Feral children : human children who, from a very young age, have lived in isolation from human contact and have remained unaware of human social behavior and unexposed to human language ( www.feralchildren.com )
Homo ferus : - Latin: “wild man“ -> feral man - Linnaeus (Carl von Linné, 1707-1778): listed “homo ferus“ as a subdivision of the genus “homo sapiens“ - defining characteristics: tetrapus -> crawling on all fours mutus -> mute hursutus -> hairy
The Critical Period Hypothesis (Lenneberg, 1967)
Before age 2, language acquisition is not possible because the brain is not sufficiently mature
After puberty, natural language acquisition is not obtainable because the brain is physiologically mature, but the lateralization of all higher mental functions is complete and cerebral plasticity is lost
In order to acquire language, there are two necessary requirements: 1. a human brain 2. sufficient exposure to language during this critical period between the age of 2 years and puberty
Some Cases of Feral Children
Feral children can be subdivided into 3 classes:
Children raised by animals
Nature vs. Nurture in IQ
Are differences between people due to environmental or genetic differences?
Misunderstanding the question
“ Is a person’s intelligence due more to genes or to environment?”
no genes = no intelligence
both genes & intelligence crucial for any trait
Heritability & Environmentality
degree to which variation in trait stems from genetic, rather than environmental, differences among individuals
degree to which variation is due to environmental rather than genetic differences
We are Uniquely Language-Users
Other Animals Communicate
Cats arch their back to scare the neighbor cat
Bees tell each other when they have found food
Chimpanzees can be taught to use primitive sign language to communicate desires.
Enter Rules But what are rules, and how are they represented in the brain? Double Meanings? Is American a Language?
Questions About Rules
How do we come to have such knowledge?
In what form is such knowledge represented in the mind?
How can children learn grammar?
Focused on the vast and unconscious set of hypothesized rules that must exist in the minds of speakers and hearers in order for them to produce and understand their native language.
He a bandons the idea that children produce languages only by imitation (abandon behaviorism)
He rejects the idea that direct teaching and correcting of grammar could account for children’s utterances because the rules children were unconsciously acquiring are buried in the unconscious of the adults.
He claims that there are generative rules (e xplicit algorithms that characterize the structures of a particular language).
Hypothesis – The inborn linguistic capacity of humans is sensitive to just those rules that occur in human languages. Language development occurs if the environment provides exposure to language. Similar to the capacity to walk.
Universal Grammar - Despite superficial differences all human languages share a fundamental structure. This structure is a universal grammar. We have an innate ability to apply this universal grammar to whatever language we are faced with at birth.
We are Uniquely Language-Users
We Use Language
We can separate our vocalization from a given situation (cats only arch their back in the appropriate situation).
We can lie (animals only report)
We can speculate (animals are bad at counterfactuals)
Normal language development L2 is increasingly difficult 15y + foreign accent in L2 11-14y grammatical refinement & expansion of vocabulary of L1/L2 3-10y acquisition of structure of L1/L2 21-36m from babbling to words in L1/L2 4-20m cooing 0-3m Language milestone Age
How do we know that one sentence is grammatical and the other is not?
Amy likes Stan
Think likes I Stan that Amy
Cannot be that we have learned each instance individually. Sentences are infinite; brain is not.
The origin of language
Language is an adaptation
Modularity: language is a mechanism specifically adapted for communication, i.e. a cognitive module [and a kind of mutation]
Non-modularity: language evolved gradually by adding new communicative functions to existing neural hardware; there is no neural mechanism dedicated exclusively to language
What is a Language?
Language = def. A system that uses some physical sign (sound, gesture, mark) to express meaning.
What do you believe?
There’s still something about Human Language
All humans seem to acquire language following the roughly the same developmental path .
At birth, infants seem to have an infinite capacity to learn any language .
Humans can create new languages to communicate with other humans.
Language learning seems to be subject to specific critical period effects .
How does this happen? (Two familiar views, no?)
All humans have an innate “linguistic bioprogram” or a “core grammar” which allows them to learn or (in some cases) create languages based on the input they receive.
Creoles get to be more complex grammatically because they are used in a wider variety of communicative situations – these new uses require the language to encode more differences.
Critical Period Effects
Critical Period: the biologically-determined period in which acquisition of a behavior or property must occur to be successful.
Some environmental input is necessary for development to occur “normally”:
Imprinting in ducks, geese
Photoreceptors in humans
Kids gone WILD! (The cases of feral children…)
Limited number of children have been found who have developed without exposure to language .
Victor of Aveyron (19 th century France, ???)
Isabelle (1930’s France, 6 years old)
Normal (?) use of language as an adult
Genie (1970’s California, 13 years old)
Abusive situation, likely brain damage
Learned vocabulary, limited (if any) syntax.
Language processed on the right hemisphere , not the left.
The tough questions… (Reprised from before…)
Why does language acquisition always follow the same developmental path ?
How can infants learn any natural language ?
How do humans create new languages in order to communicate?
Why should language learning be subject to specific critical period effects ?
Why can’t it be both ?
