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Caruth, E.G. (1995). Self and object functions in language as a transitional phenomenon. Free Associations, 5(4):518-535.

(1995). Free Associations, 5(4):518-535

Self and object functions in language as a transitional phenomenon

Elaine G. Caruth

In the beginning was the word and the word became that through which the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge was obtained, hence that which led to ejection from the blissful ignorance/innocence of Paradise. Initially, the word, heard by the infant within the very womb itself as soothing unintelligible sounds, ultimately eases the pain and terror of the ensuing and inevitable processes of individuation and separation. Language facilitates these processes by maintaining the connection with mother through a kind of verbal rapproachment, even as it simultaneously allows for separation; language permits communion with to be replaced by communication between child and mother.

From the beginning and in the beginning, language in its prosodic as well as symbolic functions has universally served transitional functions as well as strengthened the establishment of self and object constancy and self and object representation. Winnicott first described this when he wrote an infant's babbling or the way an older child goes over a repertoire of songs and tunes while preparing for sleep come within the intermediate area as transitional phenomena (Winnicott, 1975, p. 230).

Winnicott defined transitional phenomena as designating “… the intermediate area of experience, between the thumb and the teddy bear, between oral-eroticism and true object relationships …” or, to elaborate, between narcissistic needs and object needs, thereby serving both self and object functions (Ibid.).


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