Breaking the barrier? Children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language

Psychol Sci. 2002 May;13(3):225-31. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00442.


We examined children's ability to translate their preverbal memories into language following a period of substantial language development. Children participated in a unique event, and their memory was assessed 6 months or 1 year later. At the time of the event and at the time of the test, their language skills were also assessed. Children of all ages exhibited evidence of verbal and nonverbal memory. Their language skills also improved over the delay. By the time of the test, children of all ages had acquired most of the vocabulary necessary to describe the target event. Despite this, they did not translate preverbal aspects of their memory into language during the test. In no instance did a child verbally report information about the event that was not part of his or her productive vocabulary at the time of encoding. We conclude that language development plays a pivotal role in childhood amnesia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child Language*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Development
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vocabulary