Normal speech development takes place in an environment rich in language. But what happens if the child grows up without that stimulation? Tragically, there have been a few cases of children that were raised in extreme social isolation that removed the child from this essential linguistic environment. One famous case is that of a child who is called Genie (Curtiss, 2014). She had grown up socially isolated and had minimal contact with her mother and none with her father or other family members. The degree and duration of isolation were extreme even relative to most other cases (Fromkin, Krashen, Curtiss, Rigler, & Rigler, 1974). She was removed to care when she was 13 years old. She was unable to speak. Her communications at first can be described as whispered grunts. Still over time, Genie has shown a remarkable ability to learn to speak and, particularly, to understand speech. She learned to understand the difference between singular and plural nouns, negatives, possessives, and a number of prepositions, particularly in regard to perception and comprehension (Fromkin et al., 1974). Although she never likely developed adult language, her development is remarkable, nonetheless (Curtiss, 2014). Early development is extremely important for language, but it appears that some speech learning abilities can persist into later life.
Go to the next tab to watch videos of Genie.
The first video covers more of the science while the second video is a more comprehensive documentary of the case.