Article: “What Happens if a Child Is Never Exposed to Language?”

“Children learn the language(s) that they hear and see around them at a young age, but what happens if a child just never has any linguistic input, spoken or signed? Although a scientific study around this question would undoubtedly be fascinating, it would also be extremely unethical, so much so that the cultural historian Roger Shattuck has called it The Forbidden Experiment…”

“In Nicaragua in the 1980s, many such children were brought together in the country’s first school for the deaf, where especially the younger children took the various home signs of their classmates and stitched them together into a full-fledged sign language, as you can see in the video below: A clip from the PBS documentary Evolution: The Mind’s Big Bang. Nicaraguan Sign Language has been cited as evidence that although children require a certain amount of linguistic input at a young age in order to learn language, they’re capable of generalizing from incomplete information to something far richer and more complex—a testament to the magnificent potential of the human brain.”

This RLE has a number of links to both “change” and “progress.” First of all, the introduction of Nicaragua’s first school for the deaf was definitely a change. It could be viewed as progress since it provided specialized care for deaf students. However, others could look at and argue that the segregation of the deaf students was definitely not progress.

The students’ development of their own sign language is an additional change. On one hand, the fact that the students have their own unique sign language is progress. The opposite argument is that students’ long term needs might have been better off if they had been taught an already-existing sign language. That would have given them (and teachers and others) a head start and thus a new and unique sign language was not progress at all.