Private Speech in Adolescents

By Kronk, Carol Marie | Adolescence, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

Private Speech in Adolescents


Kronk, Carol Marie, Adolescence


A Brief History

In 1926 Jean Piaget found what he called egocentric speech to occur often in the speech of three- to five-year-old children. This was talk that seemed to be said out loud to the self. He also discovered that the amount of egocentric speech declined with age. Piaget argued that egocentric speech was a result of the child's inability to take the point of view of others while communicating. He claimed that the child was attempting to converse with others but was failing. Piaget also theorized that egocentric speech disappeared with age because the child learned to consider the viewpoint of others while talking (Piaget, 1971). Another prominent theorist, Lev Vygotsky, did not think the child was making an effort to communicate with others.

Vygotsky (1962) believed that this speech to the self was vocalized thoughts. He argued that preschool children think out loud because they have not learned to control their thoughts internally. Children are constantly guided through verbal commands by others; as children attempt to control their own actions they imitate the same vocal method others have been using to help them. Vygotsky believed that private speech gradually evolved from the social speech around the child and, in turn, the child's external speech gradually developed into internal speech, or thought. Because Vygotsky had such a different view of egocentric speech, it was relabeled private speech.

Berk and Garvin (1984) were able to marry these two theories, breaking down private speech into nine categories, one of which was egocentric speech. Their definition of egocentric speech was the same as Piaget's, in that it was an attempt at communication that had failed because the speaker had not taken the viewpoint of the listener into account. The other eight categories fell into Vygotsky's definition of private speech: affect expression, which includes expressions of emotions, such as "cool!" or "I hate that"; word play and repetition, such as echoing a word one is trying to remember; fantasy play, e.g., sound effects; remarks to nonhuman objects, e.g., telling a pen to write; describing one's own activity and self guidance, e.g., saying "first I will go to the mall" before walking there; self-answered questions, which include utterances that contain a question followed by the answer; reading aloud, which is literally the vocal reading of a text; and inaudible muttering, a category in which any utterance that could not be understood by the observer was placed.

The Development of Private Speech in Children

The first utterances to the self are often referred to as crib speech (Berk, 1992). Crib speech begins to occur by the age of eighteen months. It is much like babbling in that the child appears to be practicing speech, except that the babbling has grown into meaningful words and phrases. Children simply talk to themselves while alone in their crib. Private speech appears in children around the age of two (Furrow, 1984) as the child begins to tie their speech-to-the-self with their activities. The speech changes from a practice prattle to meaningful talk for the purpose of regulating behavior.

There has been much debate over the exact nature of private speech. In 1985, Frauenglass and Diaz (1985) wrote on the self-regulatory function of private speech, noting four categories of private speech they had adapted from previous researchers' works, such as Goodman (1981) and Kohlberg (1961). These categories were: self-regulatory, self-reinforcing, task irrelevant, and whispers.

Frawley and Lantolf (1986) responded with the argument that these categories implied that some private speech may not be self-regulatory. Vygotsky had previously defined private speech as self-regulatory. Frawley and Lantolf argued that the categories challenged the very definition of private speech. They also argued that Frauenglass and Diaz focused too much on the amount of private speech uttered, and too little on the what the subjects were saying. …

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