Both Nature and Nurture play a key role in human development and language development. So what is the difference between the two? Nature is the more scientific theory,which is based on genetic inheritance and other biological factors. Whereas nurture is the influence of external factors, such as your environment. The case of Genie, a wild child is a good example for answering questions arising the topic of language development through nature or nurture. Noam Chomsky, a linguist,philosopher and cognitive scientist, suggested that we acquire language because it is within our genetic make up.
Other linguists believed differently. Some believed, that we learn language and develop it from association with other humans and imitating the language we hear. Another stated that there is a “critical period” when it comes to language. A critical period is a maturational stage in your life where a developmental event must occur, and is extremely sensitive to environmental stimuli. Since Genie was kept in isolation for so long, she missed out on this “critical period” and failed to develop properly and lack in other developmental stages.
Genie soon was the center and main focus for all psychologists and linguists. She took place in many studies, experiments and investigations to help answer questions to language acquisition through development and whether nurture plays a stronger role in language than nature does. Genie, a wild child, a feral child, was in complete isolation for a major part of her life. On November 17th, 1970, when she was just 13 years olds, a social worker found Genie and rescued her. Genie’s case of extreme neglect and malnourishment made the Los Angeles Times for a week straight.
When she was found she weighed only 59 pounds. She had no interaction with people and was confined to her potty seat for majority of the time. She only got unstrapped when her father remembered, and once unstrapped she was stuck in a sleeping bag that was similar to a straight jacket. There was a ring on her bottom from being strapped on the potty seat. She was not fed the proper nutrients she need, or fed that often. Genie was unable to chew solid foods,swallow or walk upright. When Genie would make a noise she was beaten and only knew around two phrases and 22 words.
Her motor skills were equivalent to a 2 year old. Irene, her mother, accidentally contacted social services and they came and took Genie and arrested her parents. Before the court date on November 20,1970, Clark, Genie’s father committed suicide. After her discovery,Genie was taken to a children’s hospital where they tried to care for her. Genie was said to be the “Most profoundly damaged child” they have ever seen. Considering she was not allowed to talk or she would get beat, her emotional state was also damaged and was unable to develop correctly.
She was forcefully been coerced into suppressing all her anger. Genie expressed her anger by scratching her face, blowing her nose in her close forcefully and urinating. At first when Genie was brought in they thought she was autistic or had mental retardation. They began to take test about Genie. They measured her brain waves while she slept to look for any anomalies that would imply abnormal brain development. When he results came back, they were shocked as they found no implications that she had a mental retardation.
Being in a new environment even for just a short period of time helped Genie immensely. After 3 days,she was helping herself get dressed and voluntarily using the toilet. After about 2 weeks, she was released from the Children’s hospital as she moved into the rehabilitation center. The rehab center was a single story building that had a yard and a play school. Here she was free to wander,watch or join in to play with much younger patients. This is where Genie would learn her freedom. Genie sat a table with two other children but she had nothing to do with them and never joined in their play.
This shows that Genie was in Solitary Play which is most often seen in a 2 or 3 year old. Genie would eventually be taken out to restaurants and zoos and shopping to try and get her to use her language. After multiple occasions out Genie would soon start to point at stores and say “Store”. Her vocabulary increased but her speech still stayed limited. Object permanence was soon learned which was a major cognitive step for a child. The care and feeding that genie had received in the hospital helped her development significantly. Another case very similar to Genies, is The Wild Boy, Victor.
Victor was almost completely wild as he lived in the woods. He ate acorns and pilfered potatoes. He had no language and no human contact whatsoever. Victor and Genie had many similarities even though they were such distant cases. Both were unable to make distinctions between what could be perceived by feel and what by sight. They were also both substantially unaware of the existence of anyone else besides themselves. Their isolation made it difficult for them to fully develop in a correct way. Environmental factors play a huge role when it comes to development.
Since Genie was isolated for so long,and had no interactions with others,and was strapped to a potty chair for first 12-13 years of her life, she was unable to develop cognitively, emotionally and physically appropriately. When Genie was found at age 13, she weighed 59 pounds and was 54 inches. For a 13 year old she should have not had weighed that less or been that short. She was unable to stand up straight and had physical oddities such as spitting, because she never learned how to chew, the food she would eat was all liquid.
The meals she was fed were severely un nutritious and did not allow her body to grow cognitively and physically. Her language capabilities when found were equivalent to a 2 year old and this shows and highlights how important socialization is in human development. Genie’s troubling and difficult ability to learn language is connected to the critical period for language at an early age. Considering she was kept in isolation for so long, she missed this critical period and it is said that if you miss this then a you are unable to reach full potential in language.
Her performance increased over years after isolation as she was put in an environment where she could imitate and associate with other humans using language. She did this very slowly. Her mother stated that before she got put in isolation her room at around 20 months she was starting to speak some words like a normal child would do so in their early age. Genie however was able to develop methods of nonverbal communications, such as drawing her feelings or cutting out a picture from a magazine of what she was thinking. She had a very difficult time using her communication in social situations.
Tests that were taken on Genie showed the use of her right hemisphere of her brain where she was acquiring her language that she had. Her left hemisphere was lost once her critical period was over when she hit puberty and was basically dead. She was able to gain some basic grammar and vocabulary because she was able to increase her language in the right hemisphere of her brain. Genie was able to develop communication at a five year old language. The way we are raised, and the environment we are in is a very important part of a healthy brain growth and development.
Of course our genetics play an important part, but as we can see in the case of Genie how nurture affects our physical, cognitive, and emotional growth. Isolation can cause us to develop irregularly and in Genie’s case, isolation caused her to miss her critical period of development. Once she hit around 12-13 years of age, she missed that time slot to learn a key function on development such as language and emotions. At age 13 when she was rescued social services she was nowhere near a normal child’s development. Her language acquisition was nowhere near a normal 13 year old’s level but at a 2 year old’s level .
Once taken into a new environment with human interaction, she was able to expand her vocabulary, she was never able to fully understand grammar and stayed at the level of telegraphic speech. Most of Genie’s life she was not exposed to a human environment where she can imitate or nurtured to emotions. So instead of showing she was angry she was just urinate instead. The younger years of a child’s life is the most crucial for development and growth and is a product of nurture. Although both nature and nurture determines how we grow, in Genie’s case, nurture had a greater influence on Genie’s development.