Genie, the Feral Child: What can her Story Tell us about Human Language and the Brain and Second Language Acquisition?

Figure 1. Feral Children: The Story of Genie, a Child Kept in Extreme Isolation

       I was first introduced to Genie’s language development case many years ago in one of my favorite Ph.D. courses, Psycholinguistics, at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), where our discussion was evolving around the topic of “nature versus nurture.”  More specifically, the heated debate focused mainly on whether genetics or environment would play a more crucial role in developing language.  It was also around that time when Genie’s story came to light again on TLC, an American pay TV channel, which captured my attention.  Her case was so touching that it kept encouraging me to find out more about lifelong child abuse and other feral children from around the world, whose stories could be linked, one way or another, to human language development.  On the list of these cases come, for example, Genie Wiley from USA, Oxana Malaya from Ukraine, and Vanya Yudin from Russia.