On March 1, WHISC posted the following trivia question, sent in by Angelika Kratzer:
Who wrote the following passage and when was it written?
Language, as I remarked earlier, is like seeing and hearing in that it can’t be taught or learned. Who has ever seen anybody teach language to a child? Some of you may have experienced how hopeless it is to teach language to children, as has been tried occasionally. I am sure that anybody who has ever had the opportunity to observe a child between the age of two and four was surprised about the sudden use of a word or a word form. We rarely know where the child got it from. The child grabbed it on some occasion or other; and grabbing means creating. – We thus shouldn’t talk about learning of language by children. If there isn’t any teaching, there isn’t any learning either. What we do with children to lead them towards language is exactly what a gardener does with a seed from which he wants to produce a plant: we provide them with the necessary conditions for growth, namely human society. The gardener doesn’t truly make plants grow. Likewise, we do not teach children how to speak. A flower grows following the laws of nature. In the same way, language is generated in the consciousness of a child following the laws of the mind.
The answer is:
Heymann Steinthal: Abriss der Sprachwissenschaft (‘Fundamentals of Linguistics’), 1871.