Return to Words
The process of forming a concept is not complete until its constituent units have been integrated into a single mental unit by means of a specific word. The first concepts a child forms are concepts of perceptual entities; the first words he learns are words designating them. Even though a child does not have to perform the feat of genius performed by some mind or minds in the prehistorical infancy of the human race: the invention of language—every child has to perform independently the feat of grasping the nature of language, the process of symbolizing concepts by means of words.
Even though a child does not (and need not) originate and form every concept on his own, by observing every aspect of reality confronting him, he has to perform the process of differentiating and integrating perceptual concretes, in order to grasp the meaning of words. If a child’s brain is physically damaged and unable to perform that process, he does not learn to speak.
Learning to speak does not consist of memorizing sounds—that is the process by which a parrot learns to “speak.” Learning consists of grasping meanings, i.e., of grasping the referents of words, the kinds of existents that words denote in reality. In this respect, the learning of words is an invaluable accelerator of a child’s cognitive development, but it is not a substitute for the process of concept-formation; nothing is.