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American Annals of the Deaf

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The Human Right to Language: Communication Access for Deaf Children

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There was silence in the class while most of the students waited for someone else to take a chance. The teacher was a favorite at the school; though she was sometimes impatient, she loved the work, the students, and the subject matter. She had not objected to Carol’s being placed in the class with a sign language interpreter.

Carol’s interpreter signed the question as, “William Shakespeare. Freud. The same?”

A student raised her hand and said, “Well, I think because Shakespeare wrote about so many psychological things that maybe that is why they say he is kind of like Freud.”

The interpreter then fingerspelled and signed the student’s response, “S-h-a-k-e-s-p-e-a-r-e and p-s-y-c-h-o-l-o-g-i-c-a-l. He wrote about that—”

Before he got to the end of the student’s response, the teacher was already asking another question. “What plays do you think are psychological thrillers, so to speak?”

A second student answered, “Well, Macbeth for sure and Hamlet.”

Carol’s interpreter stopped interpreting the comment by the first student, began to sign the teacher’s question, “p-s-y-c-h-o-l-o-g-i-c-a-l t-h-r-i-l-l-e-r-s,” but stopped to try to capture the second student’s response to the teacher, “M-a-c-b-e-t-h sure—”

Teacher: “Okay, but the rest of the class, what is it about these plays that—”

Interpreter: “and H-a-m-l—”

Second Student: “In Macbeth there is all that guilt—”

Teacher (smiling): “You mean, ‘Out, out damn spot?’ What do you make of that, Dr. Freud?”

Interpreter: “In those plays, what do you mean ‘out d-a-m-n spot. Dr. F-r-e—”

Third Student: “The mind is playing a trick, trying to wash out the guilt for the crime.”

Teacher: “And what about Hamlet? What is your diagnosis there?”

Interpreter: “—g-u-i-l-t—”

Fourth Student: “All that mother and son stuff and Oedipal deals—”

Interpreter: “—d-i-a-g-n-o-s-i-s—”

Teacher: “This is pretty universal and ancient stuff; what about Oedipus Rex, Sigmund, and William?”

Interpreter: “Old ideas about mothers and sons—O-d-a-p-u-s-s—S-i-g—W-l-l-i-a-m?”

Teacher: “The ancients, you see, understood the unconscious, even if they didn’t give it a name or fully comprehend its impact on us as Sigmund Freud understood. Guilt and hatred and those things go to the root of our being, and Shakespeare, as a genius of language and psychology, understood this.”

Interpreter: “U-n-c-o-n-s-c-i-o-u-s at the root that S-h-a-k—”

Fifth Student: “Was Shakespeare neurotic?”

Interpreter: “language and p-s-y-c-h-o-l-o-g-y—N-e-u-r-o-t-i-c—understood this.”

Teacher: “Funny man, Carl. You know Freud said that there was no such thing as just a joke, that it hid some unconscious things. Maybe we’ll begin your analysis right here.”

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