Posted by: audioofamber | May 22, 2009

JEALOUS

I guess that whole ‘what, were you raised by wolves?’ thing had to come from somewhere….

A fascinating example of how children simply absorb the language or languagelike behaviors in their environment comes from an event which began in October 1920, when a Christian missionary, Reverend J.A.L. Singh, was out on one of his usual soul-saving expeditions in the Bengali region of India. He would gather pagan volunteers from nearby villages, who were usually willing to listen to him preach as long as they were permitted to hunt between sermons. At the village of Godamuri, he was told a strange story about a manushbhaga, or man-ghost, that had been seen several times over the previous few years. It was usually seen in the presence of wolves, who were going in and out of a giant, dead termite mound they seemed to be using as a den. Reverend Singh had a hunter’s blind constructed near the anthill, and shortly after dark he observed a wolf coming out of the mound. Singh calls it a wold, but in his diary he notes that it was probably a type of jackal, which is common to that region, rather than a true wolf. In any event, the “wolf” was followed by some others, and then came a grotesque-looking animal. It had the body of a human but waljked on all fours, with the palms of the hands flat on the ground. The head seemed to be “a big ball of something covering the shoulders and upper portion of the bust.” There was obviously a humanlike face visible under this ball. (The ball later turned out to be an accumulation of matted hair.) Following this animal came another one, just like it, only smaller in size. When Singh proposed to dig up the mound, the local villagers refused. They were afraid that disturbing the “ghosts” might bring some sort of retribution of curse down on them and their village. In the end, the Reverend went to another village, which did not know of the story, and found some more willing workers.

On the morning of October 17, the mound was dug up. As soon as the digging began, two wolves ran out and escaped into the jungle. A third chose to defend the den. Reverend Singh later said that it saddened him to have to kill her, since it appeared to be a divine act that she had chosen to keep these two strange creatures alive (although it did seem likely that she had originally brought them to the den to serve as food for her cubs.) Inside the den they found two wolf cubs, and huddled next to them the two strange creatures, which turned out to be human children. The older girl was about eight years old, and they named her Kamala, while the younger was about two, and they named her Amala. Amala would due within the year; Kamala would survive until she was about eighteen.

For our purposes, the most interesting aspects of this case have to do with the behavior of the children. In addition to walking on all fours, they had other wolfish behaviors. They sniffed everything that they were given, and ate and drank, like dogs, from a plate on the floor. They preferred raw meat, and would growl, snarl, or snap at anyone who came close while they were eating. If they were frightened, they would back away, snarling and showing their teeth. Once Kamala became comfortable with her surroundings, she would sometimes pick up a toy in her mouth and run away with it, much like dogs do when they are playing with each other. She seemed to be trying to induce a canine-style chasing game.

Reverend Singh initially reported that the girls were mute, but by this he meant they spoke no human language. They did make sounds, such as the sort of growling we’ve already noted. They also had a high-pitched whimpering sound, much like that of frightened or lonely puppies. They would occasionally make yipping sounds when they were excited, again like a playful puppy. But perhaps the most striking sound they made was howling. It started with a hoarse low voice, which gradually changed to a long loud wailing that had many similarities to the nighttime howls of wolves, jackals, and dogs. In the early days after their rescue, the girls would prowl around at night. During their prowling, they would stop to howl at regular times, usually around 10:00 pm, 1:00 am, and again at 3:00 am. Their vocal behaviors were exactly what we would expect if children had been exposed only to the vocal sounds of wolves. It appears that in the same way that normally reared children imitate the sounds of the language spoken in their household, Kamala and Amala had learned to reproduce the sounds “spoken” in their canine household.

(Excerpt from ‘How to Speak Dog’ by Stanley Coren.)

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I want to be a wolf girl!

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Responses

  1. there was a show on CBC a while back on feral children. really interesting stuff, to be human, but raised without imposed morals/beliefs/language. a fascinating exploration into nature vs. nurture and socializing.

  2. Do you remember the name? I would like to see that.

  3. hrm, i can’t remember. it was on the passionate eye series or the lens i think. curse my shitty memory! those are the two shows that make me miss having a TV.

  4. Check out this website: http://www.feralchildren.com/en/index.php

  5. What an odd website! Thanks.


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