described as a “primitive. Languages are molds into which infant minds are poured. would be an interesting speculation. The terms become embedded in the language and culture and are then passed on to the next generation and thus contribute to the learning and adaptive skills of the young. Rhythmicity and experiences of sensory contiguity contribute to the earliest psychological organization in this mode. as Brown (1970) paraphrased: “Language is not a cloak following the contours of thought. 82). some part of prelinguistic thought processes may take place unconsciously as well as preconsciously. “To the degree that children are motivated to speak a language as it is spoken in their community they are motivated to share the world view of that community” (p.222 MEISSNER Vygotsky’s distinction of sense and meaning (see below). As Brown (1970) commented. rocked. Thus. as far as I can see. Vetter (1969) had pointed out that “Both Sapir and Whorf emphasized the importance of structural elements of language in the organization of perceptual and cognitive experience” (p. in the Eskimo world of perpetual snow and ice. 242). sensori-dominated mode” (p. there is room to question the somewhat simplistic presumption of the shaping of thought by language. sensory mode and is therefore extremely difficult to capture in words. 53). Moreover. 4 This level of conceptual-affective development is addressed by Ogden (1990) as an autisticcontiguous mode. . as far as I can see. “The 3 A word of caution is probably in order. which tends to grant priority to language over thought. Even then. Vygotsky emphasized the priority of thought over language. and sung to in the arms of the mother” (p. the divergence of cultural forms is reflected in linguistic terms.4 One of the classic linguistic perspectives. In contrast. presymbolic. had he the opportunity to study the vastly more complex and sophisticated linguistic knowledge and theories of the present day. However. As he explained. In the child’s external development of language. is the so-called Whorfian hypothesis. the terms do no more than name experiential differentations. while cognitive processes are molded by the learning of language and culture. Both rhythmicity and experiences of surface contiguity are fundamental to the earliest relations with objects: the nursing experience and the experience of being held. the language in question in this context is the language of the adults who convey the culturally conditioned perspectives on the world that they know. reverse the sequence in the child’s mind from thought to word. Whorf thus departs from the common sense view in a) holding that the world is differently experienced and conceived in different linguistic communities and b) suggesting that language is causally related to these psychological differences” (p. However. Thus. he progresses from single words to combinations of words and to simple and then more complex sentences. as yet without the benefit of words. that the minor differentiations in those elements would play a crucial role in environmental adaptation and that these subtle discriminations would find their way into the language. What Freud might have thought.3 In terms of the role of the self in this process. so that this level of mental activity may be regarded as a function of the self-as-agent without yet coming to the level at which the process becomes conscious. and thereby can be accounted as a function of the self-as-subject.

from word to sentence. thought and word follow different patterns. In a sense. preventing the structure of speech from simply mirroring the structure of thought. 208). and. there are more differences than likenesses between them.6 From the perspective of the question of the relation of thoughts to words. and the other from the whole to the particular. when the infant was brought back to the scene and given the same material. nor is there any direct correspondence between the units of thought and those of speech. These interactive and communicative patterns speak to the activity in the presymbolic and preverbal infant of thought processes that connote the existence of a sense of self and 5 As Vygotsky (1962b) noted aphoristically. LeDoux (1996) has opined: “The relation between language and consciousness is complex and controversial. the experimenter dropped the object en route. Stern and the Boston Change Process Study Group (2004) have mustered some relevant empirical data. 647). focus of attention. In other words. 186). They point to patterns of mutual interaction and coordination between mother and child involving timing of movements. . mimickery of facial expressions and anticipations of the other’s intentions. but that thought must be transposed into a succession of linguistic units to be spoken. Later. and in addition. from sentence to word” (Vygotsky. he picked up the object and directly put it into the container. 209). in contrast to faithful imitation as the path to sharing overt behavior” (p. In this process. The infant had chosen to privilege the unseen. 649). p. the presence of language (or at least the necessary cognitive capacities that make language possible) allows a unique kind of awareness in humans” (p. and the transition from it to speech is no easy matter” (Vygotsky. 1962b. The evidence points to the conclusion that “infants are born with minds that are especially attuned to other minds as manifest through their behavior” (p. so that thought is subject to a series of changes as it moves into speech. the process of thought and speech are not identical. The patterns become more elaborate after about 7 to 9 months.LANGUAGE IN DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF II 223 external and semantic aspects of speech develop in opposite directions— one from the particular to the whole. 648). The structure of speech does not simply mirror the structure of thought.5 He (Vygotsky. affects and hedonic evaluations. Thought undergoes many changes as it turns into speech” (p. actual action” (p. so the intended goal was not reached. Regarding intentionality. as the path to sharing inner feeling states. he enacted the action that he assumed was intended. which they use to demonstrate the early entrance into intersubjectivity (social interaction). My view is that while language is not a necessary precursor to consciousness. 648). they cite a typical experiment in which “the preverbal infant watched an experimenter pick up an object and “try” to put it into a container. However. the thought contained in a sentence occurs as one thought. p. one thought may be expressed in different sentences” (p. 126). assumed intention over the seen. with more differences than similarities. affective attunement. “Thought has its own structure. but which serves equally well to substantiate the presence of infantile thinking and mentation well before the acquisition of language. As he noted. as before. “Just as one sentence may express different thoughts. when “sharable mental states start to include goal-directed intentions. 6 On the question whether all conscious thought is essentially propositional (thus requiring use of language) or not. not the one he saw. 333). He goes on to say that the capacity to understand speech is not necessary for consciousness – the deaf and dumb are certainly conscious in that they have the necessary capacities for understanding language but are unable to put them to use. 1962c) explained further: “Thought and word are not cut from one pattern. that is why words cannot be put on by thought like a ready-made garment. the experience of action” (p. that is “a form of selective and cross-modal imitation. In this sense. 1962b.

