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What does the Genie case tell us about how children learn language?

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What does the Genie case tell us about how children learn language? Discovering how children leant to speak has been a highly controversial and discussed topic amongst language scholars. Normal children learn language through many different ways. There are several stages each child will go through. The first is the proto-words stage. This is where babies will babble. They enjoy the sound of their voice. This takes place between 0-6 months old. Between 7-12 months a baby begins to understand simple words from its mother. It will respond to these using simple hand movements and gestures. By 12 months old the child will have reached the linguistic period and should be able to say a few simple words, like dada or mama. By 24 months the child will be saying `noun phrases' and may be under or over extending words. Between 3-4 years the child will be able to form simple sentences using correct grammar. Skinner, Noam Chomsky, Eric Lenneburg and Jean Piaget have proposed the most plausible theories. ...read more.


He called this animal a "Wug". He then showed a picture with many wugs on it. He asked the children what was on the card now and they instinctively said "Wugs". This helps to prove that plurals are inherent and not learnt, because all the children would not have heard the word wug before the experiment. There are problems with this theory too: The main criticism of Chomsky's theory is that it underestimates the power and role of language as a social phenomenon. Cases such as Genie prove that social interaction is essential for language to occur. Lenneburg developed Chomsky's idea of LAD. He said there was a critical period within which a child must be exposed to language in order to develop normally. They must learn language before reaching puberty. Piaget argues that children can only use a certain linguistic structure when they understand the concepts involved. Studies have been made of children whose mental development has been retarded but who can still speak fluently. ...read more.


She now barely said a word. The case of Genie appeared to prove Lenneburg's theory. Lenneburg said that a child must have interaction with humans and learn to speak before puberty or they will never learn at all. In other cases of feral children, some, who were discovered at a much younger age than Genie, learnt language and were eventually able to speak well. Cases such as Genie, or Wild Peter (found age 12) were unable to do more than string a few words together. Genie failed to learn any kind of grammar. According to Chomsky this is what distinguishes the language of humans from the of animals. Genie could not grasp the difference between various pronouns or between active and passive verbs. In that sense she appeared to have passed the critical period. The problem with the case of Genie and the validity of Lenneburg's theory is that Genie was brain damaged. If she had had a normal functioning brain then the case would have proved Lenneburg's theory without a doubt. As it stands, because of her brain damage we can never be sure. ...read more.

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