Late Talking

In the course of linking my previous post to Richard Feynman’s wikipedia page, I happened upon an interesting fact:

Feynman (in common with the famous physicists Edward Teller and Albert Einstein) was a late talker; by his third birthday he had yet to utter a single word.

I therefore have something in common with these famous physicists. I didn’t learn to speak until I was well past my third birthday, as my mum never tires of reminding me.  In fact, as I have blogged about before,  I was a very slow developer in other ways and when I started school was immediately earmarked as an educational basket case.

I subsequently discovered that

Neuroscientist Steven Pinker postulates that a certain form of language delay may be associated with exceptional and innate analytical prowess in some individuals, such as Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and Edward Teller.

Which is obviously where the similarity between me and these chaps ends, as I certainly don’t have “exceptional and innate analytical prowess”. I am however intrigued by the fact that I at least shared their  failure to develop language abilities on the same timescale as “normal” infants. I don’t know very much at all about this field, even to the extent of not knowing at what age most children learn to talk…

So here’s a couple of questions for my readers out there in blogoland. Were any of you late talkers? And how unusual is it for a child not to speak until they’re three years old?

Contributions welcomed through the comments box!

17 Responses to “Late Talking”

  1. Daniel Mortlock Says:

    Hi Peter,

    My first reaction is that you seem to be using this blog to compensate!

    More on topic: I was, I believe, a fairly early talker. Certainly my parents to this day remain proud of the fact that, as a youngster, I was generally ahead of the pack (which has since, of course, caught me up and run on by in most respects).


  2. late speaking may be related to autism. some signs of autism are:
    no gesturing in 12 months
    inability to utter a single word by 16 moths
    inability of saying a continuous two words phrase at the end of the second year

    • Autism refers to a wide range of symptoms, which might or might not have a common origin. They range from Asperger’s syndrome (which Dirac had, famously introducing his wife as “Wigner’s sister” (which she was, but that is not the point) to “Rain Man” type cases to those who do not communicate at all with other people.

  3. “So here’s a couple of questions for my readers out there in blogoland. Were any of you late talkers?”

    I don’t remember, but I don’t think I was.

    “And how unusual is it for a child not to speak until they’re three years old?”

    Probably more than 99% of children speak before they are three years old. Maybe much more. The mode is probably around a year or so, the median slightly higher.

  4. It is true that Einstein was a late talker. What is not true is that his first sentence was “The soup is too hot!” and, when asked why he had not talked before, he replied “Until now, everything was OK”. It does happen, though, that late talkers start out with complete, grammatically correct sentences.

  5. My youngest child (and at the moment only one by my current wife) has now passed 38 months and still does not talk. He makes a lot of noise (and is not deaf etc) and does utter a few words, but not always when necessary. In some cases, he understands the meaning of what he says, but not in others. He seems to understand (in several languages) much more than he speaks.

    There is no obvious reason, and we suspect he might have a mild sort of autism (he has some, but by no means all, of the typical behaviour).

    We’re expected another child in the next few weeks; it will be interesting to see if there is any similarity in this respect.

  6. There’s an account of the standard sequence at:

    I didn’t talk until age 2, but thereafter I talked a lot, and they said of me, “He must have been vaccinated with a gramophone needle.”

  7. manuela Says:

    Interesting topic indeed, at least to me, since Eva (3 in august) is definitely a late talker…let’s say she speaks like a ‘common’ two-year old.
    Apparently I was a very early speaker, and also Tommy (my older one), by the age of 2 could perfectly manage 3 languages (italian, english and german, in fact he was the only one in the household to keep contact with people around us when we were in Munich).
    But their father (also a physicists, coincidence?) did not speak until he was 4.
    legends tell that it was because he had an ear infection that was not recognized until then, but as a matter of fact now he is as dyslexic as his father and his sister, so it must run in the family.
    The thing about Eva is that she is extremely bright for a little girl (for instance, when she was 2 she was already assembling puzzles by herself and noone can stand puzzles in the house) and certainly shows no sign for autism. In her, it all seems like she simply cannot be bothered talking since she can have most of what she wants by taking it herself (very independent indeed and a great menace in the house). So possibly dyslexic too?We will take some tests before primary school and see..interesting though that it runs amongst scientists…I wonder if this is boosted percentage or it is just in agreement with the average found for ‘normal’ people

  8. Not sure how one would qualify being superbly gifted. It seems to me, that for whatever reason, both Einstein and Feynman had a hunger for knowledge. They weren’t born intelligent, just like anyone else. But they had the fire…can’t be a trail blazer without it.

  9. My son didnt talk till 3 and at 7 still talks poorly though he does speak in sentences. Hes a math wizard. Is there a connection? i dont know. Special ed for young kids will spend 100K on kids and torture them with endless “therapy”. We refused it and went our own way. School is boring for our son but he still bucks up

  10. My son 2 years 10 months still is not talking, his vocabulary is very limited,only says 15 words but he does not make 2 word sentence.

    He also has 2 siblings aged 16 and 11 but they did speak at 2 years, he has a lot in common with what I ve read in this blog, such as he only talks when he wants something. But lately I ve been noticing that late talkers are on the rise cos I have friends facing the same issue, could it be that children are becoming more keen on when to speak,I mean talk when it really matters!!!!!

    Or is it true, that all this radiation from I phones and I pads is really harming our children.

  11. […] series played a major part in my education. I’ve written on a previous equation about what a slow learner I was as a child – I didn’t really speak until I well after my third birthday  – but once I got […]

  12. My daughter started speaking at 4yrs 8 months, but now she is good in numbers and understanding the concepts and logic. She has an analytical mind. My son is behind in speech but is shows analytical abilities in many ways

  13. Hi did you eventually talk on your own…or did u get speech therapy

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