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Kolansky, H. (1967). Some Psychoanalytic Considerations on Speech in Normal Development and Psychopathology. Psychoanal. St. Child, 22:274-295.

(1967). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 22:274-295

Some Psychoanalytic Considerations on Speech in Normal Development and Psychopathology

Harold Kolansky, M.D.


We can view speech from many vantage points. Speech contributes to various aspects of ego development and functions including

self-observation, differentiation of self and external object, sense of reality and reality testing, secondary-process thinking, synthetic function, and of course control over action or impulse, and separation-individuation. The vicissitudes of each psychosexual stage contribute to the normality or deviations of speech, including the negativism of the anal-sadistic stage, the consolidation of masculinity or femininity in the phallic stage, the limited use of speech as communication with the parent during latency and adolescence, while consolidating peer relationships and new ego ideals outside the home.

In the clinical situation speech is a useful aid in the diagnosis of disparate conditions; for example, total lack of speech, perseveration, clang associations, and misuse of pronouns make us think of early infantile autism, while speech reflecting the voices of several people with whom the individual appears to identify makes us think of a symbiotic psychosis. Immature speech leads us to consider prelatency fixations or neurotic regressions. Confusion in speech leads us to consider ego disturbances or neuroses, while stammering generally puts us on the track of a neurosis.

In analytic therapy itself we carefully observe the patient's use of speech, and analyze specific speech patterns such as the misuse of words, the transference and resistance implications of various speech phenomena such as a whining complaint, a sudden stammer, an inability to think of a common word, a gruff tone, an imitative style, and other variations.

Through configurations of speech or its absence, we also have a research medium in clinical practice, as can be seen in the interesting implications for the steps of development which occur beyond our awareness in the normal child, but which are broadly illuminated in the development of the psychotic child.

Finally, Peller (1966) epitomized many relevant points in her paper on Freud's contribution to the theory of language:

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