276the_case_of_genie09

276the_case_of_genie09 - The Case of Genie...

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The Case of Genie: Linguistic-theoretical and Ethical Reflections
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2 “The forbidden experiment”: Isolate an infant (somehow determined to be “normal”) and see if language develops in the absence of any input. Such an experiment would never be undertaken on purpose. However, cases like Genie’s provide “natural experiments”. It is clear from the film that the scientists who dealt with Genie saw her case as presenting them with this “natural experiment” opportunity to test the hypothesis of a “Critical Period” for language acquisition. “Natural experiments” are not designed like laboratory experiments, since it is impossible to eliminate the complicating variables. For instance, Genie was physically abused and denied interaction with other people. After years of this treatment, it was impossible to tell whether she had ever been “normal”.
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Review: The Critical Period for Language Acquisition Critical Period: “A maturational time period during which the crucial experience will have its peak effect on development or learning, resulting in normal behavior attuned to the particular environment. If the organism is not exposed to this experience until after this time period, the same experience will have only a reduced effect, or in extreme cases may have no effect at all.” (Newport, Elissa. 2002. Critical periods in language development. In L. Nadel (ed.) Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science.)
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Another “Natural Experiment” for the Critical Period A case like Genie’s is very rare. However, another “natural experiment” can be identified that yields fairly large populations of research subjects: the “oralist” movement in deaf education in North America, which dominated this field for many years. Children who are born deaf, but otherwise provided with normal interactional opportunities, will very early begin to use gestural signs. In communities where there are a number of deaf, “Home Sign” systems develop that are used both by the deaf and by their relatives and neighbors. These sometimes develop into full gestural languages, shared by many people. For an example, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Al-Sayyid_Bedouin_Sign_Language Under “oralism”, deaf children were not permitted to sign. Parents were encouraged to use quite stern discipline to discourage signing.
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