Life and Education of Laura Dewey Bridgman

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[In the Hartford Asylum] she has been frequently known to select her own clothes from a mass of dresses belonging to a hundred and thirty or forty persons. "Her manner is to examine each article by feeling; but to decide upon it by the sense of smell, and in regard to her own things she never errs." She has been frequently known to discriminate, merely by smelling them, the recently washed stockings of the boys from those of the girls at the Asylum. Among a hundred and twenty or thirty teaspoons used at the Asylum she could distinguish those of the steward from those of the pupils, "though a casual observer would hardly notice the difference."2

Spoken language is a form of behavior patterning which incorporates and registers the impulses and agitations in combination with conscious and rationalized elements. All animals with respiratory systems issue cries and sounds which are a revelation of the impulses and a relief of the tensions and are at the same time a rudimentary language. As many as nine cries and calls may be distinguished in the barnyard fowl, and the dog has a vocabulary of some range, including the bark of anger, the whine of supplication, and the howl of despair when the master ties him up and takes the gun.

Among humans there is not only a large explosive vocabulary, but the discriminations are registered in the tonal quality of words and even in the several intonations given to the same word. Thus the word "yes" may express half a dozen or more shades of tension and meaning—agreement, doubtful agreement, skeptical agreement, reluctant agreement, petulant agreement, rejection of agreement. In the Magyar language "nem" means "no" and "igen" "yes," but in some localities a denial which nevertheless expresses a cordial attitude is phrased as "nem igen," "not yes." The vocabulary of vituperation is able to define the situation by a single explosive epithet ("skunk," "bastard," "whore," "scab," etc.) containing a sentiment and establishing a conditioned reflex. In Faust an old woman, speaking to Margaret of another girl who was also pregnant, says, "She stinks." And if "stinks" is associated on peoples’ tongues with a girl she will never smell sweet again.

These involuntary emotional reactions which may be termed impulses on the physiological level, sentiments on the social level, and attitudes when, either involuntarily or voluntarily, they act toward given goals, are the origin of behavior reactions and components of their most rationalized and calculated forms. The gesture and the spoken word have also the quality of transferring the agitation and its meaning to others, of creating attitudes, defining and spacing social relationships, determining intimacies and avoidances, and fixing social status. An elaborated language system and other behavior systems always present a close parallelism. The origin of the pattern is in emotional reactions; conscious and calculated elements are intercalated and meanings are stretched to the rational level (see Chap. XVIII).

In both language and custom innovations are not precisely unnoticed, but they are unrecorded and the memory of them lapses. There is consequently an almost complete anonymity of authorship, as shown in emergence of slang and anecdotes. At the same time the language system acquires a rather symmetrical, extremely elaborated, and finely shaded but not completely logical character, without conscious planning and without awareness on the part of the population or of anyone in the population of what is the general direction of the schematization.

2Lamson, M.S., n/an/an/an/a, , xxiii–xxiv.

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Chicago: Life and Education of Laura Dewey Bridgman 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: . Life and Education of Laura Dewey Bridgman, 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: , Life and Education of Laura Dewey Bridgman. 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