The contemporary view of this development correspondingly tends to see thought and speech evolving along independent paths leading to the juncture at which thoughts become verbal and speech rational (Bucci.7 Early on. in which the overlapping part represented verbal thought. the development of verbal thought requires a uniting in some fashion of thought and word. is raised in the anti-essentialist perspective of philosophical pragmatism. (2001) add this amplifying comment: During the preverbal period of infancy. In another place he (Vygotsky. but word meanings are different and can change. be placed on thought like clothes off a rack. Gradually. To say this is to emphasize the contextsensitivity of signs and of thoughts–to treat them not as quasi-things but as nodes in a web of relations” (pp. It cannot. the articulation of the child’s experience is achieved through attunements communicated in the sensorimotor dialogue with caregivers. the same word can acquire multiple meanings— children are often surprised and puzzled that two different persons can be called by the same name. As Rorty (1991) observed: “Once one drops the essentialist idea that things have both intrinsic and relational properties– properties which they have “in themselves” and properties which they have merely in relation to. Stolorow et al. Thought is restructured as it is transformed in speech. 677). 251). 1987) wrote: “The structure of speech is not a simple mirror image of the structure of thought. 1997). It is not expressed but completed in the word” (p. 130-131). e. by about seven the child is able to think in words rather than speaking them. The child uses words early to communicate with others long before they connote fully developed thought.224 MEISSNER a sense of the other as in some sense the same and in some sense different from the self. With the maturation of the child’ symbolic capacities. human desires and interests–then a Saussurian notion of language and a Davidsonian antirepresentationalist account of knowledge follow naturally. . The rest of the circles comprised forms of nonverbal thought and nonintellectual speech. and further to all round objects. symbols gradually assume a place of importance alongside sensorimotor attunements as vehicles through which the child’s experience is validated within the developmental system. one that can remain indeterminate for our purposes. Vygotsky (1962c) had compared thought and speech to two intersecting circles. unconscious becomes coextensive with unsymbolized. These experiential meanings are further concretized and specified when the emerging language capacity allows them to be named as such. Stern (1997) formulated this level of preverbal experience in terms of the concept of unformulated experience— unformulated in that it has never reached the level of consciousness. [I]n that realm of experience in which consciousness increasingly becomes articulated in symbols. Speech does not merely serve as an expression of developed thought. When the act of articulating an experience is perceived to threaten an indispensable tie. therefore. repression can now be achieved by preventing the continuation of the process of encoding that experience in symbols (p. the use of language is interiorized so that. Ultimately. so that the basic structures of speech become synonymous with the structures of conscious thought (Adams. Later on. a child may use a newly learned term to express a range of meanings—“duck” can apply to the bird in a pond and to the eagle on a coin. 1972). 7 An additional issue..g. The parallels with Lacan’s chain of signifiers seem obvious. The question is whether words and propositions have an inherent significance and intelligibility in themselves or whether the meaning derives from their articulation within a chain of other related signifiers.

5. of abstracting certain traits. This lends the complex a quality of limitless expandability by adding more and more objects to the group. Freedman (1977) cites the conclusion of Eberhardt (1940) to the effect that “The experiments show that the world of the young deaf is already organized beyond the perceptual level and that this organization closely follows that of speaking people. concept formation begins in early childhood and progresses developmentally. 1962). form a new synthesis. but they are insufficient without the use of the sign.9 The first step toward concept formation occurs when the child groups several disparate objects together into a “heap” or conglomerate that is represented by a mental image. be reduced to association. He concluded that concepts are formed “through an intellectual operation in which all the elementary mental functions participate in a specific combination. control their course. and thus lack the coherence of a concept. p. they cannot be equated without ignoring the developmental process between early and final stages. “Word meaning 8 I would note the congruence between Vygotsky’s view of prelinguistic concept formation and the findings from study of congenitally deaf children. 81). or word. the child seems to have discovered that words have a symbolic function— expressed at first in the naming of objects. imagery. hierarchical organization is lacking and all attributes are functionally equal. Thus. synthesizing them. Introduction of the word as instrumental to concept formation does not add any new functions. Single traits are not abstracted and given a specific role as criterion of inclusion as in the use of concepts. as the means by which we direct our mental operations. however. attention. the laws governing this whole also determine the destiny of each individual part. become parts of a new complex whole. “but all the existing functions are incorporated into a new structure. 1962c). He found a prelinguistic phase in thought and a preintellectual phase in speech (Bruner. so that word meaning amounts to little more than designating this collection. inference. 283).8 As he concluded: “Concept formation is the result of a complex activity in which all the basic intellectual functions take part. This process comes to its full development in adolescence (Vygotsky. speech becomes rational and thought (or at least conscious thought) becomes verbal. This operation is guided by the use of words as the means of actively centering attention. and channel them toward the solution of the problem confronting us” (p. 283). These separate and parallel courses of development remain so until about two years of age. At that point. 9 A thoughtful and comprehensive overview of the emergence and integration of language in the development of thinking is provided in Hobson (2002). .LANGUAGE IN DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF II 225 Concept Formation Further development of the relation of thought and word can be traced in Vygotsky’s (1962a. They are formed based on diffuse and indeterminate bonds. in which thinking and speech have different genetic roots and develop independently. Before this. c) study of concept formation. Such complexes lack logical unity. 200). Before that certain intellectual functions are found that are similar to later concepts. when they join to give rise to a new form of behavior. The process cannot. They show clearly that language is not essential for organized conceptual thought” (p. and symbolizing them by a sign” (1962c. In Vygotsky’s view. serving as functional equivalents to true concepts. to ripen only at puberty. the earliest forms of babbling and crying contribute to linguistic development but have nothing to do with thought. They are all indispensable. or determining tendencies. At this point. Learning to direct one’s own intellectual processes with the aid of words or signs is an integral part of the process of concept formation” (p. cited in Freedman on p.

combined with advanced complex thinking. Vygotsky (1962a. c) regarded these formations as precursors to true concepts. italics in original). for example. “But such growth is not inevitable. as “potential concepts” one step removed from pseudoconcepts. italics in original). 1962a. 320). Word meaning at this stage may refer to the same objects for both child and adult. pp. In this advance. but the child thinks about them in a different way using different mental operations. as Olver and Hornsby (1972) caution. 291. enables the child to progress to the formation of genuine concepts. c) also described an intermediate stage of the “pseudoconcept” in which the child’s generalization phenotypically resembles the adult concept. 59 – 60. Gradually certain words acquire a partial similarity for both child and adult. but by some connection actually existing between objects. . that is. and this allows a degree of mutual understanding. The decisive role in this process. 302). so that rational classification based on function replaces earlier complexive grouping. has led to the false assumption that forms of adult intellectual activity exist in embryo in the child’s thinking. The overlap and similarity between adult usage and the child’s. as our experiments have shown. This process gradually unfolds in a shift from complexive-perceptual definition of equivalence to a superordinate-functional basis. whereas he is actually guided by a visible likeness limited to a concrete perceptual bond. The next stage Vygotsky calls “thinking in complexes” in which objects are united not just by the child’s impression. If the sample. the child may include triangles of all kinds as if guided by a single concept. p. A concept only emerges when the abstracted traits are synthesized anew and the resulting abstract synthesis becomes the main instrument of thought. thus creating the illusion that the final stage in the development of word meaning does not differ from the starting point (Vygotsky. egocentrism has partly faded and he no longer takes the connections of his impression for the connection among things—a step in the direction of objective thinking. The result is that the pseudoconcept and real concept may seem similar. p. Progression to development of true concepts involves a complex of intellectual operations. and not something that invades every corner of the mind” (p. but is still essentially a complex. deliberately used to direct all the part processes of advanced concept formation” (1962a. Thus. but he can only provide the given meaning of a word around which the child forms a complex along with all the peculiarities of thinking in complexes. not complete. is played by the word. As he comments: “Only the mastery of abstraction. especially words referring to concrete objects in the child’s world. Vygotsky (1962a. however. the adult cannot pass his mode of thinking on to the child.226 MEISSNER denotes nothing more to the child than a vague syncretic conglomeration of individual objects that have somehow or other coalesced into an image in his mind” (Vygotsky. Pseudoconcepts prevail in the preschool child’s mind “for the simple reason that in real life complexes corresponding to word meanings are not spontaneously developed by the child: The lines along which a complex develops are predetermined by the meaning a given word already has in the language of adults” (1962a. Vygotsky (1962a) summarized his findings on concept formation as follows: The processes leading to concept formation develop along two main lines. is to include yellow triangles.10 Further advances in abstraction are based on grouping according to single attributes. The first is complex formation: The child unites diverse objects in groups under a common “family name”. 1962c. thus complicating the communication between adult and 3-year-old. Nevertheless. c). this 10 Vygotsky (1962a) also notes the similarity of thinking in complexes with the form of participation identified by Levy-Bruhl (1918) in primitive peoples.