Short answer : It probably is.
Longer answer :
The development of language isn’t directly observable – so we can’t reliably determine what is innate and what is ultimately learned.
Approaches like Nature and Nurture give us logical extremes
A definite combination of both
Consider this… (New insights that might prove useful…)
Human infants pay attention to faces and people who are talking.
Human infants like listening to human speech – and especially speech from their own language.
Human infants constantly seek new sources of stimulation.
Human infants attach to nurturing figures and environments.
Human infants babble long before they are able to produce words.
What’s my motivation?
Any time we ask why a behavior evolved in the way that it did, we have to consider 4 different factors:
How did the behavior develop?
How does the behavior develop in infants?
How does the body perform such a behavior?
Why does the individual engage in the behavior?
The Teleological Trap (For catching Teleogies, right?)
Insects developed wings in order to fly.
Birds fly south in winter because it’s too cold for them in the north.
Kids babble at 9 months because they’re getting ready to start speaking.
The notion that a process (like development) proceeds to achieve a single logical goal.
A Teleonomic Explanation Behavior Kid learns mother’s voice. Kid recognizes mother. Kid figures mother is a good person to attach to. Kid is taken care of by mother. KID LIVES! Kid isn’t so scared of the world. Kid is comfortable in a nurturing environment Kid undergoes fruitful social-cognitive development. Kid exposed to plenty of language stimuli from mother. KID ACQUIRES LANGUAGE!
We can build similar chains of events for most behaviors…
The flip side: Missing Links
Conversely, the hypothesis that animals lack certain cognitive aspects needed to process language forces us into an opposite position:
Human language may not be fundamentally different than the forms of communication employed by animals .
Feral Child – a child who has lived in
isolation starting at a very
young age and thereby has
remained unaware of human
behavior and language
Romulus & Remus
Mowgli & Tarzan
Two Classes of Feral Children
The children who wander off and live in the wild on their own
The children who are nurtured by animals in the wild, abandoned by parents
Victor – (early 1800s) The wild boy of Aveyron. Found in the woods at about 11 or 12. He was probably partially mentally retarded. He never learned to use language.
Genie – (1970) 13 year old girl had lived whole life in total isolation in her home. She may or may not have been of normal intelligence but never able to acquire language.
Isabell – Found at 6 (1947). In two months she was combining words. Within a year she had similar language to other 7 year olds.
It is very possible to rescue a child from a wolf den…it is impossible for anyone to be an eyewitness of day-by-day associations between a child and a wolf pack.
Scientists, Doctors, and Psychologists have focused a great deal of time and energy on studying the cases of extreme isolation which are modeled in the 1 st class of feral children.
Was exposed to the wild by his father and his stepmother
Found 1724 , at the age of 13, in Hameln, Germany, as a naked, brownish and black-haired creature
He became the “possession“ of George I. of England
Was given to Princess Caroline of Wales, and investigated by Dr. Arbuthnot
Did not know how to answer questions
Was never able to speak properly, learned only a few words: “Peter“, “wild man“, “bow-wow“ (dog), “ki scho“ (King George), “qui ca“ (Queen Caroline)
Peter died in England in 1785
Viktor of Aveyron
Found 1799 , was captured as a naked 11-year-old boy in the Caune Woods, France
Fell under the care of Dr. Itard in Paris; the French Physician suspected an abnormality of the larynx
Was able to comprehend language, but was practically unable to produce it
the only 2 pronounced words: “lait“ (milk), “oh dieu“ (my god)
The majority of his communication consisted of grunts and howls
Died in Paris in 1828
Had spent his childhood in a darkened cell
Found 1828 , at the age of 17, as a young man in peasant dress in Nuremberg, Germany;
Capable of speech, but limited spoken vocabulary: “Ae sechtene mocht ich waehn, wie mei Votta waehn is“ (I want to be a horseman like my father is“, “bua“ (people), “ross“ (horse) [at the age of 17]
Linguistic abilities: - no use of conjunctions, participles, adverbs - deficient in respect to his syntax - use of names instead of pronouns - over-generalization
Examples: “Kaspar very well“ [17 y.] “Kaspar shall Julius tell“ “I all men love“ “The man with the mountain“ (a fat man)
1829: considerable progress in reading and writing -> decided to write his memoirs
1833: was assassinated by a stranger
The illegitimate child had been kept in isolation by her grandfather and was fed by her deaf-mute mother (and communicated with her through gestures)
Found 1938 at the age of six in Ohio
Astonishing progress : Day O -> first vocalization after 2 mths. -> putting sentences together 11 mths. -> able to identify written words, to add to ten and to retell a story 18 mths. -> able to ask complicated questions; vocabulary of about 1,500 – 2,000 words
Reached a normal mentality by the age of eight and a half years
Covered in 2 years the usual stages of learning characteristics that ordinarily require six!
From the age of 20 months, she lived in nearly total isolation and was attached to a potty by a special harness for most of the day
Her father did not speak to her but communicated through barking
Found in November 1970 , at the age of 13, in California, she could not stand erect and was unable to speak except 2 words: “Stopit“, “Nomore“
1970: one-word utterances, e.g. “No.No.Cat.“ [13 y.]
