S/O Human thought and language acquisition

For the interaction to be meaningful, the two people have to share the same context (environment and stimuli). Plus, babies in utero lack the experience necessary to have developed even the most basic pre-language cognitive concepts like up-down, wet-dry, light-dark, or self-other. How in the world could they begin to process language that encodes much more complex concepts, even in the most basic utterances?


Dear Cindy,
The theory that is being discussed is that a human is a symbiosis between a physical body with its genetic history and an immortal spiritual body with its soul. Sometime near birth, the spirit enters the infant body, with its knowledge, wisdom and book of life.

Sometimes, the physical body ends up being a prison for the spirit, and I believe there is divine Wisdom behind this. I hope you can find this Wisdom in your case.

I take an accusation of slander seriously. Please let me know exactly I have said that is slanderous. If you do not agree with the research of Caroline Eliacheff that is your prerogative, but you just proved my point. [content removed by moderator] She and others like her faced this attitude in their entire medical careers. Yet, they have been called on by doctors to deal with cases which they themselves could not explain or cure. I am fascinated by outliers and not threatened by them.

In my book, I write about the importance to science of outliers, especially when it comes to medicine because statistics equals humans, not just percentages.

Most of that doesn’t sound falsifiable thus I don’t think that “theory” is the correct word. As far as knowledge; there is actually quite a lot that can be done to test the theory that a baby is born with knowledge. We’ve discussed some here in fact. Other than your unsubstantiated claim of a nine month old being cured by being talked to; nothing suggests this inherent knowledge.

The immortal spirit idea is clearly a belief and one that most Christians hold to some degree or another; Jesus’s death would be meaningless without a belief of eternal life. As strongly as I may believe in eternal life, it’s not something that I can claim to be a theory.

I think that it is a mistake to try to incorporate beliefs in Science. Or if one does test something and the result appears to support a belief to jump on it as “Scientific proof” for the belief. It is easy for one’s bias to skew results. It is also easy to start connecting dots that really aren’t connected at all. Any “proof” found supporting a belief ought to be even more vigorously tested. Bottom line, unless I see a person turning water into wine in front of my eyes or better yet, cures my husband; I’m not going down that sort of path. Yes, I actually have a fondness for Thomas.


Me too, actually. Outliers are not the norm though; you can’t build Science around an outlier until/unless you can explain and duplicate what exactly causes the outlier.


This is careless, thoughtless faux mindreading, projecting onto all of science (and onto me) bias and incompetence. I call that slander, but I don’t care what you do with that. Good luck selling your book.

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What do you mean? People who have no language can still think. For example, some deaf people who grew up with no access to a signed language community and later learn one can express vivid memories and thought processes from their childhoods, back before they had any language to express those thoughts. Some autistic people describe their thought process as image-based rather than language-based. Cognitive linguistics says that some foundational metaphors exist conceptually before they are expressed linguistically.

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They have eyes too. They aren’t much use in the womb, since vision requires light. Babies must develop the ability to process the meaning of visual stimuli. You need much more to construct meaning from language than the ability to hear.

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All this reminds me of the movie “Look who’s Talking.” The humor in the film is based on a child who even before birth has the knowledge of an adult and can articulate his thoughts. Freaking hilarious and highly recommended!!!

On another note, the church was right to reject The Infancy Gospel of Thomas-- which featues a bratty, vindictive, yet articulate 5-year-old Jesus who throws fits and speaks like an adult.

That is true, but if they don’t acquire a language (signed or spoken) by age 7 or so, they will usually be deficient in using it.

Yes! I had never thought of it that way but that seems exactly right.

But in the same sense animals can also think. My comment was about a difference between man and the animals, hence the term “human mind.” The difference is language – not communication, nor the majority of the brain’s functionality. Language adds an ability to handle abstractions and has all the encoding power of DNA and more. And… I am talking about language in general not just spoken language, so of course, I acknowledge that you can have a purely visual language.

That sounds interesting. I would like to learn more.

I don’t think it is accurate to say deaf people who have not yet acquired a gestural language think like animals. They think like humans who cannot express their thoughts in words.

Gibbs, Lakoff, Sweetser, Geeraerts, would be the big names in cognitive linguistics I am most familiar with. Conceptual Metaphor Theory is the sub-discipline. Here is an intro I found online.

Isn’t this a Scientific forum meant to exchange ideas about Science and Faith? I would think it reasonable to expect people to keep the word “theory” as a Scientific term when posting on this board.

No this is not a scientific forum and pretending otherwise would be pseudo-scientific.

You can think whatever, but what can you demonstrate? And are the differences you demonstrate anything more significant than a line in the sand? To be sure, there are considerable scientific details involved, but in the big picture, language is the one clear demonstrable difference between humans and animals. AND it seems to me that this is not an unbridgeable gap (many have envisioned a future where genetic engineering or something does this), in which case even that difference would be gone.

Looks like researchers think chimpanzees also have these pre-language conceptual metaphors you talk about.

This is what it says at the top of the page:

" This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith"; I took that as these conversations were meant to primarily include both.

Pseudoscience? What an odd accusation to make.

My youngest did not speak until she was almost four years old. She was quite capable though of expressing her thoughts! From pointing to the box of cereal that she wanted to pulling out my wallet to ask for ice cream from the ice cream truck; she managed to tell me what she wanted. Her son, at 11 years old, still barely speaks but is doing well now in the mainstream classroom. Language, most definitely is important and it was certainly the major catalyst for the separation of animal and man. However, that separation began back when pointing and grunting were the root of our communication; not with a highly developed language. That came well after.

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There have been multiple studies on later language acquisition of children born deaf as well as abused and neglected children who were not exposed to language by caregivers as young children. There are case studies of whole communities of deaf people in different countries who invent new signed languages. (I think Nicaragua is the most famous example) These people don’t become human when they learn to express their thoughts symbolically in words or when they learn to communicate in language with others. They are born human, with human cognitive capabilities. Humans aren’t born with a language. It is a learned social construct.

These case studies are standard fare in an intro language acquisition class. I don’t have the time to dig up the studies for you. You are free to not believe me.

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In other word, it is the current dogma in one of the softer science. It is the usual dogma that the humanity is equivalent to a biological species. And that is certainly something I reject. The one demonstrable difference from the animals is language and it is not transmitted by genetics. That is a completely different inheritance and I think there is more of our humanity (contrasted with the animals) in that inheritance than in the genetic one, because the genetics and associated biology is so very similar – and thus they should be considered our brethren as far as the genetics and biology is concerned. If pigs could talk then you would not convince me that they should be treated differently because of mere biological-genetic differences. Of course this is an area of on-going research and we may well discover differences in brain functionality which draws a more substantial line between humans and other primates. But so far, I haven’t seen anything like that, and the most substantial difference remains that of language.

I was fascinated to learn about Nicaraguan Sign Language when I learned about it on the PBS series on Evolution, on the Mind’s Big Bang episode. By now it’s a bit dated but still fascinating. Here’s a clip that includes footage of children conversing in it.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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