General Question

Eggie's avatar

In an isolated life, what would be the effects of children learning language?

Asked by Eggie (5865points) October 6th, 2010

In this unusual case, three young children,ages 4–14 were discovered in an isolated basement cellar. From birth to the time of their discovery, they had never associated with other members of their speech community. The only adult they interacted with frequently was their young mother. What would be the effect that you think this situation might have had on their language development and why this effect would happen?

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6 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

There are a number of cases like this that I’ve heard about. Usually one kind person—maybe the scientist studying them—tries to teach them language and other habits of civilization. It doesn’t work. Apparently if the language centers of the brain aren’t used for language early in life, they quickly get taken over by other needs of the brain, and are no longer available. You have to learn language early on or you’re screwed.

In fact, it is also hard to teach them the skills needed to get along in society. They revert to whatever it was that helped them survive in the cellar. It’s really sad. It’s considered child abuse (and I agree with that). It’s unconscionable. But I suspect there are reasons why parents end up doing things like this.

If you need more information, google “the wild boy”

faye's avatar

Wouldn’t they speak however the mother did? Is this homework?

MissAnthrope's avatar

As @wundayatta said, there have been numerous cases of feral children being raised in almost entirely unstimulating environments, including those that never learned speech. This sounds like a homework question to me.

Why don’t you Google “feral children” and read up on the various case studies that exist? The answer shouldn’t take you very long to find.

JLeslie's avatar

I didn’t know that the speech center of the brain gets otherwise occupied and speech is almost impossible to learn later on.

But, I too would think that if the mother communicates with the children, they would have some speech capabilities, maybe a limited vocabulary, and possibly have made up words between each other. A language the children speak.

anartist's avatar

At the very least their language, not just vocabulary and grammar, but connotation of words and phrases would be limited to a subset of the young mother, the only speaker they had been exposed to. They might possibly develop new concepts and words themselves but, isolated in a basement, they would have very little to create words and concepts about. They might develop as many variations on dark as the Eskimo has of snow, but only if they realized elsewhere was lighter.

Why would a young mother do this?

LostInParadise's avatar

According to Steven Pinker’s The Langauge Instinct , we are born with language capacity. A single person living in isolation would not be likely to have a language, but I believe there are cases of small isolated groups who spontaneously developed their own language.

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