Review of The Psychology of Language by Walter Pillsbury and Clarence Meader

John Fordyce Markey

The Psychology of Language. By WALTER B. PILLSBURY and CLARENCE L. MEADER. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1928. Pp. xii+306. $3.00.

This volume is designed as a text in the psychology of language. It contains a good discussion concerning the biological, including the nervous, structures more directly concerned with speech and language. The discussion of sound changes and the emphasis upon rapid speech and emotional excitement in producing differences in pronunciation are also suggestive. In addition, there is an interesting though sketchy treatment of errors in reading, hearing, and speaking. The other portions of the book deal more especially with the "mental" states and elements, "mental processes," and similar conceptions in relation to language. The system of psychology used throughout the book is "sensation" psychology. This system with its traditional bag of tricks, sensations, elements of consciousness, mental states, laws of association seems to have been imposed to explain language. Great reliance is placed upon association (practically nothing is said concerning conditional response! ). This term, association, tells us practically nothing of such processes as conditioning, integration, irradiation, and summation, which are so successfully ignored by it.

( 325)

Language and thought are not to be identified with each other ac-cording to the authors' view. But they make no serious attempt to bring language under the larger head of the symbolic process whereby a closer understanding between language and thought might be reached. The relation of language to thought might be cleared up by placing language in its proper relationship under a more generic conception. Further, a serious analysis, especially of behavior and the social processes involved in language, would hardly lead one to such predicaments as attempting to explain "how one mental state can mean something which it is not" (p. 165) and how thought gets into words (pp. 92, 107 passim). But this book does not formulate a social or behavioristic analysis.

The sociologist will find the book almost useless for either reference or enlightenment upon the relation of language to sociological study. It is so handicapped by a moribund system of psychology, by the ignoring of recent developments in physiology, psychology (Professor Meader does have a good word for Gestalt), social psychology, and sociology that very serious reasons against its use as a text are obvious. Only a portion of the material falling under the psychology of language is handled even in outline. The dynamics of biological functions, glands, viscera, muscular responses which enter into language are ignored in spite of prefatory promise and except for some casual and quite incomplete mention. The social-psychological processes are even more seriously disregarded al-though social relations are mentioned as important. Nevertheless, it must be said that, in its class, as a modern example of ancient concepts, it is very well done. Sociologists trained in the old school will perhaps find it satisfying. Especially will such categorical solutions as the following be quieting, even if deadening: "When once it is accepted that all mental contents are valuable rather for their meanings or references than for themselves, all the problems of thought are solved at a stroke [emphasis mine] ."[1]

There is little in the book which "opens up" problems or is of such a refreshing nature as Piaget's The Language and Thought of the Child (it is not certain from the book that the authors know of Piaget's work) or Ogden and Richard's The Meaning of Meaning, or the more sociological writing of G. H. Mead or John Dewey, or even their own colleague, C. H. Cooley.



  1. P. 177.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2