(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
By studying the behavior of chimpanzees, Vygotsky reached the conclusion
that thought and speech originate from different processes, and then
evolve in parallel but independently of each other. The close correspondence
between thought and speech is unique to adult humans. Children initially
behave like chimpanzees: language and thought are unrelated (language is
irrational, thought is nonverbal).
They learn the names of objects only when told so.
At some point the attitude changes: it is the child who becomes curious about
the names of things. At that point the child's vocabulary increases
dramatically, with much less coaching from adults. The child has learned that
objects have names, or, equivalently, that one of the properties of an
object is its name.
At this point in the development of the child, thought and speech merge.
Vygotsky redraws Piaget's theory of egocentric speech (the kind of speech that ignores the rest of the world) in pre-school children. One generally becomes aware of her/his actions when they are interrupted. Speech is an expression of the process of becoming aware of one's actions. The egocentric child is no exception: its egocentric speech is the sign of a process of becoming aware after something disrupted the action underway. In other words, the child is thinking aloud. A few years later this process has become silent: when the child needs to find a solution to a problem, the "thinking" is no longer aloud, has become an inner conversation. When egocentric speech disappears, it still exists, but it moved inside. The reason it is no longer "vocal" is because it does not serve a social function anymore (it doesn't need to be heard by others). According to Piaget, social speech follows egocentric speech, but Vygotsky believes that speech is originally social in nature, and egocentric speech is a specialization of it to the case when the child has to reflect. Egocentric speech is an evolution of social speech that eventually becomes silent thought. Cognitive faculties are internalized versions of social processes.
The unit of verbal thought is word meaning, which also represents the fusion of thought and speech. Adults and children use the same word to refer to the same object, but Vygotsky believes that the meanings are different. Vygotsky believes that the meanings of words evolve during childhood. Word meanings are dynamic, not static, entities.
Thought is therefore determined by language. And both are determined by society. Language provides a semiotic mediation of knowledge. Language guides the child's cognitive growth. Cognition thus develops in different ways depending on the cultural conditions.
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