The Language And Thought Of The Child Summary (7/10) — Unearned Wisdom

Before Piaget, there was very little work done to understand child psychology. While there has been considerable progress since, there is a large debt of gratitude that psychology owes to him. Piaget, in The Language and Thought of the Child, like his other works, didn’t just teach us how children perceive the world, he taught us how we come to understand the world. Therefore, this work is as much about cognition as it is about child psychology.

Children are not simply little adults, thinking less efficiently- they think differently.

Why do children talk so much? What is the need they are trying to fulfil? Piaget thought that unlike adults, who use language to communicate with others, children do not use language to talk to anyone in particular. They are thinking out loud. Adults also talk to themselves. Thus, it is simplistic to reduce language to merely the tool people use to communicate ideas to each other.

There are two types of speech, according to Piaget, egocentric and socialized. The egocentric type contains three patterns:

  1. Repetition — Speaking for its own sake.
  2. Monologue — long commentaries that accompany play or action.
  3. Collective monologue — children appear to talk together, but no one is really listening to anyone but themselves.

Children believe that they are the center of the universe. They don’t see the need for privacy or sensitivity to people’s feelings. Adults, who are less egocentric, have adapted to a socialized speech pattern which conceals many thoughts.

Only madmen and children say whatever is on their mind — because they share an egocentric worldview.

Children are egocentric partly because of the structure of their language. Since they must use gestures, sounds, and movements to communicate, they can only express what their language allows them to. That is why they often misunderstand each other.

In contrast, an adult has a much better command of language, and therefore, is capable of understanding other people’s points of view.

Language takes people outside themselves. It removes them from their egocentricity, which is why society emphasizes the importance of teaching children languages.

Piaget thought that there were two ways of thinking. (1) Directed or intelligent thought: goal-oriented, adapts aim to reality, can be communicated through language. (2) Undirected/autistic thought: unconscious aims that are not adapted to reality. These are based on the satisfaction of desires rather than establishing truth.

This type of thinking involves myths, images, and symbols.

The directed mind sees reality as ordered and structured. The autistic mind sees reality as relevant insofar as it obeys its needs.

This distinction explains the development of the child’s cognition. Early on, the child is mainly egocentric and somewhat autistic. After age 11, they develop perceptual intelligence. Early on children don’t care if the other person understands their explanation of something. Later, they begin to pay more attention to detail and objective facts.


Piaget noticed that schemas are used by children in order to understand a general idea without making sense of each detail. When they hear something incomprehensible, children don’t break down the sentence, but try to grasp or create an overall meaning. This way of thinking (syncretic) is the opposite of analytical thinking — it starts with the whole first, before breaking things down. Before age 8, the mind is mostly syncretic.

Adult Logic

When adult think, even if privately, about things that most people won’t understand, they think socially. They are always aware of how his ideas will be perceived by potential collaborators or opponents. He is thoroughly socialized, he cannot even think without having people in mind. While invention is not like the process just discovered — the adult mind still must adapt the invention to terms everyone can understand. The more a person has advanced a line of thought, the better they can see things from different perspectives, and the more they can be intelligible to others.

Child logic

“Child logic is a subject of infinite complexity, bristling with problems at
every point-problems of functional and structural psychology, problems of logic and even of epistemology. It is no easy matter to hold fast to the thread of consistency throughout this labyrinth, and to achieve a systematic exclusion of all problems not connected with psychology.”

The child, on the other hand, seems to talk much more than adults. But while a child’s thought seems sociable and less solitary (“ I am drawing a hat”, “I’m doing it better than you”) — it is the opposite. It only appears that the child thinks in a very social way, but in reality, the child speaks so much because he does not know how to hold a secret.

He speaks incessantly, but he speaks in a way that is similar to how he speaks alone. He speaks in a language which ignores precise meaning and ignored the specific angle from which they are viewed.

Piaget wondered why children, particularly those under 7, fantasize and dream and use their imagination so much. He observed that because they do not engage in deductive or analytical thought, there is no reason to make a firm demarcation between “the real” and “the not real.”

Since children don’t think in terms of causality and evidence, logic is not so important. Why does the ball roll down the hill? It wanted to. Mere motivation is enough to explain everything.

Children are obsessed with asking “why” because they want to understand the intentions of everyone and everything.

The “world of make believe,” as we tag it in our superior way, has the feel of cold, hard reality to younger children, because within it everything makes sense according to their own intentions and motivations. In fact, as Piaget wryly observed, a child’s world seems to work so well that, according to their understanding, logic is not required to support it.

Adults often find it difficult to understand children because they have forgotten that logic plays no role in a child’s mind.

What is the reason for this? It is, in our opinion, twofold. It is due, in the first place, to the absence of any sustained social intercourse between the children of less than 7 or 8, and in the second place to the fact that the language used in the fundamental activity of the child-play-is one of gestures, movement and mimicry as much as of words. There is, as we have said, no real social life between children of less than 7 or 8 years. …

If language in the child of about 6 1/2 is still so far from being socialized, and if the part played in it by the ego-centric forms is so considerable in comparison to information and dialogue, etc., the reason for this lies in the fact that childish language includes two distinct varieties, one made up of gestures, movements, mimicry etc., which accompany or even completely supplant the use of words, and the other consisting solely of the spoken word. Now, gesture cannot express everything. Intellectual processes, therefore, will remain ego-centric whereas commands etc., all the language that is bound up with action, with handicraft, and especially with play, will tend to be become more socialized. …

Ego-centric thought and intelligence therefore represent two different forms of reasoning, and we may even say, without paradox, two different logics. By logic is meant here the sum of the habits which the mind adopts in the general conduct of its operations-in the general conduct of a game of chess, in contrast, as Poincare says, to the special rules which govern each separate proposition, each particular move in the game. Ego-centric logic and communicable logic will therefore differ less in their conclusions (except with the child where ego-centric logic often functions) than in the way they work.


  • Butler-Bowden, “50 Psychology Classics”
  • The Language and Thought of the Child, Jean Piaget

Originally published at




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Sud Alogu

Sud Alogu

I write about ideas that matter to me. In other words, revolutionary.

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