The consensus belief is that the capacity for language is innate, while others believe its environmental variables play a deciding role. In the end, it boils down to the nature versus nurture debate. Does the environment we are exposed to or our genetics’ play a larger role?
Savage Girls and Wild Boys by Michael Newton studies children that grew up in the wilderness with animals or who were cut-off from the civilized world as we know it. Multiple ‘wild child’s’ were examined from the early 1700’s to the late 1900’s (Ivan Mishukov). The children Newton went into depth with were Peter the Wild Boy (1725), Memmie Le Blanc (1731), Victor of Aveyron (1797), Kaspar Hauser (early 1800s), and Genie (1970).
Newton engulfs the reader into the psychological aspect between humans, animals and how they were perceived in the era the child lived in. He looks at whether they had souls, whether they were considered ‘human’ and whether they could become ‘human’ after being so far removed from civilization.
In each case, it was a massive struggle to civilize the children. Although some successes were made, there was no complete turnaround. The only children who were able to learn and change were those that spent time in society before living in the wild such as Mishukov (2 years in the wild from ages 4-6) and Memmie (10 years in the wild from ages 9-19). In altering themselves to learn language and fit into society the children lost their ‘hyper acute senses’ that were developed from living in the wild. Alternatively, Victor spent his entire life exposed to the elements had a tough time being able to connect a word to the physical object. His teacher, Itard, spent years working with Victor before he could spell and identify simple items like ‘milk...
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... ability to learn grammar is what separates humans from animals in their means of communication.
Newton insinuates there is no major difference between the children held in captivity and those exposed to the wild. I would sharply disagree; these are vastly different living experiences and deserve to be studied individually both psychologically and socially. Children who escape society and manage to survive outdoors often learn from animals in environments rich in both sensory information and danger. These children develop differently than those isolated in captivity. The children held in captivity face physical and mental development issues, while the truly "wild children" attain hyper-acute senses that help them survive.
In conclusion, by examining the stories of the feral children it can be determined that Lenneberg’s theory is more accurate than that of Chomsky.