Marisa Parham

Memory before language?

Posted by on Jan 11 2014, in archive-me


I caught this link over at The Atlantic Monthly. It was extra interesting to me because I’ve been doing all this language and identity and memory stuff in one of my classes as we finish up Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. This week we discussed how contemporary theories of memory and subjectivity often discount the notion that there is memory before language. What is interesting about this is that what we call “language” assumes language, or rather that our assumption might in fact be based in our inability to comprehend experiences that don’t come to us in a familiar and recognizable form: if we don’t hear it, it must not be there.

Here’s a taste, but of course you should check out the article:

The authors suggest that this work challenges interpretations of childhood and infantile amnesia pointing to failures to translate preverbal experiences into language once language is acquired. Yet the fact that three-quarters of children fail to do this, even in the presence of physical reminders of the original experience, seems to support this claim rather than undermine it. Perhaps some children can recode these preverbal memories into language when prompted, but children may still not due this under real-world circumstances and thus experience childhood “amnesia.”