Problems of speech development and of teaching language in the works of L.I. Bozhovich

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Keywords: L.I. Bozhovich, speech, thinking, sense of language, feelings

Journal rubric: Developmental Psychology

For citation: Bozhovich E.D. Problems of speech development and of teaching language in the works of L.I. Bozhovich. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2006. Vol. 2, no. 5 (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)

A Part of Article

L. Bozhovich is famous for her research in the area of child personality development. Not many psychologists are familiar with her early and little known studies devoted to speech development and language acquisition. These works are few and some of them were never published. At first glance they may seem short episodes in her scientific biography. But it is not exactly true. Her interest in child personality and its age-related changes became evident at the beginning of her scientific work. She focused mainly on the problems of impulsive and voluntary actions, affect and intellect relationship, dialectical links between the conscious and the unconscious, dependence of a function on an integral psychological system to which it belongs as its part.

The theoretical background of Bozhovich’s study was a cultural-historical concept of psychological development elaborated by L. Vygotsky, to which she was a devoted inheritor.

Over a period of 1931—1934 Bozhovich studied the problem of interplay between speech development and visual-active thinking in children. She demonstrated that there was a “specific formulae” which can characterize the link between speech and visual-active thinking at different ages.

Significant changes were discovered in the content of children’s utterances. With age the utterances which are not task-related disappeared from children’s speech. Speech that follows object-related activity gradually looses the quality of a “verbal mold” of the action performed, it now contains a verbal summation of the solution found; it reflects the important aspects of the situation of acting and the activity itself. It helps a child to distinguish the action from its context and to determine certain features of a situation as significant conditions for acting. The speech function of planning grows out of the type of egocentric speech which accompanies and confirms the action.

Having become verbal, thinking appears more accessible to a child’s cognition as a specific activity. Verbalized planning that primarily serves as an external activity gradually becomes an internal one. The child’s word mediated, object-related actions significantly change the structure of visual-active thinking and create conditions for emergence of new and more complicated forms of thinking. At the same time speech itself changes: inner speech as the major form of thinking is much more frugal and compressed than external forms of speech.

This study, which was one of the earliest studies conducted by Bozhovich, demonstrated her interest in the process of the child’s gradual overcoming of his/her impulsiveness and emergence of voluntary behavior. It is connected with the child’s capacity to delay or “hold in check” immediate (spontaneous) reactions. However such hold back doesn’t promote the mastery of task solution in all age groups.

Analyzing problem solving in preschoolers L. Bozhovich came to the following conclusion. The solution that was not “shaped in words”, not verbalized, did not lead to generalization and the next task was solved by the child as an absolutely new one, even if it was similar to the previous one. By executing the function of generalization, speech enriches the child’s experience and thus enhances the further development of the object-related activity itself. It doesn’t mean, however, that generalization primordially is formed in speech. The task solution can be obtained in practical activity and only afterwards can be reflected upon and verbalized by the child. L. Bozhovich concluded that the development of thinking “runs ahead” of speech and so does action when overtakes the development of thought. Nevertheless it is speech that provides the possibility for a clear understanding of the task solution and for its liberation from the immediate influence of contextual, external factors.

In an attempt to explain the fact that verbalization of task solution does not always provide action mastery, the transfer of the solution principle to other tasks and generalization, L. Bozhovich discovered that identical or similar utterances that children use in problem solving may differ greatly in their meaning. This supported Vygotsky’s statement that “word meanings develop” in the process of children’s mastery of the object-related activity and interaction with other people. As children acquire the ways of acting and broaden the area of transfer of the “discovered” task solution principle, the word meaning changes accordingly: it becomes enriched and more adequate to reality. In the process of “word meanings development” the child’s capacity to plan his/her activity and to regulate his/her behavior increases.

Almost forty years later, following this study, Lidiya Il’inichna and her co-workers made an attempt to investigate the mechanism of volition behavior in schoolchildren (L.I. Bozhovich, L.S. Slavina, T.V. Yendovitskaya, 1976). One of the mechanisms under study was the child’s voluntary intention to act in order to achieve a set goal. It was established that in the process of the formation of voluntary intention the significant role belonged to the so called “internal intellectual scheme” which represented a complex phenomenon allowing it to “enlarge the motives necessary for goal achievement and provide their prevalence over the initially more “strong” spontaneous motives. The internal intellectual scheme includes “the analysis of the given situation”, possible modes of actions in this situation and registration of their consequences and experiences.

Despite the long time interval between the two studies they have a deep internal link. In the initial study L. Bozhovich demonstrated a complicated interrelation between the object-related action, thinking and speech. In the later one she explored relations between internal experiences and reasoning as based on developed verbal-logical thinking. Both studies are focused on the problem of impulsive and voluntary behavior and both present experimentally captured episodes where “meeting” of affect and intellect takes place.

In her studies dated 1937—1946 Bozhovich turned to the investigation of the process of native language learning as school subject matter.

Regarding the correlation of word semantics and its form in child consciousness she noted that a word is first presented to a child on the side of its object reference which she called a direct meaning of the word. At school under the teacher’s supervision children make an attempt to analyze the word from the point of view of its linguistic qualities. However as the author noted “underestimating the true potential of junior preschoolers the modern pedagogy introduces them mainly to the formal side of word analysis”. As a result the child doesn’t master the ability to capture the “abstract” meaning of the word, that is its underlying generalization.

The next idea expressed by L. Bozhovich was the enclosure of intuitive components (the so called feeling of the language) in preschoolers’ mastery of learning material as closely linked with correlation between semantic and formal elements of the language and child’s mastery and understanding of this correlation. The essence and manifestations of the language feeling were discussed in the last study by L. Bozhovich (1946) devoted to child’s knowledge acquisition as related to their native language. From her point of view the feeling of the language is “... a special type of generalization which doesn’t result from conscious, logic processes (like comparison, matching, reasoning and conclusion), is a generalization of vague impressions, connected to experiences rather than to conscious, logic operations of a child (that is why the notion of “feeling”, “flair” of the language is more appropriate here as it signifies in a more accurate and predominantly psychological way the integral emotional character of this generalization)”.

It is not accidental that L. Bozhovich used the term “experience” in her description of the phenomenon of language feeling. This notion was fundamental to all her further scientific career and underpinned her theory of the development of a child’s personality. In the Vygotskian view this term has the notion of a child’s “affective relation” to reality. Even before L. Bozhovich came to the conclusion that the basis of a child’s experience lies in the area of his/her needs she approached the analysis of language feeling not just as a merely empiric generalization but as a crystallization of a child’s experiences accumulated in complex interrelations with the environment.

Thus, the early period of L.Bozhovich’s work was not an episode but an epoch in her scientific biography.

Information About the Authors

Elena D. Bozhovich, Doctor of Psychology, Leading Researcher of the Laboratory of Differential Psychology and Psychophysiology, Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Education, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:



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