A Psycholinguistics Report on Genie
April 9, 2012
Discovered in November 1970, Genie is presumably the most thoroughly researched case history of a feral child. From ages 2 and a half to 13 and a half, Genie’s father isolated her to a room constrained in a homemade harness on a potty seat. On nights she wasn’t forgotten, Genie would be put into a sleeping bag fashioned into a sort of straitjacket, and laid into a crib covered with chicken wire. Genie’s father prohibited her brother and mother to speak to her, and would only bark and growl to reprimand her from defying him. Genie’s brother was put in charge of feeding her mostly milk and baby foods.
Maya Pine stated in her article “The Civilizing of Genie” that “The case came to light when Genie’s 50-year old mother ran away from her 70-year-old husband after a violent quarrel and took the child along.” On November 4, 1970, while her mother was looking for services for the blind, she inadvertently stumbled into a welfare office in Temple City, California. Upon noticing the young girl’s thin sickly condition, unnatural posture, and faltering gait, a social worker presumed Genie was six or seven years old and possibly autistic. Upon learning Genie was actually 13 years old, the social worker notified her supervisor, who called the police. Her parents were charged with child abuse, and Genie was taken to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Genie’s father conveniently shot himself on the day he was due to appear in court, leaving a letter that read, “The world will never understand.” In addition, the charges were dropped against Genie’s mother because she too had been suffering abuse from her psychotic controlling husband.
Upon arriving to the Psychiatry Division of Children’s Hospital, the doctors observed Genie displaying many crude and unusual behaviors. Genie displayed signs of distress in the most unconventional way, flailing her arms, scratching at her face, urinating, and blowing her nose violently into her clothes, all the while not uttering a sound. Genie would also nonchalantly masturbate often in front of anyone occasionally using a variety of objects. While the only documented productive vocabulary Genie uttered included stopit and nomore, some of the few words Genie could understand included “red,” “blue,” “green,” “brown,” “mother,” “walk,” “go,” “door,” “jewelry box,” and “bunny.” As Susan Curtiss stated in her book, Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study, “For [scientists], the primary question was what, if any, language abilities lay unrevealed in her eerie silence. Could she [eventually come to] understand language?”(10)
Once she was moved to the hospital Rehabilitation Center in December, which offered a wider variety of rehabilitation programs her social attitudes, physical condition, cognitive, and intellectual abilities began to steadily enhance and increase. She began to develop closer relationships with some of the adults in her life. Genie began to gain weight, grow taller, and show signs of breast development. Once Genie attained a more healthy weight, she began menstruating. Since Genie was no longer prepubescent, the scientific world could allegedly test the hypothesis of the ‘critical period’ that proposed her language acquisition would most likely be significantly impaired. Notable research states in Susan Curiss’s book, Genie: A Psycholinguistic Page 3
Study, records “In January, Genie received a score of 4 years, 9 months on the Leiter International Performance Scale, a nonverbal test of cognitive abilities.” (14) While, “[i]n April, when the Leiter was repeated, she passed all items through the 4-year level, half at the 5-year level and half at the 6-year level.” (Curtiss 14) She began to learn how to perform routine tasks, such as cleaning up, dressing, and bathing herself. After seven months of therapy, Genie could walk unsteadily, and was...
References: Curtiss, Susan. “Genie.” Exceptional Language and Linguistics. Ed. Loraine K. Obler and Lise Menn. New York, NY: Academic Press, Inc., (1982): 286-294. Print.
Curtiss, Susan. Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day “Wild Child,” 1977. Print
Fromkin, Victoria, et, al. “The Development of Language in Genie: A Case of Language Acquisition Beyond the “Critical Period”” 1972. Print.
Pines, Maya. “The Civilizing of Genie” Psychology Today. (September 1981): 28-34. Print.
Rymer, Russ. "Annals of Science: A Silent Childhood” The New Yorker. (April 13, 1992): 4-81. Print.
Rymer, Russ. “Annals of Science: A Silent Childhood II” The New Yorker. April 13, 1992. Print.
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