often enough.LANGUAGE IN DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF II 227 process passes through various stages. The mediating sign is incorporated in their structure as an indispensable. Luria (1959). emphasized that language can also have a pragmatic or directive function. its use as a means of concept formation. italics in original). 79. Learning to direct one’s own mental processes with the aid of words or signs is an integral part of the process of concept formation. the use of the word is an integral part of the developing processes. so that the directive role of the word is quite limited—as Luria noted. Under instructions to press or not press a bulb in response to different colored lights. 1962c) added: “All the higher psychic functions are mediated processes and signs are the basic means used to master and direct them. is the immediate psychological cause of the radical change in the intellectual process that occurs on the threshold of adolescence. The ability to regulate one’s actions by using auxiliary means reaches its full development only in adolescence (pp. In concept formation. The second line of development is the formation of “potential concepts”. The function which was at first a result of communication between two people becomes an internal function of the child’s mind—an aspect or form of internalization. he (Vygotsky. 56). appears at this age. essentially different from those already present. for example. to which these processes lead (p. Experiments suggest that any practical correspondence between the semantic meaning and directive function of a sentence may be delayed for a long time. 72). then later assumes his own self-direction with the support of speech in organizing his own behavior. Consequently. No new elementary function. “The child at this age cannot yet create a system of neural processes that includes both verbal and motor links. 59. In early stages of development this mobility is even more marked. but all the existing functions are incorporated into a new structure. the inert excitation roused by the positive part of an instruction overwhelms the inhibitory component. but his mental energy is so absorbed in uttering the word that the associated motor reaction is aborted. form a new synthesis. The child acts at first with the help and instruction of the adult. “The directive role of the word at an early age is maintained only if the word does not conflict with the inert connections which arose at an earlier instruction or which began with the child’s own activity” (p. so that “In . italics in original) Following up on Vygotsky’s studies. Vygotsky had pointed out that the words of adults played a role in the development of the child’s mental processes. In both. the effectiveness of the directive role can be compromised or absent. that sign is the word. 304) With regard to mature and conscious concept formation. However. which at first plays the role of means in forming a concept and later becomes its symbol” (p. in normal and mature brains. the child might say “Press!” when the signal appears. based on singling out certain common attributes. indeed the central. are highly mobile and easily replaced—the mobility of these connections (Pavlov’s second signal system) are greater than the excitations elicited by the immediate signals. the child does begin to achieve this coordination when he begins to issue his own commands. the laws governing this whole also determine the destiny of each individual part. Luria noted that the word stimulates a reaction in cortical connections that. and the word does not play any directive role” (p. Even when the child is later capable of more complete sentence comprehension. part of the total process. At 21⁄2. in addition to the syntactic and semantic functions of language. The process reaches fulfillment in adolescence Vygotsky (1962c) commented: The new significative use of the word. become parts of a new complex whole. and the word maintains its guiding function in the formation of genuine concepts. Understanding the meaning of an instruction does not mean that the child can execute it correctly.

228 MEISSNER concentrating the diffuse excitation. here acquire their directive function” (p. to find the right words or combination of words to express the content and innuendos of their poetic thought and/or imagery. That the selecting process can misfire is suggested by slips of the tongue reflecting transient malfunctions of the neural organization involved in producing the speech program—as he put it. processing occurs simultaneously in multiple parallel channels. whether such editing is carried on covertly (i. so that “The directive role is taken over by those inner connections that lie behind the word. for any speaker or writer. 80). assess their degree of semantic relevance to the expression of the initial idea. external speech no longer seems necessary. This selective function implies that “the planning function has to be able to scrutinize the competing candidates. the directive aspect even of the child’s own speech remains nonselective and nonspecific. or other creative authors. these difficulties in translating thoughts into words can be exacerbated in some forms of aphasia in which the rate of speaking is reduced. Brown (1973) observed: “The germ of the sentence is. rather “It is much more likely that the neural elements corresponding to much longer stretches of speech are assembled in advance. not of morphemes or words though we will have to use words to represent both conceptions and relations” (p. 80). they might better be called slips of the mind or brain rather than of the tongue (Laver.. However. the child’s own verbal responses. The I would suggest that the problem of the matching of thought with word is common in the experience of poets.. 79). revising at great length at times. in fact. 111). at 3 to 31⁄2 years. These would include representations and processes in which the elements are not discrete. In addition. But this process is not performed on a sound-by-sound or word-by-word basis. and they now begin to display their selective effect in directing the further motor responses of the child” (p. writing and rewriting. then. more exactly that part of the speaker’s total intention which he means to embody in words. but as the words and images emerge the subject regards them as right if they agree with the intention or wrong if they don’t. higher level units are not generated from discrete elements. unconsciously or preconsciously) or overtly (i. but the connection of word and action remain to a degree unstable and the operative comprehension seemingly for a time incomplete. and choose the most appropriate item” (p. Finding the right words. 68). and then allowed to be articulated as a single continuous program” (p. 11 . 1970).e. Within a neurological perspective. who may struggle with this issue. 13). As soon as the directive function becomes integrated with the semantic aspect. but how much of it. The planning and monitoring functions. Laver (1970) drew attention to the mental intention of saying something before actually saying it: it is a distinctive form of consciousness and intentionality. This intention is preverbal. consciously). organization is not categorical. involves images of words or things? As words and things come to mind the anticipatory intention fades. involves retrieving and selecting elements from semantic memory and combining them so as to arrive at just the right formulation. are integral functions of the process of language production.11 Following a similar line of thought underlining the divergence of intention and words. 67). To some extent. It is composed of conceptions and relations.e. functioning on a feedback principle. another year must pass before “the verbal response ‘Don’t press’ actually acquires the inhibitory effect specific to speech” (p. together with frequent revisions. he questions. the child seems able to comprehend the instruction. Bucci (1997) expanded this view as follows: “There is now increasing recognition within cognitive science of a wide range of systematic human information processing beyond images and words. and explicit processing rules cannot be identified (p. said to be an intention.

