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The Acquisition Of Language: Genie A Feral Child

2206 words - 9 pages

The tragic case of feral child Genie provides a unique perspective on the roles of socialization and physiology in language acquisition during the critical period. After 11 years of isolation and abuse Genie was discovered possessing no known language, having already passed what was theorized to be the critical period. Through examining Genie’s diagnosed mental retardation and dichotic testing, we can draw conclusions from her physical abuse and social isolation as it pertains to language development during the critical period. Using the example of Genie’s stalled linguistic development, her language acquisition compared to both normal children and late learners of American sign language ...view middle of the document...

where children who are raised and socialized in households where Spanish is spoken, learn Spanish, and those with deaf parents learn sign language. It is theorized that after this critical period primary language by simple exposure is impossible, and even with instruction grammar acquisition becomes increasingly difficult, with some never patients never ever achieving full language mastery. (Rowland)
Lenneberg theoretical evidence was based on childhood recovery of traumatic aphasia, lateralization of speech function and hemispherectomy and children with Down’s syndrome (Hurford) . There has been case evidence to support this theory in terms of childhood aphasia, second language acquisition and in Genie’s case extreme deprivation. Lenneberg studied children and adults with brain injury and argued that while adults invariably found it difficult to re-learn their language after brain injury children almost always faired 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” (Lenneberg, 1967).
When Genie was discovered she was a severely neglected, uncommunicative malnourished 13 year old, Genie was promptly removed from her squalid living conditions and placed in the care of XXXXXXXXX at XXXXXXXX. Unable to stand erect, walk, eat solid foods, Genie was mute and not yet toilet trained. Genie had spent from the age of 20 months until her discovery confined to a darkened room. The majority of Genie’s day was spent tied to her potty chair or in her bed, her space was closed off from the outside world, living in darkness her room had no light and her windows were kept covered, she had no social interactions from peers or family members save her mentally ill nearly blind mother who would spoon feed her baby food. (Curtiss et al). Genie was sentenced to a form of horrific solitary confinement, with almost total silence accompanying her darkness. The other members in her household, her brother and father would only bark at Genie like a dog, never speaking to her. Her father had a great intolerance of noise, there was no radio or television in the house and the amount of acoustic stimulation Genie would have received from behind her closed door would have been kept to a bare minimum (Fromkin). Genie’s father would beat her if she made any vocal utterances or noise of any sort. Medical reports indicate that Genie was normal at birth with early pediatric appointment containing no mention of handicaps. At some point however, but it was reported that Genie’s father believed she was ‘retarded’, destined to die at an early age, an abusive and domineering figure Genie’s father convinced her mother of this opinion as well. There exists no medical documentation to support a “diagnosis of early brain damage, primary mental deficiency, or infantile autism”...

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