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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. H. Sayce   27 July 1877

Queen’s Coll. | Oxford.

July 27th 1877.

Dear Sir,

I hope you will forgive a stranger like myself for addressing you, but I trust that the interests of scientific knowledge will be held a sufficient excuse for my troubling you.

I should be very much obliged if you could give me some information on one or two points connected with your recent valuable article in Mind.1 For some time past I have been collecting facts relative to the first attempts of children at speaking, & after making due allowance for inherited capacities & the existence of a fully-formed language round the child it seems to me that these facts will throw much light on the origin of language.

(1) Were you able to trace the sound of mum from an inarticulate into an articulate stage of pronunciation? I gather from M. Taine that the nasalised ham, wh. in the case of the child observed by him was equivalent to your mum, was first of all inarticulate.2

(2) Did you find that the child had a tendency to turn a monosyllabic word into a dissyllabic one by adding to it a short vowel like —ŏ or —y or a nasalised one like the French —en?

(3) Did you find that the child paid more attention to the correct pronunciation of the vowels than to that of the consonants, or vice versa?

Please excuse my troubling you with these questions. If you could answer any of them, either wholly or in part, I should be extremely obliged.

I am, | Yours faithfully | A. H. Sayce


Hippolyte Taine’s remarks were published in Revue philosophique (Taine 1876, p. 12). Sayce cited Taine and CD in his Introduction to the science of language (Sayce 1880, 2: 311–14). Taine’s article was reprinted in Mind in April 1877 (see letter to G. C. Robertson, 27 April 1877 and n. 2).


‘Biographical sketch of an infant’: A biographical sketch of an infant. By Charles Darwin. Mind 2 (1877): 285–94. [Shorter publications, pp. 409–16.]

Sayce, Archibald Henry. 1880. Introduction to the science of language. 2 vols. London: C. Kegan Paul & Co.

Taine, Hippolyte. 1876. Note sur l’acquisition du langage chez les enfants et dans l’espèce humaine. Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger 1: 5–23.


Having read CD’s article in Mind ["Biographical sketch of an infant", Collected papers 2: 191–200], AHS questions CD about the child’s first attempts at speech, hoping to throw light on the origin of language.

Letter details

Letter no.
Archibald Henry Sayce
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Queen’s College, Oxford
Source of text
DAR 177: 45
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11074,” accessed on 26 September 2021,