and so on. whatever the contribution of language to thought.13 In addition. as when patients suffer profound disturbances of autobiographical memory. nor (as Hughlings Jackson thought) “propositions” alone. 1970). . The language hypothesis would hold in these terms for some aspects of the self-experience but not the whole. italics in original). do arithmetic. In addition. As Damasio commented: “As you familiarize yourself with the tools at the patient’s disposal. Marcos et al. thought can be completely nonverbal. per se. its contribution to core consciousness12 was not evident. regardless of the degree of language impairment. or who temporarily lose speech as a result of temporary paralysis. 2007). in which there is a breakdown of all language functions. even when they might be wholely uncomprehending of words as such. fleeting feeling of knowing. constructed anew in each pulse. the sense of self arises in the subtle. this was the clue to aphasiacs’ understanding. so subtle. the sense of self arises in the consistent. which “is disrupted in akinetic mutisms. Correspondingly. though understanding of words is destroyed” (p. it will never even cross your mind to ask if that human being is or is not conscious. In addition. For though the words.LANGUAGE IN DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF II 229 slowing does not seem to involve a disturbance in articulation. As Damasio (1999) commented: “In core consciousness. despite the inability to translate thought into language and vice versa” (p. persistent vegetative state. Tesone (1996). but the organizing and coding aspects are affected. can still think. I have discussed the further implications of these views in my Time. the continuity of the subjective sense of self is maintained in these individuals. See also discussions of bilingual and multi-lingual language and self-experience in Katsavdakis et al. 81. moment by moment. Core consciousness is the basic state of awareness of the immediate present.. the verbal constructions. and epileptic automatisms. but communication is still possible using nonverbal or nonlinguistic signs. 13 Sacks’ (1970) comment is worth reading: “Because speech–natural speech– does not consist of words alone. He concluded that. When extended conscious is disrupted. Even in the case of severe global aphasia. those that can easily substantiate our identity. but rather lies in the inability to organize the motor events necessary for speech. Visual thinking is something we 12 Damasio (1999) distinguished between core and extended consciousness. extended consciousness reaches beyond the immediate present to include both past and future. patients cannot understand or produce any language beyond stereotypical words. deep sleep (dreamless). coma. extended consciousness is disrupted as well. connecting the sense of self to a lived past and an anticipated future. thought processes and states of consciousness remained essentially intact. and are reflective of sets of autobiographic memories associated with each context of language experience in their extended consciousness. The conceptual aspects of language and language use are intact. It is worth noting in this context that bilingual subjects in analysis often report a languagerelated. They can solve abstract problems. as Glucksberg and Danks (1975) add: “[A]dults who lose speech as a result of brain damage. Damasio (1999) pointed out that. and our personhood” (p. Instead. 109). core consciousness can remain intact. absence seizures. embedded in an expressiveness which transcends the verbal–and it is precisely this expressiveness. reason logically. (2001). so various. might convey nothing. Self and Psychoanalysis (Meissner. making it difficult to put silent thoughts into words (Marshall. It is closely dependent on autobiographical memory. Finally. One might take this finding as supporting the language-self equation. so complex. and deep anesthesia” (p. but I would contend that the dual linguistic frameworks reflect variations within the sense of self operative in the self-as-object. spoken language is normally suffused with “tone”. 121). 1995. so deep. and Panel (2000) and of the dynamic and defensive uses of multiple languages in analysis in Akhtar (1995) and Movahedi (1996). In contrast. dual sense of self differentiated in relation to separate languages (Akhtar. It consists of utterance–an uttering forth of one’s whole meaning with one’s whole being–the understanding of which involves infinitely more than mere word-recognition. but when core consciousness is compromised or lost. In terms of core consciousness that human being is no different than you and me. reiterated display of some of our own personal memories. 196. which is perfectly preserved in aphasia. in extended consciousness. the objects of out personal past. italics in original). 1977).

230 MEISSNER are all capable of to some extent. stipulates the connection of propositional thought with consciousness: “Without the capacity to create the abstract. linguistic theorists acquired a license to regard all forms of symbolic expression as inherently semiotic. and sometimes the most fruitful kind. neither speech nor language can be equated with thought” (p. but without offering convincing evidence that natural language is the only form of mental representation involved in thinking (Huttenlocher. symbolic play. The identification of internal subvocal thought with conscious thought leaves open the question of preverbal or nonverbal forms of thinking and the extent to which the sense of any thinking eludes the grasp of the meaning conveyed in conscious language. it is too often forgotten that the development of mental representation and thought are connected with As Piaget (1970) had noted. Thus. As Piaget noted. there is a high level of conceptualization and thinking and meaning. that is. when you ask me. mimicking. goes on unconsciously and apparently wordlessly. wanted to reduce mathematics and logic to linguistics and the entire life of the mind to speech.15 Part of the difficulty arises from Saussure’s expansion of the range of the semiotic to include the symbolic. Hobson (1999). 148). enthusiastically followed by Bloomfield. Chomsky and his followers base grammar [i]n logic and language on the life of reason” (p. I do not know.14 As Huttenlocher (1973) observed. There is abundant evidence that some types of human concept formation can take place without verbalization” (p. some philosophers would distinguish between thought and skill or know-how. language cannot be just the tip of the cognitive iceberg. for example. Piaget (1970) had pointed out the difficulties inherent in the effort to understand the relation between linguistic and logical structures. 179). that. pointed to the distinction and separate brain localization of aphasias and agnosias. I know. “While the logical positivists. painting. and commented: “Whatever the brain mechanisms for cognition [affected in the agnosias] and language [affected in the aphasias]. One source of difficulty. the ultimate expression of cognitive ability” (p. Augustine: ‘When you do not ask me. One should be careful here to distinguish unvocalized internal thought from Vygotsky’s inner speech. thought does not. Church (1966) also noted. “But in no case do they regard their mental operations in obtaining an answer as involving natural language in any essential way” (p. In considering the possibility of ranges of thought beyond the reach of language. they convert the verbal information of the problem to forms of imaginary visual representation and manipulate the images to reach a solution. 14 . mental imagery. Also. but without any reliance on language—this would include music. 64). symbolic representations of external reality and internal experience that are encoded as language. and so on. 1973). As he noted. and perhaps even architecture. for another. Consequently. looking to fit the facts to the theory while disregarding the nature of the facts. It seems obvious. Clearly. they are separately affected in these patients—language fluency often remains intact despite severe cognitive retardation. 83). as he saw it. sculpture. 79). 177). regarding the former as propositional and the latter as not so. in all forms of art except literature.’ indicating that though words may fail us. “Introspective accounts of creative thinking suggest that much thinking. there could be no conscious thought. Pribram (1978) arguing along this same line. was that in Saussure’ s view the symbolic or semiotic function includes all forms of imitation in addition to language. they identify thought and language. 15 My own view is that the attempts of language theorists to regard these obvious nonlinguistic forms of meaning as if they were somehow forms of linguistic expression seems to me to represent a form of theoretical imposition on the facts. We all know the kind of experience described by St. Thought is distinctly propositional and so constitutes an internal language” (p. when subjects are asked to solve verbal problems involving comparison or ranking of material objects. Consequently.

