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Darwin’s contribution to the study of child development and language acquisition

Hellal, Paula and Lorch, Marjorie P. (2010) Darwin’s contribution to the study of child development and language acquisition. Language & History 53 (1), pp. 1-14. ISSN 1759-7536.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1179/175975310X12640878626147

Abstract

In 1877, Charles Darwin responded to an article by Taine in the journal Mind on early language acquisition by 'look[ing] over a diary' he had kept thirty-seven years before on his own son's development. The result, 'A Biographical Sketch of an Infant', was one of the first English infant psychology studies and a methodological innovation, being based on regular recordings of observations over a period of years. Darwin's article motivated others in England to carry out research on child development, an area that had previously received little attention in that country. The diary and related article reveal Darwin's reflections on child language acquisition as a key to understanding the mental development of the child, as well as the development of language in mankind, which was of vital importance to evolutionary theory. In The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin had argued that language is not an 'impossible barrier' between animals and man. He thought that infants between the ages of ten and twelve months were at the same stage of language development as dogs with their well-attested ability to understand certain words. The difference, he insisted, lay in man's 'infinitely larger power' of associating sounds and concepts — the result of the coevolution of language and mind. Darwin's expressed hope that others would follow his lead in the study of child development was swiftly realized in numerous publications that followed in the journal Mind and in the subsequent development of the study of childhood as an area for scientific research in Britain.

Item Type: Article
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Britain, Charles Darwin, Nineteenth Century, developmental psychology, child language acquisition
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Applied Linguistics and Communication
Depositing User: Sarah Hall
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2012 15:31
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:25
URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/5319

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