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Volume Nine: Issue Three

Spring 2009

COMMENTARY
The Real “Toll” of A.G. Bell: Lessons about Eugenics

Brian H. Greenwald

Abstract

ARTICLES
Are You Getting the Message?: The Effects of SimCom on the Message Received by Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Hearing Students

Stephanie Tevenal and Miako Villanueva

Abstract

“A Grave and Gracious Woman”: Deaf People and Signed Languages in Colonial New England

Breda Carty, Susannah Macready, and Edna Edith Sayers

Abstract

Meemul Tziij: An Indigenous Sign Language Complex of Mesoamerica

Erich Fox Tree

Abstract

BOOK REVIEW
Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson, by Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner

John Vickrey Van Cleve

Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson, by Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner

Glenn B. Anderson
ABSTRACTS
The Real “Toll” of A.G. Bell: Lessons about Eugenics

Historian Brian Greenwald offers a revisionist interpretation of Bell. He reviews Bell’s role and influence within the American eugenics movement and shows that Bell had the respect of the most prominent American eugenicists. His intimate knowledge of deafness, from personal experience with his mother and wife and from his studies of deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard, caused American eugenicists to defer to him on matters related to the deaf population. Greenwald argues, therefore, that Bell could have been extremely destructive to deaf people’s right to marry and reproduce as they wished. The opportunity was available for Bell to advocate invasive government eugenic measures against the American deaf population, but he did not do so. Greenwald believes that several factors explain Bell’s behavior, but he concludes that Bell’s personal contact with deaf people throughout his life “humanized and personalized” his approach.

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Are You Getting the Message?: The Effects of SimCom on the Message Received by Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Hearing Students

When hearing speakers address a mixed audience of hearing and deaf participants,[1] they have a choice of three methods by which to convey the information in their presentation. They may choose to use English and provide an English-to-ASL interpreter, use ASL and provide an ASL-to-English interpreter, or use simultaneous communication (SimCom). The choice to use SimCom (i.e., to speak and sign at the same time) is based in part on the idea that equivalent information will be communicated directly and simultaneously to both hearing and deaf audience members.

This study examines the effects of SimCom on the degree of correct information received by deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing students. Our objective is to ascertain whether a qualitative difference exists in the comprehensible input in order to determine whether all of the students are receiving equivalent information in the classroom.

Previous research on SimCom shows that the auditory and visual messages produced are not equivalent; the current research seeks to determine whether the received messages are equivalent. Direct feedback from deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing students is the indicator of message equivalence.

Our methodology consisted of showing several short video clips from various presentations given using SimCom. Participants viewed the clips and then responded to one or two questions about the information presented in them. The number of correct responses was tallied and compared across groups. Results show that the messages received by the different cohorts are not equivalent; therefore, the use of SimCom in the classroom needs to be reconsidered.


1. Deaf with a capital D refers to deaf individuals who consider themselves culturally deaf. Deaf with a lowercase d refers to deaf individuals who do not consider themselves culturally deaf. It is also used as an all-encompassing term to refer to both Deaf and deaf individuals as a single group.

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“A Grave and Gracious Woman”: Deaf People and Signed Languages in Colonial New England

This article discusses a new source about the lives of deaf people in the first century of the American colonies—Increase Mather’s An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684). One of the chapters in his Essay describes a signing deaf couple, Sarah and Matthew Pratt. Born in 1628 and 1640, they lived several decades before the first record of a signing deaf person on Martha’s Vineyard. This source gives new insights into the use of signed language in colonial New England, and the way laypeople went about educating deaf children before deaf education became the job of “experts”. Sarah and Matthew Pratt seem to have had a high level of participation in the Puritan community at Weymouth, Massachusetts, throughout their lives. Mather also discusses a wide range of international sources on deaf people’s education, communication and spirituality, giving us a unique picture of what people knew about deafness in the seventeenth century, and showing that even mainstream writers were starting to become interested in deaf people. This is a valuable new source which contributes to the history of deaf education, sign language linguistics, and broader cultural history.

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Meemul Tziij: An Indigenous Sign Language Complex of Mesoamerica

This article examines sign languages that belong to a complex of indigenous sign languages in Mesoamerica that K’iche’an Maya people of Guatemala refer to collectively as Meemul Tziij. It explains the relationship between the Meemul Tziij variety of the Yukatek Maya village of Chican (state of Yucatán, Mexico) and the hitherto undescribed Meemul Tziij variety used six hundred kilometers away in the K’ichee’ Maya township of Nahualá (department of Sololá, Guatemala). Consistent with indigenous beliefs, these languages are distinct and unrelated to the European and Euramerican sign languages. The sign language varieties in question likely belong to a single ancient language family derived from an ancient signed lingua franca, given the fact that indigenous communities scattered across Mesoamerica still use the languages. The conclusion summarizes findings, discusses implications for Mesoamerican history, and suggests directions for future research.

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