Jean Piaget (1896–1980) began his career classifying not the intellectual development of
children, but the shells of mollusks. Fascinated by nature as a child, he spent hours ob-
serving the fauna of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where his father was a professor of medieval
literature at the university. Not content with observation, Piaget wrote volumes and at age
10 enjoyed his first publication: a paragraph in a local amateur naturalists journal describ-
ing a rare albino sparrow he had seen in a nearby park. The director of the natural history
museum specialized in malacology, and Piaget learned about clams and snails as his vol-
unteer assistant, publishing 21 additional articles before he attended the University of
Neuchâtel. In 1915, Piaget finished college, having enjoyed his studies in logic, episte-
mology, and religion, though he blamed some of his readings in philosophy for ill health
that required a year's recuperation in the mountains. He returned to graduate studies at the
University of Neuchâtel, and though he was interested in psychology, no courses were of-
fered, so he completed his doctorate in natural history, with a thesis on mollusks. Piaget at-
tended Carl Jung's lectures in Zurich, but then traveled to Paris for a more experimental ap-
proach to psychology. Theodore Simon (p. 270) had retained control of Alfred Binet's (p.
270) Parisian laboratory following Binet's death and was interested in standardizing a
French translation of a new reasoning test. Impressed with Piaget, Simon offered him the
job, but Piaget quickly became frustrated with what seemed like endless repetition neces-
sary for standardization and so began to interview the children, following the psychiatric
tradition. In 1921, Piaget moved to Geneva to be the director of research at the Jean-
Jacques Rousseau Institute, where he remained, holding a number of different positions.
Using observations that began with his nephew Gérard and daughter Jacqueline, Piaget
published his first five books from 1923 to 1932. During the 1920s and 1930s, Piaget's
work was highly regarded in the United States, and he received an honorary doctorate
from Harvard University in 1936. Piaget continued to develop and enhance his theories re-
garding the development of knowledge throughout his life, publishing over 60,000 pages.
The question which we shall attempt to answer in this book may be stated as follows: What are the needs which a child tends to satisfy when he talks? This problem is, strictly speaking, neither linguistic nor logical; it belongs to functional psychology, but it should serve nevertheless as a fitting prelude to any study of child logic.
At first sight the question may strike one as curious, for with the child, as with us, language would seem to enable the individual to communicate his thoughts to others. But the matter is not so simple. In the first place,
From Jean Piaget, “The Functions of Language in Two Children of Six. In The Language and Thought of the Child (3rd ed., pp.
1–49; Marjorie and Ruth Gabain, (Trans.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1959. (Original work published 1923)