I chose to read about Genie, the ‘wild child’, because I had previously seen the film ‘Mockingbird Don’t Sing’, which was based on her life and case history, from the point of view of her predominant worker, Dr. Susan Curtiss, a trained linguist. As I followed links around the Internet, going everywhere from linguistic case studies to film reviews; I began to wonder how environment affects language acquisition. Everything I read focused on the negative impact of a linguistically lacking environment, but I did not see anything that considered the theoretical positive effects of a linguistically rich environment.
I had previously read Piaget’s theories on language development when my oldest son was two years old, and rarely spoke. Piaget posited that children develop language as they develop within their own environment, which is backed by studies regarding language acquisition vis-à-vis birth order. In these studies, first-born children do tend acquire speech at an earlier age than later-born children, but later-born children do ‘catch up’, culminating in no difference in skill over time. In our case, my son began spontaneously speaking in complete sentences at age three.
Despite my initial worries, my children all have wonderful vocabularies. Even my oldest son, who now struggles with a speech impediment, has always had unusually high scores in regards to his vocabulary. I have a fairly good vocabulary, and was able to personally care for my children when they were within that ‘critical period’. I was also reluctant to use telegraphic speech with them, and I wonder if these factors positively affected their linguistic development.