1962c) noted in this connection that the child’s earliest preverbal responsiveness to the sound of the human voice suggests a social component even in the preintellectual phase of speech development in the first year.17 Unlike external speech. in contrast. without vocalization. especially with the mother. oral speech. then inner speech– contrasts. and are gradually internalized to become intrapsychic. 99). as he put it. He (Vygotsky. This led to distinguishing specific semantic structures of inner speech: first is the 16 Vygotsky also had his difficulties and reservations about Piaget’s notion of egocentric speech. differentiating speech for oneself from speech for others. with oral speech standing in the middle” (p. and differs from external speech addressed to others. then egocentric. suggesting that the one changes into the other.LANGUAGE IN DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF II 231 this general semiotic function rather than to language alone. In our conception. Vygotsky (1962b) exemplified this process in the study of inner speech. see Vygotsky (1962c). Thus. the more pronounced are its syntactic peculiarities—simplification and predication” (p. but both have similar structures and serve similar intellectual functions (Vygotsky. Vygotsky (1962b) sees it as because of the insufficient individualization of social speech and as evolving into inner speech. 205). is addressed to oneself. Inner speech. The more differentiated the specific function of egocentric speech becomes. so that all the functions of language start as aspects of an interpersonal exchange of meanings. whose brain has not been damaged) play at make believe. Regarding egocentric speech. “How otherwise could we explain that deaf-mute children (those. “One might even say that the syntax of inner speech is the exact opposite of the syntax of written speech. linguistic categories and especially social forms of self-reference contribute to shaping the sense of self. As he argued. and written speech could be differentiated. Vygotsky views this as a transitory phenomenon from interpsychic to intrapsychic functioning. 1962c). with Piaget’s sequence–from nonverbal autistic thought through egocentric thought and speech to socialized speech and logical thinking. . Egocentric speech begins to fade at school age when inner speech starts to develop. As a result. thus locating the problem in the transition from that plane to speech. 19-20). invent symbolic games and a language of gestures?” (p. it seems disconnected and incomplete. This process seems to serve certain functions of a developing mental orientation and conscious understanding of both self and others. He drew the basic distinction in these terms: “Thus our schema of development–first social. the true direction of the development of thinking is not from the individual to the socialized. except for the predominace of sense. In his view egocentric speech precedes inner speech. Language starts from a form of interpersonal (and preverbal) communication to the more private form of inner speech that resembles social speech. he tends to leave out the subject and all words connected with it. 17 Vygotsky (1962c) had suggested that the grammar of inner speech. condensing his speech more and more until only predicates are left. he commented: “The child talks about the things he sees or hears or does at a given moment. that is. 93) Inner Speech Vygotsky’s answer to the problem of the relation of thought and word included a separate plane of thought with its own structure. but that it was a separate speech function with its own peculiar syntax. but from the social to the individual” (pp. Egocentric speech is entirely intrapsychic and has no communicative value. In this he differed from Piaget: for Piaget egocentric speech reflects the inadequacy of social development and fades away to be replaced anew by inner speech in the course of socialization.16 He concluded that inner speech was not simply speech without sound.

It is much more fluid and protean than the meaning. The resulting tendency to regard all forms of communication as equivalently linguistic or symbolic is more confusing than clarifying in my view. for example–and the symbol by way of understanding of meaning. It is a complex. In inner speech. the icon refers to the object by resemblance. reflecting. the unconscious and related dream phenomena are not predicated in terms of the sense of related words rather than the meaning. And again: ‘[W]e came to the conclusion that inner speech develops through a slow accumulation of functional and structural changes. The senses of different words flow into one another—literally “influence” one another—so that the earlier ones are contained in. Only the symbol necessarily involves the use of language. A single word is so saturated with sense that many words would be required to explain it in external speech. No wonder that egocentric speech is incomprehensible to others” (pp. 208). and of context over sentence is the rule” (p. index. and finally that the speech structures mastered by the child become the basic structures of his thinking” (1962c. as Adams (1972) noted: “The sense encompasses all the psychological processes aroused by the word. and modify.232 MEISSNER predominance of sense over meaning—sense derives from context and changes in different contexts. including other meanings and affects. 206 –207). idiomatic structure of inner speech into syntactically articulated speech intelligible to others” (p. See further discussion of the use of these terms in analytic discourse in Muller (1996). the later ones. as Goetzmann and Schwegler (2004) note. it follows that word and sense are more independent than word and meaning—as Vygotsky concluded. the phenomenon reaches its peak. but.18 I would infer that this way of looking at inner speech conveys a sense of a penumbra of associations. whether natural or conventional. 18 . Vygotsky (1962b) concluded that inner speech was an automonous speech function and a distinct plane of verbal thought distinct from external speech. 50 –51). In inner speech words are “saturated with sense” (p. in terms of this discussion. or symbol. that it branches off from the child’s external speech simultaneously with the differentiation of the social and egocentric functions of speech. dynamic process involving the transformation of the predicative. The analyst should find this formulation resonant with the implications of the fluidity and subjection to dream mechanisms characteristic of the unconscious and primary process. It cannot be achieved by merely vocalizing silent speech. “In inner speech. the predominance of sense over meaning. the index by reason of some connection with the object–as physical effect of the object. 12). We might wonder to what extent. all three are specified as signs that make it possible to translate even nonverbal forms of communication in semiotic terms. Also relevant is Peirce’s (1902) threefold categorization of signs as icon. as he explained: “It is evident that the transition from inner to external speech is not a simple translation from one language into another. Although these are often overlapping. second. an effort to extend the linguistic umbrella to include nearly everything in human symbolizing activity as well as in the analytic process. Further the relation between them was complex. of sentence over word. while meaning remains stable through any changes in sense. 206). Meaning and Sense We can conclude that one of the more salient distinctions Vygotsky made in his explication of inner speech. Third is “the way in which senses of words combine and unite—a process governed by different laws from those governing combinations of meanings. was the differentiation between the sense and the meaning of words. and which are implicit in The distinction of sense from meaning seems to parallel William James’ notion of the fringe of meaning accompanying all units of language–see the discussion in Boothby (2001). that color the ultimate meaning expressed in the word. pp. as far as I can see.

