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6 - Biding time: further consideration of age and acquisition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

Julia Herschensohn
Affiliation:
University of Washington
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Summary

Introduction

In Mary Shelley's eponymous novel, Victor Frankenstein, the young scientist who creates a “miserable monster,” is frightened in the fourth chapter by the latter's nocturnal visit and his muttered “inarticulate sounds.” The reader is led to believe that the monster is unable to speak, an adult faced with the task of first language learning. Evidence from adult learners of L1 such as Chelsea assure us that gaining fluency in a first language is not guaranteed in adulthood. Yet three chapters and just a few months later, the “wretch” is quite fluent in articulating his ideas: “All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou are bound by ties only indissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life?” (Shelley 1989 [1818], 58). The monster's prose is quite remarkable for its sophistication – embedded clauses, conditional sentences, careful pronominal agreement, and subtle vocabulary – not to speak of its reasoning. Since late L1A results in defective grammar, the wretch's fluency is implausible unless his mentor merely reanimated the original brain with its language intact. It is impossible that he picked up these sophisticated language skills after reanimation with an infant-like brain, for neurolinguistic studies reveal that the complexity of language knowledge can only develop over several years, mainly during childhood (Kuhl 2004).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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