“Learning Language in the Wild”: post-show discussion

Picture: left to right: Bambi Schieffelin, Kirmach Natani, Chris Mills

Our next FEED discussion drew us into the fascinating scientific world of feral children and how it relates to ORANGE, HAT & GRACE. The main issue up for discussion was the infamous 1970s case of Genie, a young girl who was found locked in a room in her house for over a decade.Our panelists were the noted linguistic anthropologist Bambi Schieffelin and the psychologist Kirmach Natani, a scientist who captured primary data from Genie during the original case. NYU Professor of Theater Chris Mills expertly navigated the scientific waters.



CHRISTINE MILLS (moderator) teaches at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Department of English, and is a dramaturg in New York City. A company member and resident dramaturg with Theater Mitu, she also works with 24seven Lab and Young Playwrights, Inc. She is an alumnus of the Whitney Independent Study Program and has taught at the Goat Island Performance School in Chicago. Her scholarly work is concerned with contemporary performance, feminist art making, the performance of photography and the ongoing influence of Earth Art. She has been published in Art Journal, Theater Journal, TDR, Frakcija, Journal of Architectural Education, The Village Voice and the anthology, [1968]: Moments of Culture in Context.

DR. KIRMACH NATANI began his professional career in the physics department at Berkeley where he worked as a technician in the Segre-Chamberlain Group that won the Nobel prize for discovering the antiproton. He then joined the Peace Corps and spent two years as a community developer in Thailand. In Thailand he made contacts that resulted in a research position at the South Pole, Antarctica collecting sleep data. He was a graduate student in biological psychology at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine when the feral child GENIE was discovered. The Antarctic sleep data indicated that GENIE’s sleep might have some similar features and he had the opportunity to perform a 5 year developmental study of her sleep. After postdoctoral training at the USAF School for Aerospace Medicine he joined McDonnell Douglas Aircraft as the Director of the Human Performance Laboratory in St. Louis. Early retirement was taken and he joined the practice of a child psychiatrist. After 14 years he established his own practice as a neuropsychological consultant and expert witness for disability cases.

PROF. BAMBI SCHIEFFELIN is a linguistic anthropologist who received an MA in Developmental Psychology and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University. A Collegiate Professor and Professor of Anthropology at New York University, her main research interests are language socialization, language ideologies and language change, literacy, translation and missionization. She is the author of several books and edited volumes, including The Give and Take of Everyday Life: Language Socialization of Kaluli Children (Cambridge University Press 1990), Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory (1998) and Consequences of Contact: Language Ideologies and Sociocultural Transformations (2007) (Oxford University Press), and the Handbook of Language Socialization (Wiley-Blackwell 2011). She has carried out fieldwork on language acquisition and socialization among Kaluli, Bosavi, Papua New Guinea, with Sino-Vietnamese families in West Philadelphia, with Haitians in Queens, NY, and on the language of disputes in lower Manhattan’s Small Claims Courts. The National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and Spencer Foundation have supported her research, and she has received Fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

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