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Edelheit, H. (1972). The Relationship of Language Development to Problem-Solving Ability. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 20:145-155.

(1972). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 20:145-155

The Relationship of Language Development to Problem-Solving Ability

Henry Edelheit, M.D.

Victor H. Rosen, opening the panel, noted that the cultural and psychological characteristics of modern man are inseparable from his linguistic and inventive capacities. The capacity for predication (defined as "the capacity to symbolize transitive actions") is the crucial factor distinguishing human from nonhuman forms of communication. This capacity is manifested in the normal human child late in the first year of life or early in the second. It seems to coincide developmentally with the achievement of object permanence (in the Piagetian meaning of the term) and also with the purposeful manipulation of objects. It is far from clear, however, whether there is a causal relationship between the linguistic and the other developmental achievements. As Eric Lenneberg has pointed out, language ability (which is species specific for human beings) is a relatively independent capacity and need not correspond to intelligence (even nanocephalic dwarfs and mongoloids have language). Rosen observed that Freud, in defining thought as "trial action," did not specify the symbolic modes of representation used in that process. Such representations need not be verbal. The question then arises what symbolic modes, verbal or otherwise, are used in the problem-solving trial action, and what in the nature of the encoding process makes possible the comprehension of the solution and the transmission of that solution to others. Encoding may itself, Rosen said, be regarded as the solution to a problem—a problem in predication.

Henry Edelheit focused on the specificity of human language as a uniquely organized system of voluntarily produced symbols (Sapir). These symbols are in the first instance auditory. However, once they exist in the community in the form of speech, they can be transferred to many other modalities.

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