20 There is reason to think that these components of sense and meaning are in some degree anatomically diverse and can be neurologically separated. Rizzuto (2002) cites the French psychologist Paulhan (echoing Vygotsky) describing the sense of a word as “the sum of all psychological events aroused in our consciousness by the word. whereas the aphasias go with disorders of the left temporal lobe” (p. Thus. Thus. it inevitably enters the plane of word sense. have the opposite configuration: “For such patients. The implications and connotations remain in the subconscious or unconscious” (Vol. as Wilson and Weinstein(1992) added: “Word sense always includes the social and affective aspects of word meaning. Sacks (1970) pointed out that severe aphasics can retain the sense component even though they completely lose the meaning aspect. the word in effect concretizes the meaning. 1327). difference is the source of the dissemination of meaning. This constant shifting and sliding of meaning is closely related to Derrida’s notion of deconstruction – specifically the difference that he sees as characterizing language. Hence. but especially in the analytic dialogue. As used in speech.LANGUAGE IN DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF II 233 verbal communications of all kinds. the importance of the lapses. their timbre. Vygotsky (1962c) described the relation of sense and meaning in these terms: “Meaning is only one of the zones of sense. Add to this the fact that an unconscious discourse. which can remain unexpressed but nonetheless active. 76. Meaning remains stable throughout the changes of sense. 83). the expressive qualities of voices disappear–their tone. Such tonal agnosias (or “aprosodias”) are associated with disorders of the right temporal lobe of the brain. it represents only a small segment of the whole meaning complex. He referred to this as a continuous sliding of the signified under the signifier. I would add that the resonances of the sense of the word are aroused more at unconscious rather than conscious levels. 370 –371). more correctly described as suffering from a form of agnosia. the double entendres that permeate it” (p. I. It is a dynamic.21 Litowitz (1978). but in so doing captures only some part of the sense. Meaning [in the dictionary sense] remains stable throughout the changes in sense” (p. fluid. See Holland’s (1999) clarifying discussion of deconstruction in relation to analysis. but reflects the underlying word meaning which can never be fully articulated. infiltrates our conscious discourse. as not referring to a particular signified but to a chain of signifiers in an open and progressive discourse that never reaches closure. 146).20 As ThassThienemann (1973) noted: “The lexical meaning looms on the surface of language. And this is true even of our conscious discourse. involving the difference of the sign from other signs and the delay in the continuing postponement of meaning. typically. The dictionary meaning of a word is no more than a stone in the edifice of sense. 76). in different contexts. no more than a potentiality that finds diversified realization in speech” (p. their feeling. complex whole. their entire character–while words (and grammatical constructions) are perfectly understood. in this connection.19 Along similar lines. the most stable and precise zone. clang-associations. A word acquires its sense from the context in which it appears. the potential from which a word derives its semantic force. it changes its sense. A word acquires its sense from the context in which it appears. As Richardson (1986) explained: “The constant movement not only makes all meaning tentative but comports an element of distortion as well. The archeologist of personal history can discover keys to the developmental history of the individual lying in the multiple word sense and the more stable word meanings that exist behind the manifest presentation of a word” (pp. p. in different contexts it changes its sense. but in contrast other forms of neurological deficit. 21 Whorf (1956) made a similar distinction between the phenotype and the cryptotype of individual word meanings–the phenotype representing the overt lexical meaning and the cryptotype . the discourse precisely of the Other. italics in original). Moreover. had called attention to Freud’s (1959) com19 Vygotsky’s view seems to resonate with Lacan’s concept of meaning in terms of the arbitrary connection of signifier and signified. When a word is spoken. insinuating hidden signifiers that distort it further.

images. 15). it is not philosophical news that any description of thinking is necessarily and only a first person claim and that my thinking is for you a black box. words formed and half-formed. Thought is connected with words but is not a chain of verbalization in all or even most instances (p. if Lacan is right. arise from compromises between the conscious and the unconscious. ‘insights. Leavy (1978) explains the seeming contradiction with Freud’s distinction between thing-presentations in the unconscious and word-presentations in the preconscious: “[A]ll of the metaphors that appear in relationship with the dream-element (or any other element in the speech of the patient or subject) have partial overlappings of meaning and have evidently been evoked through the work of the primary process.’ This discourse begins nonverbally. however. imaginative constructs. for instance. 1978. 455). It is simply that this double origin is more easily noticed in speeches than. Sapir (1921) had observed “that language and thought are not strictly coterminous. As Muller (1996) explained. most generalized. p. To which Kovar added: “Beyond all that.’ floods of feeling. an essential note of the imaginary register is the one-to-one correspondence between aspects of the object and its image. thinking and speaking do not share the same formal properties. the metaphors for the (unconscious) signified themselves undergo the fate of the signified.23 Vygotsky (1962b) himself noted that word meaning was related to thought only when the unconscious implications. 85). 149)” (Kovar. A view of the social nature of language. citing the Jesuit linguistic scholar Walter Ong (1981). And when. certainly to others and probably to ourselves” (p. 524). 22 See also Patsalides and Patsalides (2001). 23 In defending Lacan’s identification of the unconscious with language. But the imaginary is still structured and thus distinct from “the fluctuating and fragmentary psychic world that precedes it” (Leavy. 524). and objects of the symbolic. each of the two intentions lying behind the speech can be successfully expressed in the same turn of words. p. I do not think we have to insert the word itself into the unconscious. . For further discussion of the transition in Lacan from image to thought see Boothby (2001). and. level of symbolic expression” (p. meanings. moments of seeming stultification of all faculties. does not contradict but complements Chomsky’s that a thinking and speaking self also emerges along lines determined by neural organization” (p. in actions. in which concepts find expression in words.234 MEISSNER ments on the ambiguity of speech as “nothing other than a counterpart to the twofold determination of symptoms. snatches of dialogue. as is often made possible by the malleable nature of the material of speech.22 Along this line. At best language can but be the outward facet of thought on the highest. he distinguished this from the imaginary order that is preverbal and deals with the organization of images without benefit of language. A similar perspective was advanced by Kovar (1994). distractions fought off or welcomed or sought for—all this and all the other innumerable goings-on in the consciousness when we are “thinking” probably will forever elude total itemization. needless to say. If we could speak as we think we would be unintelligible. Linguistic communication of any kind depends on the symbolic order. Clearly. that is. like them. there is truth in Lacan’s view that the ‘unconscious is the discourse of the other. is that the structural possibilities which constitute the subject’s unconscious experience–its “overdetermination”–are identical with those that give rise to language” (p. I would infer that there seems to be a degree of resonance between the implications of the sense-meaning distinction and Lacan’s rendering of the imaginary and symbolic orders. 281). Even before that. what we have to see. Knapp (1983) had concluded: “To the extent that thought and speech are molded by reciprocity and social learning. we have before us what we call an ’ambiguity’” (p. which contrasts with the arbitrary and multiple relations among signs. by feedback. who wrote: “A potpourri of impressions. 287). long before the beginnings of language as it is conceived in Lacan’s Saussurian model. That is to say. let alone enjoy a neat point-by-point correspondence.

