Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/757

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


STUDIES OF CHILDHOOD. 735

given to tliem by their mothers, as he himself had. Perhaps this was only a way of expressing the childish idea that everything has its name, primordial and unchangeable. A nameless thing may well seem to a child no less of a contradiction than a thing without any size. Perhaps, too, the name as an external sound joins itself to and qualifies the thing in a way that we, who are wont to employ words as our own created signs, can hardly enter into.

A second direction of this early questioning is toward the reason and the cause of things. The typical form is " why ? " This form of inquiry occurred in the case of Preyer's boy at the age of two years and forty-three weeks. But it becomes the all- predominant form of question somewhat later. Who that has tried to instruct the small child of three or four does not know the long, shrill, whinelike sound of this question ? This form of \ question develops naturally out of the earlier, for to give the " what " of a thing that is, its connections is to give its " why " , that is, its mode of production, its use and purpose. '

Nothing, perhaps, in child utterance is better worth interpret- ing, hardly anything more difficult to interpret, than this simple- looking little " why ? "

We ourselves, perhaps, do not use the word "why and its correlative " because " with one clear meaning ; and the child's first use of the words is largely imitative. What may be pretty safely asserted is that even in the most parrotlike and wearisome iteration of " why " and its equivalents " what for ? " etc., the child shows a dim recognition of the truth that a thing is under- standable, that it has its reasons if only they can be found.

Let us, in judging of this pitiless " why ? " try to understand the situation of the young mind confronted by so much that is strange and unassimilated, meeting by observation and hearsay with new and odd occurrences every day. The strange things standing apart from his tiny familiar world, the wide region of the quaint and puzzling in animal ways, for example, stimulate the instinct to approjjriate, to master. The little thinker must try at least to bring the new and the odd into some recognizable relation to this familiar world. And what is more natural than to go to the wise lips of the grown-up person for a solution of the difficulty ? The fundamental significance of the " why ? " in the child's vocabulary, then, is the necessity of connecting new with old, of illuminating what is strange and dark by light reflected from what is already matter of knowledge. And a child's " why ? " is often temporarily satisfied by supplying from the region of the familiar an analogue to the new and unclassed fact. Thus his impulse to understand why pussy has fur is fully met by telling him that it is pussy's hair.

�� �