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Are there any documented cases of anyone being unable to learn their native language?
Disregarding physical disabilities, or a very low IQ, which could prevent them from doing so.

Some people can't master reading and writing, some are hopeless at maths; has anyone ever not been able to understand the idea of language, or is this something so basic in humans that it wouldn't be possible not to, at some level.
asked in Communication, language, learning

rasputin1309 answers:

About a 1/3rd of Britain 's population at a rough guess based on the grunting communication you often hear out and about amongst the general public.

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seacommander answers:

I have researched your question for quite a while and only come up with this one reference which suggests that learning a language is an innate ability gained primarily between the age of 2-6 and that deprivation to hearing language during this age can result in an inability to understand language let alone speak it. I would suggest that whether or not this is the same as failing to understand the concept of langauge is open to debate.

'The first bit of evidence comes from the so-called Wild Boy of Aveyron, Victor. Victor is the name given to a boy found roaming the woods of Averyon in southern France toward the end of September 1799. He behaved like a wild animal and gave all indications that he had been raised by wild animals, eating off the floor, making canine noises, disliking baths and clothes. He also could not speak. He was taken in by Doctor Jean Marc Itard who had developed a reputation for teaching the deaf to speak. However, after years of work, Itard failed to teach Victor to more than a few lexemes.

A similar event unfolded in Los Angeles in November 1970 when a 13-year-old girl was discovered who had been isolated in a baby crib most of her life and never spoken to. She was physically immature, had difficulty walking and could not speak. Psychologists at UCLA spent years trying to teach "Genie", as they called her to protect her identity, to speak. While Genie did get to the point she could communicate, her speech never advanced beyond the kind of constructions we saw in the first set of examples above, the point where the language explosion in normal children begins. In other words, she could use words to the same extent as chimpanzees but could not manipulate grammar, as indicated in the prefixes, suffixes and 'function' words missing in the first set of examples above. At middle age she stopped talking altogether and was soon committed to a mental institution.

The evidence is not conclusive but all of it suggests that language is an innate capacity of human beings which is acquired during a critical period between 2-6. After that period, it becomes increasingly more difficult for humans to learn languages, which explains why learning a second language is more difficult than learning a first one (or two or even three).'


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