meaning of the former. The boy C——, for example, would say
"This a nice bow-wow, not nasty bow-wow." This use of negation by way of contrast or opposition took an odd form in the case of one child, who, at the age of two years and two months, would describe things by negations. Thus an orange was described by saying, "No, 'tisn't apple"; porridge, by saying, "No, 'tisn't bread and milk." It is interesting to note that deaf-mutes proceed in a similar fashion by way of antithetic negative statement. One of these expressed the thought, "I must love and honor my teacher," by the order, "Teacher I beat, deceive, scold, no! I love, honor, yes!"
These first essays in sentence-building illustrate the skill of the child in eking out its scanty vocabulary by the help of a metaphorical transference of meaning. Taine gives a charming example of this. A little girl of eighteen months had acquired the word "coucou" as used by her mother or nurse when playfully hiding behind a door or chair, and the expression "ça brûle" as employed to warn her that her dinner was too hot, or that she must put on her hat in the garden to keep off the hot sun. One day, on seeing the sun disappear behind a hill, she exclaimed, "A bûle coucou."
It is a tremendous moment when the child first tries its hand at inflections, and more especially, in our language, those of verbs. Pollock's child made the attempt, and successfully, at the age of twenty-two months. Such first essays are probably perfectly imitative, the precise form used having been previously heard from others. Hence, while they show a growing thought-power, a differencing of relations of number and time, they do not involve verbal construction proper. This appears as soon as the child carries over his knowledge of particular cases of verbal inflection and applies it to new words. This involves a nascent appreciation of the reason or rule according to which words are modified. The development of this feeling for the general mode of verbal change underlies all the later advance in correct speaking.
While the little explorer in the terra incognita of language can proceed safely in this direction up to a certain point, he is apt, as we all know, to stumble now and again; nor is this to be wondered at when we remember the intricacies, the irregularities, which characterize a language like ours. In trying, for example, to manage the preterit of an English verb, he is certain, as indeed is the foreigner, to go wrong. The direction of the errors is often in the transformation of the weak to the strong form; as
- A curious example of negative antithesis is given by Perez, op. cit., p. 196. On other analogies between the syntax of children and deaf-mutes, see Compayré, op. cit., p. 251 f.
- On Intelligence, part i, book i, chaps, ii, vi.