How does the study of language development in exceptional circumstances provide insight into ‘normal’ language development?
“Ever since attempts have been made to describe and explain normal language development, references to exceptional circumstances have been made.” (Bishop & Mogford, 1988: v)
Language development in exceptional circumstances refers to cases of child language acquisition which are considered as departing from the norm. In the following, five types of exceptional circumstances will be taken into account; that is: the case of neglected children, the case of hearing children brought-up by deaf parents, the case of bilingual children, the case of twins, and the case of children affected by Williams syndrome. This is by no means a full consideration of all existing exceptional circumstances for language development; rather it is a selection of the cases which I find most revealing to gain insight into normal language development. Indeed, in the light of the aforementioned exceptional circumstances, we will be able to draw understandings about language development in its unexceptional nature, such as its relationship to environmental factors (I) and to other cognitive devices (II).
First of all, exceptional circumstances can provide important evidence relevant to the role played by the verbal environment in child language acquisition. Neglected children, hearing children brought-up by deaf parents, bilingual children, and twins, are all faced to a certain form of restricted verbal stimulation. For instance, Marie Mason (1942) reported a case that concerned a neglected child, Isabelle, who had been kept in seclusion with her deaf and mute mother because she was illegitimate. They spent their time in a dark room shut away from the family who had rejected them, and Isabelle was completely deprived of language until she gained her freedom at the age of 6. Children of deaf parents are also limited in their exposure to spoken language,...
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