Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/772

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
746
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

is mamma?" He will look about the room until he finds the familiar face. He has now taken his first step in acquiring speech, he has learned the meaning of a word. The second step follows after a time. From time immemorial in the baby's experience he has been able to cry, and he knows it; in other words, he is aware of the fact that it is one of his native powers to make a noise. By and by it begins to occur to him that this sound, "mamma," is also a noise, and some day, probably by accident, as he is being cruelly shaken up by being trotted on some one's knee, he emits a sound like "mamma." If he is a bright baby—and whose baby is not?—he notices the similarity between the sound he has made and the sound he has already learned. Such attempts at saying "mamma" usually meet with considerable active encouragement of an agreeable kind, and he naturally repeats the attempt. After many failures it is a success, and he has at last acquired a memory of the exact effort in certain muscles of lips and tongue needed to produce the sound, and has also associated that memory of effort with the memory of the sound which in time is joined to the memory of the mother's face. And now the second process is complete, and the baby knows how to say the word intelligently; for intelligent speech is speech based upon an association of ideas. Of course, as the child grows, he subsequently adds a visual picture of the word "mamma" to the auditory picture when he learns to read; and a manual-effort memory to the speech-effort memory when he learns to write. When all these four memories are acquired and associated, he has acquired the use of language.

Now, what is true of this simple word has been true of every other word which we make use of; and, though we can not recall this process which we have been through, we can see it going on about us. If you wish to study it carefully, study children, by the aid of Preyer's interesting book, "The Mind of the Child."[1] Or if you wish to observe the process more directly, recall the manner in which you have acquired a foreign language, for that is done in the same way, if the natural method is followed. Suppose that you are told that in German the brain is called Gehirn—that it is pronounced gayheern, and spelled g-e-h-i-r-n. If you are not familiar with German, you have now a new word-image connected with the mental image of the brain much more easily acquired than was the word "mamma" when you learned it, but nevertheless acquired in the same way.

Whether we think, then, in mental images or in language, the process is the same; it is consciousness playing along certain lines of association to and fro between definite memory-pictures. These memory-pictures have been acquired through the senses,

  1. The practical application of this knowledge is made by Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, in an article on "Language in Education," "American Journal of Psychology," vol. ii, No. 1.