Feral Children Introduction Can a teenager acquire language? What level of intelligence can he or she attain if apart from the society ? ( “L’enfant Sauvage” F. Truffaut). What conditions are essential for language acquisition? What would we be like if the influence of our current society had not been present? What aspects of human nature are genetic, and what aspects are learned? The Forbidden Experiment The idea : bringing up a child in isolation, to see what he or she can acquire in the way of language. Examples : Psammetichus I (an Egyptian king who, in the 7th century B.C.E) caused two children to be raised by deaf-mutes. He wanted to see what language will emerge first. The children first said “bekos”, the Phrygian word for bread. So, he concluded Phrygian was the original language of the humanity. Frederick II In 1211, Frederick II, Emperor of Germany, in an attempt to discover the natural "language of God," raised dozens of children in silence. God's preferred language never emerged; the children never spoke any language and all ultimately died in childhood (van Cleve, 1972). Akbar le Grand (1542 – 1605) In Persian Myth, it is said that Akbar the Great once built a palace which he filled with new-born children, attended only by dumb attendants, in order to learn whether language is innate or acquired. This palace became known as the Gang Mahal, or Dumb House. Definition For language to develop, there are two necessary requirements : (1) a human brain and (2) sufficient exposure to language during the childhood. ( Curtiss, 1977). About 100 feral children have been found since the fourteen century. Feral children, also known as wild children or wolf children, are children who've grown up unaware of human behaviour and unexposed to language. Different kinds of feral children Isolated children : children who lived on their own. Confined Children = denied normal social interaction with other people Children raised by animals : wolves, dogs, apes. Victor d’Aveyron Victor has been found in the woods near Saint Sernin sur Rance, in southern France, at the end of the 18th century. Aged about 12, he couldn't speak at all. He could only make some grunts. ( Itard, “The wild boy of Aveyron”. 1962 ). The movie “L’enfant sauvage” (1970), The Wild Child, has been directed by Francois Truffaut. The story is based on the journal of the memoirs of a French physician, Jean Itard. He wanted to teach him how to speak and to generally civilize him. The evolution of Victor First, he was insensitive to any feelings, except joy and anger (Itard). ex : he never cried. His sensitivity to temperature wasn't the same as other people’s. Later, he was able to respond to some spoken commands. Victor only learned two terms, 'lait’ (milk), and 'oh Dieu’ (oh my God). It appears that Victor used a gestural system and he was able to comprehend language, even if he was practically unable to produce it. Victor is a good example of how language is separated from intelligence. Genie, a modern-day Wild Child Genie has had been discovered at the age of 13. Until that time she was private of any social interaction. At the discovery : - She didn’t know how to speak at all. After the discovery, at the Hospital : -Genie's mental and physical development began almost immediately. Characteristics of her speech Genie had a vocabulary of over one hundred words that she understood. Her talking was limited to short high-pitched squeaks that were hard to understand. Her syntactic skills were severely impaired. ( Biological Bases of language development ). ex : "Applesauce buy store". Her grammar was deficient in both production and comprehension. - ‘telegraphic’ production of utterances - cannot understand the distinction between the different tenses. Difference comprehension/production : she could understand most of the basic structures of English, whereas she could not produce them. The initiative of an interaction often came from another person than Genie. ( S. Curtiss, 1977 ). What happens in their brains ? the Right Hemisphere substitutes for the left hemisphere in the control of language. example : Dichotic tests, performed on Genie, showed greater left-ear performance + a problem understanding active/passive. Relates the “equipotentiality” hypothesis of Lenneberg. However, severe impairment that the feral children encounter in the learning of language = so, the right hemisphere is not entirely equivalent to the left hemisphere in order to acquire language. Other groups : adults who have acquired language thanks to their right hemisphere ; children in the earliest stage of language acquisition and chimps attempting to learn language. ( Curtiss, 1977) = not able to learn the features of language as well. The effects of the childhood environment, favorable or unfavorable, influence the processes of neurodevelopment. Theories Chomsky : (1972) and others have proposed that humans have an innate disposition to learn language ( LAD : language acquisition device ). It exists an universal structure (Universal Grammar) for all the languages. For the Chomskians, the environment has little importance. Lenneberg : he explains that there is a “Critical Period” for learning language between the age of two and that ends after puberty (around the age of 12 years). If no language is learned before then, it can never be learned in a correct and functional way. In A theory of Neurolinguistic Development, John L Locke suggests the term sensitive period rather than critical period: a period which is optimal for "tuning" that part of the brain best suited to the acquisition of grammatical analysis. However, even after this period, the ability of the brain to adapt and integrate new things is not lost. Second Language Acquisition Language acquisition is the process of learning a native or a second language. People learning a second language pass through some of the same stages, as children do. Children learn language better than adults. Adult learners progress faster than children. children have a number of powerful advantages: time, motivation, peer pressure. ( D. Singleton) Adults lean heavily upon their first language. For example, babbling helps and conditions the capabilities of the vocal tract in the formation of sounds (A. Pycha). The ability to learn a second language does not diminish as one gets older, but the younger the learner is, the easier it is For example, Isabelle acquire normal language ability, but only if found before the onset of puberty. Her progress was dramatic: in two years she covered the stages of learning that usually take six years. Conclusion It is difficult to draw conclusions from studies on feral children since each case was very different. In any case, converting a feral child into a relatively normal member of any human society is usually impossible. Feral children help us to understand how the brain tries to adapt to a severe depravation (use of right hemisphere) and how language can be acquired after the Critical Period. Studies of feral children have led to new methods for teaching children with learning disabilities, and indirectly to the development of Braille and sign language. Humans might be biologically disposed towards language, but they need the environment to make use of the structure of their brains. Children learn by listening to people talk and by repeating the sounds. So, they acquire the words of their language without formal instruction. Besides, children create their own linguistic rules (overgeneralization). Without the society, the human is one of the most fragile animals. He develops his identity and his reasoning thanks to the others, since he learns by imitation, and thanks to his capacity to develop a way of communicating. Sources Internet website : http://www.feralchildren.com S. Curtiss. 1977. Genie, A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day “Wild Child”. J-M-C. Itard, translated by G. et M. Humphrey. 1962. The wild boy of Aveyron.