Smithsonian Contrib, to Knowledge

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Once, when reminded by one of her teachers that she ought not to indulge in her uncouth sounds, which resemble those made by deaf-mutes, [she] answered, "I do not always try not to make them." The teacher urged the reasons why it is desirable she should restrain them, and was answered, "But I have very much voice." . . . Yielding, however, to the arguments against this "voice," she will at times go into her closet, and shutting her door, "indulge herself in a surfeit of sounds."

When she perceives, by the jar produced by the peculiar step of a person entering the room, who it is, she utters the sound for that person. At other times, when she is in search of somebody, she will enter a room uttering the sound belonging to the person; and receiving no answering touch, will pass on.2

The number of these "noise names" was about sixty and they represented her positive and negative appreciations of her companions. In one case she did not use the noise for a certain girl during a whole week. She then used a different noise and said (with her fingers), "That is your name." A change in appreciation had taken place. The name of one of her friends was "Pa-pa-pa," registering affection. Now "pa-pa" and "ma-ma" are among the first spontaneous, contented, and full-bellied gurglings of infants in general, with the result that fond parents the world over, envisaging their offspring, have imagined that they were recognized and given these names. Thus mame, mamane are names for mother and tata, baba names for father among African Bantu-speaking groups, but among the Australian Kariera the name for father is mama. A gurgling of contentment thus becomes a name and a word. Meinhof, an authority on the Bantu languages, says he learned the clicks (sounds borrowed by the Bantu from the Hottentots) not from the South Africans but from his children: "The child makes the sucking movement, presses the tongue forward against the gums, pulls it suddenly away, and you have the click."1

Laura’s name for Dr. Howe was "Ts-ts-ts." It is a speculation, but noting that inspiration precedes activity and exhalation accompanies cessation of activity, we may conjecture that this sound represented Laura’s reverential appreciation of Dr. Howe. She was able to distinguish noise from silence, she could distinguish persons by their tread though she could not hear it, and she certainly did not fail to notice that "quiet fell" in his presence. Now our word for invoking silence is "sh" or "hush," and it is not incredible that Laura’s "ts" is identical with this. That she was not taught to speak a language, that is, an organized system of noises, by reading the lips of another with her fingers, as was done in the case of Helen Keller, was due to the fact that Dr. Howe’s imagination did not take this direction. But from the above items and from the extended reports of Dr. Howe it is evident that Laura had initiated a language through touch, sound, and smell discriminations and was making personality ratings of her associates and acquiring intimacies and aversions on that basis.

2Lieber, F.n/an/an/an/an/a, "The Vocal Sounds of Laura Bridgman," , 2: 10–11, 27.

1 Meinhof, C., "Einwirkung der Beschäftigung auf die Sprache bei den Bantustämmen Afrikas," Globus, 75: 363.

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Chicago: Smithsonian Contrib, to Knowledge in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: . Smithsonian Contrib, to Knowledge, Vol. 2, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: , Smithsonian Contrib, to Knowledge. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from