What did Piaget say about Language and Thought

Jean Piaget was a Swiss child psychologist who developed the influential theory of child development which distinguished the language and thought processes of children and adults.  Ever since his development of the clinical method of gaining insight into children’s ideas, it has been used widely. He brought a fresh approach to psychology by becoming the first to investigate systematically upon child logic and perception. He pointed out the unique characteristics of child thought when comparing it with adults rather than focusing on the reasoning deficiencies of children. Hence, he suggested that the differences between children and adults were not quantitative but qualitative through this novel positive approach.

Piaget stated that,

“a child is not a miniature adult and his mind is not the mind of an adult on a small scale.” About his book Language and Thought in The Child, he states that it is , “first and foremost a collection of facts and documents. The bonds uniting the various chapters are those that a single method can give to diverse findings – by no means those of systematic exposition.”

Directed and Undirected Thought 

When speaking of the polarity of directed and undirected thought, Piaget suggests, “Directed thought is conscious, i.e., it pursues aims that are present in the mind of the thinker. It is intelligent, i.e., it is adapted to reality and strives to influence it. It is susceptible of truth and of error … and it can be communicated through language. Autistic thought is subconscious, i.e., the goals it pursues and the problems it sets itself are not present in consciousness. It is not adapted to external reality but creates for itself a reality of imagination or dreams. It tends, not to establish truths, but to gratify wishes and remains strictly individual and incommunicable as such by means of language, since it operates primarily in images and must, in order to be communicated, resort to roundabout methods, evoking, by means of symbols and of myths, the feelings that guide it.”

He further adds that between these two types of thoughts, “there are many varieties in regard to their degree of communicability. These intermediate varieties must obey a special logic, intermediate too between the logic of autism and the logic of intelligence. We propose to give the name of egocentric thought to the principle of these intermediate forms.” Direct thought is considered to be social whereas autistic thought is considered to be individualistic. 

Ego-centric Thought and Intelligence 

Piaget further suggests that egocentric thought and intelligence are representations of two different types of reasoning and two different logics. Logic refers to the sum of habits adopted by the mind in the general conduct of tasks as opposed to intelligence. He states, “the egocentric thought stands midway between autism in the strict sense of the word and socialised thought.”

While concluding his book Judgment and Reason in the Child, Piaget expresses, “Play, when all is said and done, is the supreme law of egocentric thought.” Devaluating the child’s intelligence, he also argues, “Logical activity isn’t all there is to intelligence.”

He relates egocentric thought with the child’s practical activity and to the late development of social attitudes by stating, “Clearly, from the genetic point of view, one must start from the child’s activity in order to understand his thought; and his activity is unquestionably egocentric and egotistic. The social instinct in well-defined form develops late. The first critical period in this respect occurs toward the age of 7 or 8,” in his highly renowned book Judgment and Reason in the Child, p. 276.