The movement in this interaction passes through various planes and phases on its way to expression in words. The formation of representational thought is contemporaneous with the acquisition of language. 1962c) put it: “Word meaning is a phenomenon of thought only in so far as thought is embodied in speech. As he (1962c) explained: “The relation of thought to word is not a thing but a process. Likewise. if the child’s behavior prior to language is compared with his behavior after the inception of language. commenting on the independence and priority of thought over language. and contemporaneous with. a continual movement back and forth from thought to word and from word to thought. it is tempting to conclude with Watson and many others. wrote. 1967). Thought is not merely expressed in words. 125). the baby has overcome his initial perceptive and motor egocentrism by a series of decentrations and coordinations” (p. Along this line. appears about the same time as language but independently. or meaningful speech—a union of word and thought” (p.LANGUAGE IN DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF II 235 embodied in speech. along with its associated affect. that of the constitution of the symbolic function in general. at the end of the sensorimotor period. It is this symbolizing capacity. that language is the source of thought” (pp. the relation of thought and meaning varies. and contributes to the development of personal cognitive and affective representations separately from social aspects of language and communication. 268). “In short. sensorimotor period where a system of schemes is elaborated that prefigures certain aspects of the structures of classes and relations. 120). such that thought is not merely expressed in words but arises from them. no matter what its initial coenesthetic shape. However. all appearing at about the same time in development. may be said to also represent. Thus: “Thought has its roots in action. As he (Vygotsky. both belong to a more general process. and before the appearance of language or of the symbolic function in general. deferred imitation. The symbolic function has several aspects. and mental images as interiorized imitations (p. 267). and elementary forms of conservation and operative reversibility. a need” (p. which is unique to human language. The first verbal utterances are intimately linked to. The relation of thought to word involves a process of continuous movement back and forth. and other forms of mental imagery are equivalently forms of personal symbols serving as representations of objects or events. it comes into existence through them” (p. In that process the relation of thought to word undergoes changes which themselves may be regarded as development in the functional sense. Sinclair-de-Zwart (1969a) pointed out that. the ability to name things. Smith (1978) also noted that “Psychoanalytic theory assumes that the forerunner of the word is an image of the absent object and that this image. indicate its beginnings. The first of these decentrations is found in the child’s engagement in the immediate . 170 –171). for Piaget: The sources of intellectual operations are not to be found in language. symbolic play. xxvi). Also deferred imitation. and of speech only in so far as speech is connected with thought and illumined by it. and then only when speech is connected with thought. for example. occurring in the absence of the object. but in the preverbal. further. Symbolic or imaginative play. functioning as links between sensorimotor and representational behavior and developing independently of language even though leading to the acquisition of language (Piaget. at each stage of the development of word meaning. he then pointed out that further reflection suggests that language does not bring about these transformations. It is a phenomenon of verbal thought. the relation of thought to word also changes. When word meanings change. different kinds of behaviors. Summarizing Piaget’s concept of the development of language. Piaget (1967).

It is necessary because within the system of symbolic expression which constitutes language the operations would remain at the stage of successive actions without ever being integrated into simultaneous systems or simultaneously encompassing a set of interdependent transformations. For Piaget. immediate success will no longer be the sole aim. which the child invents as giving personal meaning to his play. that now become knowledge of objects and events rather than reactions to objects and events” (p. both depend on intelligence itself. and signs which are social. Piaget (1967) summarized: Language is thus a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the construction of logical operations. The first words. Consequently. language and thought are linked in a genetic circle where each necessarily leans on the other in interdependent formation and continuous reciprocal action. affectively. 268. Without language the operations would remain personal and would consequently not be regulated by interpersonal exchange and cooperation. they develop independently of language insofar as these operations are actions before they develop into operations of thought. “Later on. such as the classes of birds or of animals. Thus. his activity takes on another dimension: cognitively. and particularly retain the mobility of symbols as contrasted with the fixity of signs (Sinclair-de-Zwart. italics in original). The situation is somewhat different in the further development of propositional logic where language plays a more integrated role. resemble symbols that can be loosely associated but remain isolated representations of action-schemes. However. Then. and accordingly is only part of the general symbolic function. but also communication. As Piaget (1967) pointed out: “Before he can combine or dissociate relatively universal and abstract classes. Accordingly. he will seek not only satisfaction. 179). this transformation is not because of language since language is a symptom of this change and not its cause. but he will search for explanations and will reflect on his own actions. for Piaget language is not a sufficient condition for intellectual operations. arbitrary. but provides further structuring and embellishment of operations originating and deriving from the level of concrete operations. and may well not be a necessary condition for any but formal intellectual operations. the child can already classify collections of objects in the same perceptual field. 173). specifically the concrete operations bearing on classes and relations of objects. but it is by no means the source of such coordinations” (pp. In the last analysis. he will want to tell other people about his discoveries. We may be forced to admit that the connection of thought with language is even more complex— especially when the disconnection of thought and word or when the proposi- . which antedates language and is independent of it (p. and conventional.236 MEISSNER environment in the form of action-schemata enabling him to attain practical aims in the immediate space-time frame. The distinction between private and social functions of language come into play in the difference between symbols. he can combine or dissociate them manually before he can do so linguistically. beyond the decisive role of language in the formation of such operations. 174 –175). 1967) summarized: “As language is only a particular form of the symbolic function and as the individual symbol is certainly simpler than the collective sign. it is permissible to conclude that thought precedes language and that language confines itself to profoundly transforming thought by helping it to attain its forms of equilibrium by means of a more advanced schematization and a more mobile abstraction” (p. Even with respect to more advanced logical operations. far from being signs in a structured linguistic system. Piaget contends that language does not of itself give rise to them. Language indefinitely extends the power of these operations and confers on them a mobility and universality which they would not have otherwise. As he (Piaget. It is in this dual sense of symbolic condensation and social regulation that language is indispensable to the elaboration of thought. 1969b).

