There are many theories concerning language acquisition in children, as well as several different factors that are involved which play a role in determining whether or not children will in fact pick up a particular language. The issues that will be discussed in this essay include the critical period hypothesis, stated as the sensitive period of language acquisition set between early childhood and puberty; and learning a language that is spoken in the surrounding community, also known as second language learning. Linguists such as Leila Gleitman, among many, have asked the question “How much of it [language] is built in and…how much of it must be learned by exposure to the environment of speaking people?” (Searchinger, 1995a). There have been cases in which children, deprived from a language, were then later exposed (Curtiss, 1977). Although they were able to comprehend and interact using that particular language, they were not able to fully master it to the extent of a normal adult (Curtiss, 1977). In the 1970s a controversial case of a thirteen-year old girl, Genie, who had spent her entire life completely isolated from anyone (Curtiss, 1977). She was found severely malnourished and carried herself like a bunny (Curtiss, 1977). Genie’s mother, who had been in contact with her, stated that she could understand a few words (Curtiss, 1977). The child was admitted to the hospital and after several months underwent intense linguistic observation and investigation (Curtiss, 1977). Upon further treatment and observation, the hospital team discovered Genie was able to understand a fair amount of information, based on the fact that she maintained good eye contact and paid special attention to faces when spoken to (Curtiss, 1977). Although Genie was able to understand and speak at a coherent level (Curtiss, 1977), results from several dichotic tests revealed that she had no left hemisphere facility, indicating she had been using the right hemisphere for language...
References: Curtiss, S. (1977). Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day “Wild Child”. New York, NY: Academic Press, Inc.
Hauser, M.D., Chomsky, N., Fitch, W.T. (2002, November 22). The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve? Science, 298(5598), 1569-1579.
Searchinger, G. (Producer/Director). (1995a). The Human Language Series Pt.1: Discovering The Human Language “Colorless Green Ideas” [Video Tape]. (Available from Equinox films, Film Library, PO Box 1084, Harriman, NY 10926)
Searchinger, G. (Producer/Director). (1995b). The Human Language Series Pt.2: Acquiring The Human Language “Playing The Language Game” [Video Tape]. (Available from Equinox films, Film Library, PO Box 1084, Harriman, NY 10926)
Searchinger, G. (Producer/Director). (1995c). The Human Language Series Pt.3: The Human Language Evolves “With And Without Words” [Video Tape]. (Available from Equinox films, Film Library, PO Box 1084, Harriman, NY 10926)
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