Our Native Tongue by Osmosis

And so the NYT obituaries today included one entitled: “Lila Gleitman, Who Showed How Children Learn Language, Dies at 91.” She did essential research throughout her life to show us.

She affirmed some of her thinking with her two-year-old daughter: “One day when she was driving and Claire was in the car, Dr. Gleitman took a sharp turn and said, ‘Hold on tight.’ Her daughter immediately replied, ‘Isn’t that tightly?’” The utterance showed how even a toddler could understand linguistic nuances, without having been taught them.”


I am fascinated by our original language, which we seem to learn by osmosis, unlike other languages. The essay says about the incident with Claire, “Dr. Gleitman called the process “syntactic bootstrapping” — the use of an innate grasp of linguistic structure and its relationship to meaning to figure out new words.”

She describes the child as discovering what he or she already knows from a complicated code where language is hidden. Per the article, Dr. Gleitman opined “… that the structures, or syntax, of language were hard-wired into the brain from birth, and that children already have a sophisticated grasp of how they work.”


Wow. I think I get it. So glad she had the intellectual curiosity and perseverance once retired to keep on submitting papers working on the linguistics she so loved.

May God bless us with that kind of passion and the years to let it blossom to benefit the lives of others.

2 thoughts on “Our Native Tongue by Osmosis

  1. Her work was seminal. I remember taking a class in which the linguistics professor answered the question of which came first, language or thought, with the answer being, language! I think linguistics took a turn for the worse since Gleitman.

    Liked by 1 person

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