Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview

2
From Early Patterns of Communication
to the Grammar of Experience
and Syntax in Infancy

Justin D. Call, M.D.

Order is entirely natural. Grammatical man inhabits a
grammatical universe. —Claude Shannon

Language, like nature, is a metapsychological abstraction which defies definition. The use of speech and of the written word is not equivalent to language. Such communicative expressions are but one outward manifestation of linguistic performance, which, as Chomsky has shown, cannot be equated with the group of coordinated mental operations that determine linguistic competence. No definition of language has, in fact, yet been achieved. Many phenomena often called languages in nature, such as the language of bees and the genetic code, have been discovered. Humans have created other nonverbal communicative devices, such as the neurotic symptoms described by Anna Freud (1936), the dramatic action sequences described by Greenacre (1966), the creatively organized visual and auditory configurations seen in art and music, and the mathe‐

matical symbol systems utilized in algebraic equations. It would seem, then, that new languages emerge as new symbols for meaning and their syntatic relations are either discovered in nature or created by humans consciously or unconsciously. The idea that languages exist in nature awaiting our discovery is a provocative assertion that graphically illustrates the problem of defining language. An essential feature of all scientific discovery is making the unknown puzzles of nature knowable through interpretation, which can only be achieved by utilizing man's linguistic competence. Such is also the task of the mother and the infant observer in coming to understand "infantese," that is, what is meant by the preverbal coordination of the infant's spontaneous physical reactions, vocalization, affective expressions, and intersensory responsiveness and the integration of these with the infant's communicating partners.

The phylogenetically derived semiotic or communicating function plays a central role in our capacity for social adaptation and technicalogical advance. A better understanding of what we ordinarily call language can, I believe,

____________________
I am grateful to Nadine Levinson for her suggestions in the preparation of this manuscript.

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