Sullen v.5



The Story of Genie And Implications on Learning Language

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

So I was going through papers and papers looking for the appropriate way to label an informal paper.. haha.. one of those things you'd *think* I'd have learned by my senior year. But... no.... I don't remember.. because there are so many standards and whatnot for different papers.... and anyway.. I came across several interesting papers I have written (or at least interesting to me)... and feel like sharing... who knows.. someday I'll misplace these files or my harddrive will be lost and it might be nice to have them out in cyberspace.. for millions of kids to rip off if they wanted.... then again, most schools have good systems that easily find plagiarizing.. so I highly suggest no one try it. Anyway. I was just discussing Noam Chomsky's contribution in linguistical (?) studies w/ a friend of Aar*'s the other day.. and I've always found the story of Genie fascinating. Here is my informal "discussion paper" of her story. And I might just start regularly posting old random papers once and a while in here. whenever I feel moved to do so. haha. alright then.

All Rights Reserved, by me..Rachael. :) I.E. Don't try to take any large amount of words without my permission.

The story of Genie in The Secret of The Wild Child was fascinating and highly disturbing at the same time. The fact that such an inhumane act could be committed against someone for 13 years of their life – during the most pivotal time period that a person’s identity and conceptual processing is developing (childhood) –is inconceivable. It comes as no surprise that when Genie was finally discovered, the development of any language was nonexistent.
I found the studies conducted on Genie to be very inconclusive as a result of the many unknown variables that could have a high potential on influencing the results. The debate regarding whether Genie was born with brain damage or developed brain damage as a result of solitary confinement are among the controversial issues. Researchers such as Suzanne were interested in determining whether her troubled past had influenced her ability to learn a new language; however, if brain damage is a factor to consider, any demonstration of Genie’s inability to learn the rules of language may simply be a reflection of brain damage rather than the psychodynamic perspectives proposed.
Indeed researchers did find high sleep spindles while studying her brain waves while she slept, and this is often a sign of brain damage. It was also said that her father might have tied her to the toilet as a result of his initial consideration that she was born with brain damage. It is a subjective call, determining what came first (“the chicken or the egg” argument), but a consideration that should not be overlooked, in my perspective, when assessing Genie’s ability to learn language.
At any rate, Genie demonstrated some ability to learn the human language, which was intriguing considering both her troubled past and evidence of brain damage. James Kent observed her ability to develop the expression of words. Giving her opportunities to express words seemed critical to the process. Her first words consisted of “Dr.” and “tie”. Genie continued to progress an understanding of symbolic meanings for words, but would never fully demonstrate an understanding of proper syntax for language. Essentially she could not logically apply grammatical rules in the construction of a coherent sentence.
It is interesting to note the overlap between Genie’s case and another earlier case study in 1800 (commonly referred to as “The Forbidden Experiment”) of Victor. Itard took Victor’s case and attempted to civilize Victor and teach him language. In Victor’s case, a comprehensive language could never fully be developed either and Itard abandoned his efforts.
The similarities in these studies suggest some conflicts in Eric Lenneberg’s critical period hypothesis and a philosophical debate is derived from Noam Chomsky’s assertion of language development. Eric Lenneberg suggests that there is a critical age for the acquisition of learning a first language and that the exposure to this language must occur before puberty. Chomsky believes that there are certain grammatical principles that distinguish the language of a human being from that of animals.
Both Genie and Victor demonstrated an ability to acquire a minimal understanding of language despite being past the “critical period” suggested by Lennenberg; however, the extent of their language development, being very limited and difficult to acquire at a fast rate, suggests that there may still be some validity in Lennenberg’s hypothesis. Furthermore, Chomsky’s assertion seems to be too limited in that Genie and Victor never developed the grammatical principles that could include them in Chomsky’s definition of the human population, and yet it is still very evident that both Genie and Victor are very human with very real emotions.
As stated in Cognition by John Ashcraft, “language gives us power” (2002, p. 348). Ultimately it was fascinating to watch Genie’s will to learn for her desire to express herself. Indeed I feel that the many mysteries of language development that still exist can be generalized by a sole motivation for power, and despite the many obstacles that threaten to inhibit language, human beings will find a way around obstacles for survival – ultimately to take some control over their lives. It is an abstract theorization, but one that is interesting to entertain nonetheless.


Ashcraft, M (2002) Cognition (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.