The video about Genie, a feral child, makes a controversial impression. On the one hand, the story of a girl kept isolated for thirteen years is shocking and embarrassing. It is almost impossible to imagine that in the modern civilized society, someone can treat a child worse than an animal. The image of this poor scared girl sticks in the memory. Now a teenager, she looks much younger, not older than six or seven in fact. On the other hand, this case is a unique field for research. Scholars have long been arguing about the nature of language abilities. The emerging theories consider either genetics to be decisive in the development of speech competence or the environment as a crucial factor for language formation.
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When the scientific world learned about the story of a girl kept in almost total isolation for more than a decade, some questions appeared. The major one was about the chance of a feral child, never taught to speak, to restore this important ability. It was amazing, but the girl was rapidly progressing. There is a popular theory that a child learns certain things at a certain age. Consequently, if the time passed, it is not possible to learn the same things at the same level. The psychologist that worked with Genie supposed she could break this theory. She really seemed to do so. She made great success in learning. The girl wanted to know everything as if compensating for the years of isolation and the hunger for information. The specialists that worked with Genie admitted that the mental function was not damaged. That is why she was able to learn and was eagerly studying the surrounding world. Thus, the conclusion could be made that the role of genetics in language development was determinant.
Nevertheless, Genie’s progress stopped after some time. She was still learning new words for new things, but just words do not make a language. The girl who had never heard any words before lacked grammar. The major language development takes place during the early childhood period. That is when a child gets a basic knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. The knowledge is passive; still, it is decisive in further speech evolution. The progress of a child’s language is well-known. A child forms the syllables, then learns how to join them to make words, and after all, to combine words into sentences. Every step in this process is important.
Apart from the mentioned above, the researches revealed shocking information. The human brain, if not stimulated properly, ceases its growth. The speech that a baby hears since birth stimulates brain development. When the speech apparatus is ready, the child starts reproducing sounds and words. There is another context of language, known as pragmatics. In fact, it is a social function of language responsible for its adequate use appropriate to the situation. It explains why Genie, although learning new words, could not organize them to make any sense. This experience proves the significance of the early childhood period in language formation. Moreover, it contributes to the theory of the social nature of language.
On the whole, both genetic and environmental factors are equally important for language development. The proper combination of them is the way to success.