1971: her language resembled that of a normal 18-20 months old child (one year after her discovery) distinction between plural and singular nouns two-word utterances, e.g. “Want milk.“, “Big teeth.“ [14y.]
But : NO vocabulary explosion after 18-20 months
Incapable to produce questions, e.g. “Where is may I have a penny?“ [17;2] “I where is graham cracker on the top shelf?“
Present condition: speech development is not perfect, but she can utter the most things she wants to; lives in an adult foster home in California
Genie (18;1): Genie have yellow material at school.
Marilyn (adult): What are you using it for?
G: Paint. Paint picture. Take home. Ask teacher yellow material. Blue paint. Yellow green paint. I want use material at school.
M: You wanta paint it, or are you trying to tell me you did paint it?
G: Did paint.
Kamala and Amala
The “wolf children“ Kamala (8y.) and Amala (2y.) had been living with a family of wolves in a cave in a jungle in India
In 1920 , they were discovered in Midnapore, by Reverend Singh who took charge of them
Preferred to sit in the darkest corner of their room
Fingers and toes were deformed, they were not able to stand upright
snarled at other kids and cried like wolves
Amala died in September 1921
Within 5 years of orphanage, Kamala acquired a Bengali - vocabulary of more than 40 words: “ha“ (yes), “hoo“ (cold); she was also able to name objects
1929: Kamala died
Children raised by animals
At the age of 3, her alcoholic parents left her neglected daughter outside one night and she crawled into a hovel where the family kept dogs
Between the ages of 3 and 8, she lived with the dogs in a kennel of the back garden of her family home
In 1991 , the “dog child“ was found in Ukraine, barking and crawling on all fours
At an orphanage school, she was taught to walk upright, to eat with her hands and to acquire language;
2006: at the age of 23, she is able to speak, but there is no cadence or rhythm or inflection to her speech; she can count but not add up
Today, she works as a cowgirl
Children raised by animals
Timetable of cases dog child 8 1991 Novaya Blagoveshchenka, Ukraine female Oxana Malaya confined child 13 1970 California, USA female Genie confined child 6 1938 Ohio, USA female Isabelle wolf children 8 and 2 1920 Midnapore, India female Kamala & Amala confined child 17 1828 Nuremberg, Germany male Kaspar Hauser isolated child 11 1799 Aveyron, France male Viktor isolated child 13 1724 Hameln, Germany male Wild Peter Classification Age Date Location Sex Name
There aren´t many linguistic records of the most cases (exception: Genie)
After their return to civilization, the experiences of feral children in acquiring language are totally different (different social background, different periods of isolation)
Some feral children acquire normal language ability, but only if found before the onset of puberty (e.g. Isabelle)
Other feral children never master the rules of grammar and syntax
Unless children are exposed to language in the critical period, they lose much of their innate ability to learn a language and especially its grammatical principles
The Critical Period Hypothesis is not proven, but it is strongly supported!
Victor – The Wild Boy of Aveyron
Captured in January 1800
Estimated to be about 10 years old
His desires did not go beyond his physical needs
He could not speak or understand human language
He preferred raw food and ripped of any clothes that were put on him
Victor - The Wild Boy of Aveyron
Diagnosed as an “incurable idiot”
Put through numerous tests (psychological and physiological)
Made small progress in social behavior
Never learned to speak or understand human language
Oxana Malaya – The Ukrainian Dog Girl
Found in 1991; Age 8
Found in dog kennels outside her home
Abandoned by her mother
Sounded and had dog-like mannerisms
To what extent was the child with normal mind before his isolation?
Nature vs Nurture
Idiocy Before Isolation (Nature)
Insensitivity to temperature
Un-attachment to other humans
Inability to walk upright
More apt to be abandoned
Seems improbable that chance would lead to so many cases
Children who are mentally challenged would have a very difficult time surviving in the woods
“ Functional [nurture] damage can be partially repaired, that what one environment has brought about , a new environment can change. How far the boy could change back from animal to human provides part of the evidence of his original condition.”
Shattuck 1980, pp40
Significance of Feral Children
Development of Behaviorism and Behavior Modification
Conclusions about sensitive periods
Provide for an experiment that can never be ethically planned or conducted by scientists
IQ Differences among Racial/Cultural Groups
Find differences among racial & cultural groups on IQ
American Blacks score about 15 points lower than Whites
Witty & Jenkins (1935)
No support for genetic differences
Why differences between Blacks & Whites?
Social designation influences
deliberately separate themselves
came to country to better lives
see selves as better than those left behind
did not choose minority status
routinely judged as inferior by dominant majority
cross-cultural findings on IQ scores
Brown, Roger. 1959. Words and things . Glencoe: The Free Press.
Candland, Douglas. 1993. Feral children and clever animals . Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Curtiss, Susan. 1977. Genie – A psycholinguistic study of a modern-day „wild child“ . New York: Academic Press.
Davis, Kingsley. 1966. Human society . New York: Macmillan.