Speaking role model

By Mathias Maurer, July 2016

Frederick II (1194–1250) wanted to discover the original language of humanity. The following experiment is attributed to him: he gave newborn children to nurses who fed and cared for them but did not speak to them. All the children died.

The “foundling” Kaspar Hauser, who – some think – spent many years of his childhood in solitary imprisonment in order to prevent him from succeeding to the throne of Baden, hardly spoke at all after he appeared in public and appeared to be intellectually backward.

Be it legend or fact: personal contact and attention through language is indispensable for healthy human development. Hospitalism research has shown this connection not just in institutionalised children but has found the consequences of neglect also in the form of affluent neglect. The modern media lifestyle, too, with its associated lack of movement, negatively influences speech, paediatricians and neurologists say. It is estimated that up to forty percent of pre-school children today are delayed in their language development and have language disorders.

Yet we might well assume that we have never been as communicative as we are today. Wrong – our culture is heading towards increasing speechlessness. It must therefore be a deeper layer of speaking which provides the gold background of language. Language gives meaning in all senses of the word. In speech we express moral qualities: honesty, clarity, authenticity and rigour. The more a person shapes language, the more it acts like an educational instrument which does not explain the world in distanced and abstract terms but communicates a secure existence and a feeling of being at home within it.

Because of his blindness, the French writer Jacques Lusseyran had finely tuned hearing. He writes: “I would wish that people do not lose the ‘word’, since it is the grammar of the world, its cohesion, its true reflection.” Language communicates the truth, beauty and goodness of the world to the listening ear of the child.

Children love the magic of language because the beauty of its sound communicates inwardness, transports not just information but the inner situation, indeed the moral integrity of the speaker. Children are all ears, particularly when the narrative is free and not in “preserved” form. Neither do children need to be spoken to in a child-like way. On the contrary, baby language insults their will to learn to speak. Children take what they need and can understand from the language they hear and intuitively integrate what they do not understand.

It is not just the statement but also the person making the statement which come to expression through language. Language leads us into life, indeed, language is life. We are in the truest sense of the word a speaking role model.


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