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Atkin, S. (1969). Psychoanalytic Considerations of Language and Thought—A Comparative Study. Psychoanal Q., 38:549-582.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 38:549-582

Psychoanalytic Considerations of Language and Thought—A Comparative Study

Samuel Atkin, M.D.


This exploration of ideas about language and thought was prompted by the obvious importance of language in the communication process in psychoanalysis, and of cognition (i.e., knowing, understanding, insight, meaning) in psychoanalytic theory and the scientific rationale of its therapy.

Language and thought are uniquely human faculties, and should be a center of psychoanalytic interest. Yet they have been largely taken for granted and until recently insufficiently dealt with. Freud recognized language as the most important repository of human experience. He turned from neurophysiological inquiry to build a theory of the psychic apparatus on the data acquired by listening to his patients and on his inferences from their verbalizations.

Language and its relationship to thought was given great importance in Freud's earliest formulations of psychoanalytic theory. As early as the Project, he stated, '… thought accompanied by a cathexis of the indications of thought-reality or of the indications of speech is the highest, securest form of cognitive thought-process' (10p. 374).

Psychoanalysis was bound to develop its own theory of language, without necessarily characterizing it as such.

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