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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. H. Sayce   2 August 1877

Queen’s Coll. | Oxford.

Aug. 2nd 1877.

Dear Sir,

Very many thanks for your kind permission to quote your words1 as well as for the account of the last meeting of the American Philological Association & your allowing me to keep it. What Professor Holden & Professor Whitney say is at once interesting & important.2 The first word on the list of the children’s vocabulary I notice is birdie, & among other words quoted are ‘dollie & my footies.3 This illustrates one of the results to wh. the facts I have collected seem to point, namely the inclination children show for changing a monosyllable into a dissyllable by the addition of a short vowel or nasal. Other results are a clearer pronunciation of the vowels than of the consonants, a dislike to double consonants especially at the beginning of words, a use of aspirated gutturals & semi-articulate sounds very difficult for us to imitate, & an inclination to change initial s with h. I also observe in some cases that where a child has learnt to pronounce isolated words clearly & distinctly it fails to do so when it tries to combine them into sentences.

With many thanks | Yours faithfully | A. H. Sayce.


The letter in which CD gave permission to Sayce has not been found, but see the letter from A. H. Sayce, 30 July 1877, for the request. Sayce cited CD’s article ‘Biographical sketch of an infant’ in his book Introduction to the science of language (Sayce 1880, 2: 313–14).
CD had sent Sayce a newspaper abstract of the proceedings of the meeting of the American Philological Association (see letter to W. D. Whitney, 1 August [1877] and n. 2). Edward Singleton Holden and William Dwight Whitney had written papers relating to language acquisition in children (Holden 1877 and Whitney 1877).
Sayce evidently refers to the newspaper abstract; in Holden’s published article, the words ‘birdie’ and ‘dollie’ appear in alphabetical lists of vocabulary spoken by one child (Holden 1877, pp. 62–3) and ‘footie’ in the vocabulary of another child (ibid., p. 65).


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

Holden, Edward Singleton. 1877. On the vocabularies of children under two years of age. Transactions of the American Philological Association 8: 58–68.

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

Whitney, William Dwight. 1877. The principle of economy as a phonetic force. Transactions of the American Philological Association 8: 123–34.


Thanks CD for permission to quote his comments; mentions some of his conclusions with regard to the early speech of children.

Thanks for [newspaper] account of American Philological Association meeting.

Letter details

Letter no.
Archibald Henry Sayce
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Queen’s College, Oxford
Source of text
DAR 177: 47
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11090,” accessed on 6 May 2021,