Danon-Boileau, Laurent (2001) The Silent Child: Bringing Language to Children Who Cannot Speak. Oxford University Press, ix+188pp, hardback ISBN 0-19-823786-3, $25.00.
Guido Oebel, Saga (Japan) National University
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Laurent Danon-Boileau is Professor of General Linguistics and Language Acquisition at the Sorbonne. He is one of France's most respected child psychoanalysts working and practicing at the Centre Alfred-Binet in Paris. He has published widely in the area of linguistics and psychoanalysis and is also a novelist.
SYNOPSIS The author's present book is the English translation of his French version originally published as 'L'Enfant Qui Ne Disait Rien' in 1995. According to the translator Kevin Windle, the translated version does not correspond in every detail to the French original published by Calmann-Levy due to small revisions to the text made by Danon-Boileau while the work was in progress.
Somehow reminiscent of Oliver Sacks's 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat', this intriguing book introduces the reader to patients of surpassing strangeness, who suffer from severe psychological difficulties blocking their ability to speak or read. For almost two decades Danon-Boileau has been working with so-called silent children. When these children are put in his analytical care they are generally between three and seven years old. After three years of special training with the author they usually manage to overcome their inhibitions and speak more or less fluently. The aim of Danon-Boileau's book is to find out why his treatment leads to this success. For instance, the reader experiences the author's sessions with Kim who is able to name objects correctly, but when trying to express herself lapses into a private, unintelligible language of her own. She uses words to name animals whereas she seems to prefer using her hands to express her wishes or her memories. Then the reader makes Benjamin's acquaintance, a boy who is unable to clearly distinguish between his imaginary world and the real world, whose mind is so taken up with the imaginary that he has neither the time nor the mental space for learning in the traditional sense. Besides other silent children there is the bilingual Rachid who does not use language to communicate but - despite her age of just four years -- can read numbers consisting of several digits and count objects up to twelve.
CRITICAL EVALUATION The author explores the cases of six children (Fabien, Kim, Rachid, Benjamin, Pierre, Rama) through accounts based on notes taken on the day of their sessions, thus enabling him to emphasize the individual features of each single child's speech. Essentially, Danon-Boileau tries to tell stories, thus recurring his narrative talent, about the dynamic exchange between the three complementary groups generating the obstacles to the acquisition of language: the cognitive group concerning the automatic processes developed by the brain to perceive the world to organize appropriate modes of behaviour in the area of vision and movement. The aphasic group referring to the totality of automatic processes that enable us to proceed from thought to the sounds of speech. Lastly, the symbolic group as the most easily accessible to the psychoanalyst taking account of everything in language concerning the relation between speakers and their own wishes as well as their awareness of the thoughts of others. According to Danon-Boileau, each one of these groups is coherent and partially independent, however, none of them will alone afford a comprehensive understanding of the phenomena of language, as they all exert a combined effect upon each other. He attempts to examine the development of language by constantly emphasizing the dynamic exchange between these complementary groups. By doing so, Danon-Boileau calls on the three theoretical fields of psychoanalysis, linguistics, and cognitive development, thus considering ways of combining the approaches of each of these disciplines.
Danon-Boileau sacrifices the use of a solely scientifically technical terminology in favour of a generally comprehensible language thus reaching a wider readership. By doing so, to my humble opinion he nevertheless manages to grip readers with different experience and background. He even defines his general attitude to be unreflective comparing it with that of a 'teddy bear' and a 'drowsy nanny', respectively, determined by instinct and by playing. By no means does the author claim to preach any particular method, instead he suggests a way of looking at things in describing his way of working. This kind of - I would call it -- supreme ease in dealing with this complicated subject is the definite benefit of Danon-Boileau's book. I absolutely share Jerome Brunner's acclaim for 'The Silent Child' printed on the book's jacket: ''Combines the highest quality of case writing with speculations that are remarkable in their penetration''.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Guido Oebel (PhD in Linguistics) is a native German and currently employed as an associate professor with Saga National University and as a visiting professor with Private University of Kurume, both situated on the Southern island of Kyushu/Japan. His main areas of research are: FLL, particularly German as a Foreign Language (DaF), sociolinguistics, bilingualism, adult education.