What Do We Mean By The Term Egocentric Language?

What do we mean by the term egocentric language?

We ‘ve all heard someone talk to themselves at least once. I’m pretty sure you’ve done it a number of times too. Children are the real specialists in this. Many children under the age of 6 seem to have spontaneous, egocentric language that influences their development.

Egocentric language use is an interesting topic in developmental psychology. Language has a very strong social character. Yet it also seems to hide something else. The spontaneous use of language, whether or not there is someone to receive the message, can be a clue. Perhaps language fulfills more functions than just social communication.

In this article, we examine two different theories. They try to explain the occurrence and function of egocentric language. These two theories originate from two of the most important psychologists in the study of developmental psychology: Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotski. Both psychologists give two different explanations for this phenomenon.

Piaget’s theory of egocentric language use

To understand Piaget’s perspective on this matter, it is important that we look at his theory of development. It is based on the development of logical intelligence. Thus, this kind of development will determine the child’s ability to relate to others. According to Piaget, the child will show a deficit in his social skills until he develops the so-called “theory of the mind”.

Piaget argues that the phenomenon of egocentric language focuses on the speaker without regard for the other person’s perspective. This happens because the child does not yet have the capacity for social interaction. We can also observe this egocentric behavior in their thoughts and perception.

Piaget's theory of egocentric language use

Why does this language form exist if it is of no use in communication? Piaget argues that egocentric language appears as an expression of the symbolic function that the child has just acquired. Around the age of three, the child is able to imagine his own world through language. However, it has not yet understood the social function of language. They base the language on itself. It fulfills a symbolic rather than a communicative function.

Gradually, from the age of six or seven, the child will acquire the theory of mind. This will ensure that they understand social interaction and the importance of using language to communicate. In most cases, these stimuli are sufficient for the child to distance himself from the egocentric language. Their thought process will also move from egocentric to logical. They will learn the communicative aspects of the language.

Vygotsky’s Theory of Egocentric Language Use

Vygotsky’s statement is completely different. He argues that socio-cultural factors influence us from a young age. He rejects Piaget’s premise that children under six years old are not interested in social interaction. A baby’s communicative efforts clearly demonstrate their interest in being social.

For Vygotsky, language always has a social and communicative function. Children speak to communicate with others. At the same time, they develop a symbolic function in a social context. Children begin to discover the use of the language by using it. One function is the ability of language to direct behavior. Language helps us to structure our thoughts and actions.

Vygotsky's Theory of Egocentric Language Use

According to Vygotsky, the goal of egocentric language use is to improve self-direction. This is also the reason that it does not need to have a receiver. Why does egocentric language disappear at the age of six? In Vygotsky’s theory, an important process that he calls “internalization” occurs here.

By the age of six, the child is able to internalize this egocentric language and make it part of his thought processes. This means that the process of self-direction becomes part of their inner voice. Language is therefore an essential foundation of our thinking.


These are two serious attempts to explain the reasons and context in which egocentric language develops. Both hypotheses are different and have strengths and weaknesses.

The information and data will differ depending on the perspective from which one is studying the language. This shows how complex the language process is and how many dimensions it encompasses. In order to be able to answer the questions about language and language development, a thorough investigation is therefore necessary. 

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