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Roman Jakobson's Kindersprache, Aphasie und allgemeine Lautgesetze (1941) and Alf Sommerfelt

Ernst Håkon Jahr

pp. 111-125

This article suggests a link between Roman Jakobson’s Kindersprache, Aphasie und allgemeine Lautgesetze (1941) and a short book review of C. & W. Stern’s Die Kindersprache (4th ed., 1928) by Alf Sommerfelt in Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap (1929). The fundamental idea of Kindersprache is that children’s phonological systems develop from initial broad contrasts to subsequent finer contrasts, so that unmarked phonological oppositions which are found in most languages develop first, with any language-specific contrasts developing later. In aphasia, according to Jakobson, the opposite development occurs: finer contrasts disappear first, broader contrasts later. It is shown in this article that Jakobson, in working out this theory, was probably inspired by an idea put forward in the 1929 book review by Sommerfelt. This may help to explain why Jakobson, on the first page of Kindersprache, dedicated his book ‘Til min venn Alf’ (“To my friend Alf”). Jakobson worked on and completed Kindersprache during his stay in Scandinavia 1939–1941, and details connected with his stay and work in this period are also commented on.


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(2011) Historiographia Linguistica 38.