Psychology of Language : Language Acquisition

Below is a link to a PBS documentary discussing Genie, a girl who suffered from severe environmental neglect and abuse in her childhood until she was discovered at age 13. Please be aware that this is a sad story, and the content may be difficult to view at times on an emotional level. The contributors of this program tried to present Genie’s case in an accessible and compelling way, while at the same time raise a number of important questions.

Genie’s case, and other cases of “feral” children, provide some evidence that seems to support the notion of a critical period for language acquisition.

In 3-4 pages (double-spaced), discuss the following:
• To what extent do you find Genie’s case to be convincing evidence for the critical period? Explain why or why not. What aspects of language did Genie learn upon rehabilitation, and how do her linguistic achievements and challenges support or contradict your position? Be specific: What are the similarities and differences between Genie’s language acquisition and that of typically-developing children? What are some potential explanations for why she could only demonstrate a rudimentary form of language? In addition to the video, you should critically review 2 research articles and use them to support your argument.

• What other important issues are raised by Genie’s case? Use specific examples from the video, such as when Genie demanded to know a word for a shade of color that has no dedicated name in English (e.g., very dark blue), or when Genie started talking about the past. What insights can these observations offer into the nature of human language, and the relationship between language acquisition and cognitive development?

Sample Solution