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Colección: La Educación
Número: (129-131) I,III
Año: 1998


Early language development and its relationship to operational thinking has been the focus of the research interests of cognitive psychologists Sinclair-de-Zwart (1973) and Chipman (1985), as well as linguist Chomsky (1957, 1965) and psycholinguists Bloom (1970), Slobin (1971), and Beilin (1975). The evolution of child speech from single holophrases to almost complete competence in spoken language by five years of age has not been found to directly parallel the child’s achievement in logico-mathematical thinking. The question then becomes one of the relationships between language and cognitive systems as they are manifested in the developing child. Three major theoretical positions that have emerged from the research include: a) cognition or early operative intelligence precedes and informs language as one instance of the semiotic function (Piaget 1957; Inhelder 1971; and Furth 1969); b) the theoretical position that language is an innate creative capacity that at times intersects with cognition but is separate from it (Chomsky 1957; Miller 1962; and Lakoff 1971); c) both cognition and language are systems that are informed at a deeper level by an abstract logic as proposed by Beilin (1975).

The investigations of the development of language in relationship to operational intelligence have involved a broad range of children with ages ranging from infancy through young adulthood. The current study focuses on children at ages 4.0 to 5.11 years, which would encompass a stage of development characterized by cognitive psychologists as a medial one between early sensorimotor development and the concrete operational stage; that is, a stage commonly referred to as preoperational. Children at this stage should exhibit a transitory stage between strong reliance on sensory data and perception and an intuitive pre-knowledge of objective logical concrete thinking. It was hypothesized by the present investigators that this phase of development between stages might reveal the flexibility and ambivalence of the evolutionary process for both language concepts and for logical thinking. There would also be in evidence examples of some reliance on perceptual aspects of thinking together with some tentative intuition in the child’s capacity for decentration. In language, increasing familiarity with basic concepts as related to space, quantity, and time relationships should be in the process of emerging both in the surface structure of language and in the early stages of operational thinking. The research reported by Beilin and Spontak (1969) has proposed that the age period between five and seven appears to be a time in which a critical change in language appears. By selecting children of ages four and five, the current study looks at children who are on the threshold of this critical stage.

Another unique characteristic of the study is the comparison of the effect of day care training as it might influence the variables under study. Since an increasing number of young children, particularly in the large urban centers, are being exposed to the day care experience sometimes from infancy until four or five years of age, this variable was considered. Children who had been enrolled in day care centers for one or more years were contrasted with those who at approximately five years of age have their first formal group experience with the regular kindergarten classroom. Interaction with other children in a formal setting was included for the effect it might have on language competence and/or the level of operational thinking. All of the children involved were from one urban setting and from approximately the same socio-economic level. * Denis Antoine is the Educational Director of the Model Cities Day Care Center in Washington, D.C. Loretta Butler is Co-Editor of The Future of Piaget’s Theory: The Neo-Piagetians. Visiting Scholar-Catholic University. Acknowledgement should be made to Rudy Hutchinson, Director of Model Cities Day Care Center and Phyllis Toner, Administrator of Joseph Day Care Center and the Early Childhood Educators at both sites for their collaboration on carrying out many aspects of the project.