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When A Child Goes Wild
January 20, 2003 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Feral children have fascinated linguists, psychologists, anthropologists, and filmmakers for over a century. Read about the Wild Boy of Aveyron, Kamala and Amala (raised by wolves), and Genie (chained and locked in a closet until she was 13) and you'll discover how fragile humanity can be when "nature" overruns "nurture."
posted by jonp72 (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmmm, interesting links, thanks. OT I always loved that one of the junkies in the book Infinite Jest was named Emil Minty. Emil Minty was the actor who played the feral child in Road Warrior. /OT
posted by elwoodwiles at 4:00 PM on January 20, 2003


Herodotus begins Book 2 of his History with a story that such "feral" (or at least languageless) children spontaneously produced the Phrygian word for bread, thus proving that the Phrygians were even older than the Egyptians (since the "original" language would allegedly be "natural" in some sense).

Also, here's a relevant excerpt from the Cambridge Encycl. of Language.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:08 PM on January 20, 2003


There was an interesting movie, named Nell about this subject, wherein Jodie Foster plays a "feral child". The story of Genie, above, reminded me of it. Interesting topic.
posted by maniactown at 4:09 PM on January 20, 2003


way before the Jodie Foster movie, François Truffaut gave us the definitive "enfant sauvage" film. From a true story
posted by matteo at 4:20 PM on January 20, 2003


Lest we forget.

This is a good account of the Wild Boy of Aveyron, the basis for Truffaut's film - fascinating read.
posted by gottabefunky at 4:34 PM on January 20, 2003


jonp72: The links for Wild Boy of Aveyron and Kamala and Amala are identical.
posted by LinusMines at 4:40 PM on January 20, 2003


jonp72: The links for Wild Boy of Aveyron and Kamala and Amala are identical.

Doh! Here's the corrected link for Kamala and Amala. I can dig up some more links on that case if there is any more interest.
posted by jonp72 at 4:49 PM on January 20, 2003


Let's not forget the Nigerian boy raised by chimps.
posted by waldo at 4:50 PM on January 20, 2003


Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is also fascinating, and based on a supposedly true story.
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:51 PM on January 20, 2003


"After her discovery psychologists and linguists attempted to teach Genie language. Although she learnt to use many words and combined them into simple phrases, she never became proficient at syntax."

When reading this I wonder what life would be like without the faculty of language. How could one make sense of the world or represent the content of their thoughts without the ability to use language to support one's own inner monologue?
posted by Gif at 5:26 PM on January 20, 2003


How could one make sense of the world or represent the content of their thoughts without the ability to use language to support one's own inner monologue?

And what IS her inner monologue? Feelings? Impulses? Imagery? How do dolphins do it? Or chimps or dogs? Or 'normal' human babies? My grandfather suffered a stroke a few years before his death and while his cognitive mind was not affected, his ability to communicate with others was completely eliminated. He wasn't even able to point at a picture which represented what he desired because somehow that mechanism had been destroyed.

My apologies if I'm rambling a bit but I find these questions fascinating. Very "what is it to be human?" type-of-stuff here. I personally don't find this "what is it to be human" line to be sharply defined...if there is a line at all.
posted by mathis23 at 5:50 PM on January 20, 2003


All this conjecture points me to the notion that humans are one hell of a complex bio-chemical-electro-mechanical system with tons of moving parts, complex reactions, plumbing, and circuitry which does a bang-up job of simulating individuality.

Makes me feel that 'spirit' is just the emergent properties of the complexity of the being, not some invisible floating spectre.
posted by askheaves at 6:00 PM on January 20, 2003


Another website for those interested.
posted by Nauip at 6:29 PM on January 20, 2003


A few years ago I took a linguistics course and we learned about Genie and what happened after she became famous. Her story is one of the saddest I've ever read about, truly.
posted by ifjuly at 7:28 PM on January 20, 2003


Does anyone remember a TV series called [or about] Lucan, back in the early seventies about a feral boy they found in the woods somewhere, and tried to socialize? I remember it being on around the same time as Project Blue Book.
posted by jessamyn at 10:56 PM on January 20, 2003


Does anyone remember a TV series called [or about] Lucan, back in the early seventies about a feral boy they found in the woods somewhere, and tried to socialize?

I don't remember the show, but according to IMDB the show was indeed called Lucan. You can find folks reminiscing about the show here.
posted by jonp72 at 11:45 PM on January 20, 2003


I can't believe no one's mentioned the most famous feral child of all.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:15 AM on January 21, 2003


That's not the most famous feral child of all, this is the most famous feral child of all. Tarzan
posted by Bonzai at 11:44 AM on January 21, 2003


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