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Volume Eight: Issue Three

Spring 2008

ARTICLES
Dumb O Jemmy and Others: Deaf people, Interpreters and the London Courts in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Christopher Stone and Bencie Woll

Abstract

The Poetry of a Minority Community: The Deaf Poet Pierre Pélissier and the Formation of a Deaf Identity in the 1850s

Anne T. Quartararo

Abstract

Five Nonmanual Modifiers That Mitigate Requests and Rejections in American Sign Language

Jack Hoza

Abstract

The Gestural Theory of Language Origins

David F. Armstrong

Abstract

me . . . me . . . washoe: An Appreciation

Barbara J. King

Abstract

ABSTRACTS
Dumb O Jemmy and Others: Deaf people, Interpreters and the London Courts in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

This article reviews eighteenth- and nineteenth-century proceedings of the London Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) that involved deaf people. The use, role, and status of sign language and interpreters in these settings are described. These proceedings provide important information about deaf people’s experiences within the court system of the time and insight into their communication during this era. Moreover, they illuminate attitudes toward deaf people in the period immediately before and after the creation of schools for deaf children in Britain.

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The Poetry of a Minority Community: The Deaf Poet Pierre Pélissier and the Formation of a Deaf Identity in the 1850s

This study investigates the cultural and educational ideas of the French deaf poet-teacher Pierre Pélissier (1814-1863) who was an instructor at the Paris Deaf Institute from the early 1840s until his death in 1863. As a young man, Pélissier became interested in composing poetry and through his verse, captured many of the social frustrations facing deaf people who had to manage in a hearing world. Once he became a teacher, Pélissier devoted his energies to developing the best methods to educate deaf youth. In the mid-nineteenth-century, he found himself defending natural sign language against proponents of spoken language. Pélissier responded with a his own book (published in 1856) on how sign language could be used in the French primary schools to educate deaf children. He advocated a type of bilingual educational environment for primary schools that relied on hearing and deaf students using the manual alphabet and sign language in a shared classroom setting. Pélissier’s analysis of sign language as a pedagogical method clearly challenged the prevailing social view that deaf teachers were somehow less capable educators of deaf children than those who were hearing.

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Five Nonmanual Modifiers That Mitigate Requests and Rejections in American Sign Language

A notable difference between signed and spoken languages is the use of nonmanual linguistic signals that co-occur with the production of signs. These nonmanual signals involve primarily the face and upper torso and are an important feature of American Sign Language (ASL). They include grammatical markers that indicate syntactic categories such as yes-no/questions and wh-word questions, as well as nonmanual markers (NMMs) that function as adverbs and adjectives. The article describes the ways in which native ASL signers use five nonmanual markers to alter requests and rejections in different discourse contexts. It also argues for a linear ordering of these NMMs based on the degree to which each mitigates requests and rejections and concludes with a discussion of implications for linguistic studies, ASL instruction, and ASL/English interpretation.

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The Gestural Theory of Language Origins

The idea that iconic visible gesture had something to do with the origin of language, particularly speech, is a frequent element in speculation about this phenomenon and appears early in its history. Socrates hypothesizes about the origins of Greek words in Plato’s satirical dialogue, Cratylus, and his speculation includes a possible role for sound based iconicity as well as for the visual gestures employed by the deaf. Plato’s use of satire to broach this topic also points to the fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous that has continued to be a hallmark of this sort of speculation. This paper will present recent evidence supporting the idea that language first arose as visible gesture. This evidence is culled from several lines of research, including research on the neurological underpinnings of gesture, i.e., research on mirror neurons; new research on the gestural communication of African apes; research on the cognitive basis of the signed languages of the deaf; and research on the emergence of new signed languages.

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me . . . me . . . washoe: An Appreciation

Washoe, the chimpanzee pioneer who learned aspects of American Sign Language, died in October 2007. In reviewing her life and accomplishments, this article focuses on Washoe’s status as an ape and a person, and on the role of emotion in language learning and language use. It argues that Washoe’s legacy stems not from the number of ASL signs she could be said to have acquired or how many word combinations she created. Rather, it stems from Washoe’s ability to cause humans to think and feel about apes who think and feel, and to reflect upon the continuity among animal communication, ape symboling, and human language.

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