Language acquisition of Genie outside of the critical period
Professor Dr. McNulty
March 21, 2014
The tragic case of feral child Genie provides a unique perspective on the roles of socialization and linguistic exposure as they relate to post-puberty language acquisition. After eleven years of isolation and abuse, Genie was discovered possessing no known language, having already passed what has theorized to be the critical period. Utilizing a variety of methods and testing, professionals attempted to aid Genie in first language acquisition over the next five years with little success. Using examples of stalled grammatical development, language acquisition compared to both normal children and late learners of American Sign Language (ASL); and the roles of linguistic exposure, socialization and brain lateralization, this paper will demonstrate support of the theory of critical period for first language acquisition as it relates to Genie’s case.
Eric Lenneberg was first to propose a critical period for acquisition of a first or native language beginning around age two, and ending with the onset of puberty. Lenneberg theorized that language acquisition was not possible before age two because of a lack of maturation; and later language acquisition was inhibited by a loss of cerebral plasticity. Lenneberg believed brain lateralization occurred around the time of puberty when the cerebral dominance of the language function is complete. Arguing that the left hemisphere houses specific areas readied for language acquisition, with studies of children who have exposure to language withheld through this critical period show “atypical patterns of brain lateralization”. Lateralization is key during this critical period as children naturally and easily acquire the skills for language without the need for formal intervention. Lenneberg studied children and adults with brain injury arguing that while adults invariably found it difficult to re-learn their language after trauma children almost always fared substantially better. After studying patients of various ages, Lenneberg concluded that language cannot develop later in life because “after puberty, the ability for self-organization and adjustment to the physiological demands of verbal behavior quickly declines”. It is theorized that after this critical period primary language via simple exposure is impossible, and even with instruction, grammar acquisition becomes increasingly difficult, with some never patients never ever achieving full language mastery. While Genie’s case resulted from extreme isolation, Lenneberg theoretical evidence was based on childhood recovery of traumatic aphasia, late second language acquisition lateralization of speech function and hemispherectomy.
When Genie was discovered she was a severely neglected, uncommunicative malnourished thirteen year old, Genie was removed from her home and placed in the care of a team at Children's Hospital...