we share it with our prehistoric ancestors. As Thass-Thienemann (1973) explicates: The language we speak as our mother tongue is our archaic heritage. it seems as though Heidegger’s dictum “Die Sprache spricht!” or Lacan’s view that language itself is the speaking subject seems relevant (Hartman.LANGUAGE IN DEVELOPMENT OF THE SELF II 237 tional wording is employed to mask or divert the underlying thought. or reveal something that we would rather withhold. 2). and in other forms of verbal reaction formation. II. the script is made by someone else (Vol. It takes a long time until we arrive at the disturbing conclusion that we are sometimes just performers or actors while we speak. Pike (1966) described subsegmental meanings. or connotes a different implication or meaning than is registered in the manifest understanding of the words. but that at times come alive in our discourse as if beyond our control and as if having a kind of life of their own. namely that contemporary language itself carries within it a current of meanings drawn from the history of countless generations of the human use of language and shaped and transmitted in Western cultural heritage. 24 Some of the related issues are discussed in Freud (1987). particularly in dreaming and neurotic symptom formation. our language may contain meanings and implications that we do not understand. We need not advocate an inherited “collective unconscious” mind for which we have no factual evidence. subsegmental meanings refer to situations in which the meaning of a proposition is uncertain. The real connotation of the words can be grasped only indirectly from context or other influences. exploiting the connotative implications of terms to achieve a poetic effect. the term relates to the subsegmental phonological features of phonation and tonality underlying segmental phonemes. p. meanings that are expressed in words corresponding to the thought. a fact that prompted Jung to explore archaic myths and symbols and puzzled Freud. puzzling. II. not being aware of it. Verbal meanings can also be used to mask real intentions—as when a patient may express gratitude to his analyst when the underlying thought content and feeling is resentment and anger. pp. italics in original). which are opposed to segmental meanings. and it is collective by its very nature. It is inseparable from our thought processes (Vol. He commented: “It seems to have a vaguely related function in that the voice qualities extending “under” and “throughout” speech reflect basic attitudes and intentions of that speech. Thus. 144). In contrast. vague. ThassThienemann (1973) suggested a curious hypothesis. that we may say something inadvertently. 1981). As Thass-Thienemann (1973) commented: It is perhaps too difficult for our Ego to admit that we are not completely free in our thought processes or in choosing our verbal expressions. Poetic usage often evokes such subsegmental meanings. As Pike noted. that is.24 The mechanisms of transmission are not biological-genetic but rather a form of cumulative cultural transmission. Similarly the vague subsegmental meanings and dispositions underlying speech and in part prior to the specific mental formulations or overt motor verbalizations of speech provide a covert dispositional background to the segmental meanings and explicit intentions of speech” (p. It is the vehicle of continuity. These transgenerational meanings would be operative in the unconscious and can find their way into expression in all the pathways by which unconscious significances become conscious. Similar fantasies occur in ancient mythology or folklore. In conjunction with this line of thinking about thought and language. 7– 8. At such times. we can stick to the empirical fact that the lore of our inherited verbal expressions is archaic and collective by its very nature. however. .

and finally replaced by newer meanings. a number of attempts at grammatical consistency are evolved and abandoned. it may be acted out in religious rituals. it seems reasonable to say that the reality of personal subjectivity and the complexity of the self-as-agent. The word. But Thass-Thienemann (1973) argued that by reason of cumulative continuity the old meanings survive in some form within newer meanings. there is always some “noise. and by an unexplained immediacy. does language successfully mirror the thought behind it. potential concepts. until finally the adult mode of integrating thought and language are approximated.25 The basic idea here may resonate with Vygotsky’s concept of sense where archaic and unconscious significances persist. Even in the complex progression in the development of thinking—through forms of simple grouping. but thought retains and extends the scope of intention and significance beyond the range and access of linguistic means and meanings into adult levels of understanding and expression. In this process. It would be deceptive to suppose that we communicate simply on the conscious level. in fact. both developmentally and functionally. In this sense. which can resonate with and reflect unconscious linguistic residues. thus. or subconscious. it might break through to the surface in dreams. . The sense that extends beyond the meaning capacity of the word is as much a property of the self as the word and its meaning. Following a basically Vygotskian schema. simply put. Further: “The emotional power stored in the subconscious language can be released at any time. it emerges in regressive mental states as in schizophrenia. One important conclusion. does not and cannot mirror the thought. is that the thought processes that remain active and alive in the interior depths of individual subjectivity are never fully exposed or transposed into linguistic form. one might say that it is more exclusively the possession of the self since 25 Thass-Thienemann (1973) also notes that in this connection bodily symptoms also have meaning– one of Freud’s fundamental discoveries–such that when individuals with functional disorders are prevented form expressing emotions in words they may resort to a form of organ language. is only partially accessed and reflected in the use of language.238 MEISSNER Older meanings from previous generations become obsolete. for no repressed meaning can remain isolated for a long time” (Vol. thought precedes and exceeds the word. repressed. II. II. and finally true concepts— one might imagine the thought processes as struggling through succeeding levels and forms of cognitive expression to find its way toward more and more effective and comprehensible expression in words. “These survival meanings. Conclusions These reflections allow us to draw the conclusion that not only does the capacity for thinking precede the acquisition of language developmentally. forgotten. especially with respect to its prelinguistic but not presymbolic capacity for mental imagery and thought. the development of pseudocomplexes. it seems to me. pp. p. crystallize around new ideas. At no point. however. prelogical. Beside and below the intended conscious message. in which the sense dimension of thought processes far outstrips the meaning content of the word. In their twilight state they may grow and change. though forgotten and repressed. 10 –11). 9). even within the mind of the individual thinker. remain alive in the no man’s land that is called preverbal. associate with one another. It is very near to the manifest surface in infantile speech. thinking in complexes.” the flowing back and forth of an unintentional communication on the subconscious level” (Vol.

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