Feral speak, such as John Ssebuya, MarinaFeral speak, such as John Ssebuya, Marina

Feral children have been found and documented since the mid 1600s. Many, if not all, have been found upon capture to have little to no grasp of language. Attempts at rehabilitating them proved to be difficult and limited. Though some may have reintegrated into society, their communication skills were evidently lacking, making it clear that it was near impossible for them to latch on to language no matter how much effort was put into their teaching. Others, however, did manage to regain their abilities to speak, such as John Ssebuya, Marina Chapman and Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc (also known as The Wild Girl of Champagne). All three successfully learned language despite years in the wild with no human interaction. However, the majority of feral children were not as fortunate. Genie was one of the unfortunate children that was forced to suffer in absolute isolation with miniscule human contact. It was through her exposure that scientists, especially linguists, were able to further their research and understanding in language acquisition. Having been neglected and abused by her father for over ten years, Genie was confined in a small room on her own and was forbidden to be spoken to by any other family members, if she even made a sound she would be beaten. This linguistic deprivation meant she had extremely limited exposure to auditory stimulation and social interaction leading to equally limited vocabulary. When she was found, Rymer tells us that she knew only two expressions: “stop it” and “no more”. She could understand very little and was more attuned to single words as opposed to structured sentences. At this point Genie was already thirteen years old and it became more and more clear that she had very much missed out on the critical period of language learning. Through Genie’s extraordinary and deeply sad experience, we can see several theories at play. Skinner, a psychologist and pioneer for behaviourism, argues that we must actively be taught and learn language compared to what Pinker and Chomsky believe; that we are born with the innate ability to use language, it is an instinct in humans, much like animals and their behavioural instincts: lions and wolves hunt in packs, hummingbirds search for nectar, animal mothers protect their young. Chomsky’s theory deeply influenced Pinker’s views wherein that humans already have the basic knowledge and skills to grasp language, and that we can acquire language at certain periods during the developmental stages. This is what Chomsky called the language acquisition device (LAD). He believes that children do not need a trigger in order to begin language acquisition because it will happen on its own, and that perfect learning age is between the ages three to ten where the child will be able to grasp language as a whole. Parents do not need to influence their child into speech as they will comprehend it independently, therefore making it futile to correct them when they do begin to utilise language as they will have their own way of producing and constructing words i.e. making things plural that are already plural: ‘sheeps’.It is clear from what Pinker and Chomsky are suggesting that it does seem that we do have an innate predisposition for language. Yule refers to this as a ‘language-faculty’ and says that it simply is not enough. It is crucial that children must have heavy social interaction and auditory stimulation between the ages one and three in order to be able to use language. It has already been distinguished that if a child is deprived of language, by not being spoken to or hearing it, then the child has no chance of developing language. However, Yule further goes on to tell us that hearing language is not enough either, by using the example of deaf parents with a son of full hearing ability was not able to understand or speak in English when put in front of the TV but he was able to fully and efficiently adopt the use of American Sign Language, we can observe that language is deeply dependent on constant interaction with those around us, especially parents or caregivers.Skinner proposes a similar argument that children depend on watching, listening and learning from their parents and others in their environment to develop language. Skinner conceived the term ‘operant conditioning’, which consists of altering behaviour using reinforcements given after the coveted response is achieved. One part of his theory includes the ‘verbal operants’, one known as the ‘echoic’ operant: the act of imitation. It is as simple as asking a child to repeat what you are saying: “Can you say ‘dada’?”  This in turn would invoke an echoic response from the child. He also argued that children can be taught through reinforcement principles by affiliating words with meaning. When the child begins to understand the significance of words and sentences the correct utterances are positively reinforced: for example, when a child says ‘mummy’ and the mother responds by smiling and picking the child up, the child will find this rewarding therefore strengthening its development of language. However, the theory of imitation faces criticisms: a child may say ‘buyed’ instead of ‘bought’, a grammatical mistake that would not have picked up from the parent, which suggests that children are putting what they have already learned and are familiar with into something new. This challenges the theory of imitation and tells us that imitation alone cannot be a largely leading factor in language acquisition, and that language cannot be learned in its entirety. This is evident in that children learn words far too fast for them to be learned through reinforcement, and also because between the ages of one year to five years, children learn up to ten words a day. It is through this critical period that children must be exposed to language and interacted with. Lust says that it is “A period of time with a distinct onset and offset during which experience can lead to learning by an organism; assumed to be innately programmed and irreversible.” She goes on to say that puberty is the ‘offset’ time for language acquisition, and that up until the age of thirteen language is present in both hemispheres of the brain. Genie, who was found at the age of thirteen, falls outside of the critical period hypothesis (CPH), leaving her development outside of the window of opportunity. This suggests that if language is not acquired during the critical period, it is very unlikely that it will happen outside of it.This is evident in Genie’s progress to learning language, she was able to acquire, understand and produce extensive vocabulary but it took quite some time for her to reach two-word utterances and would stay stagnant at that level for even more time before she could construct a string of three to four words. Her word order was generally correct but her syntax was severely debilitated. By the time she was fourteen the following year, she had reached the cognitive age level of six to eight.