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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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The Deaf Experience: Classics in Language and Education

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Here is exactly what I contributed. I corrected the young man’s quite faulty spelling. I pruned some repetitions and softened a few words that could have given offense. Aside from these minor emendations, the essay is entirely the work of the deaf Desloges.

These are his thoughts, his style, and his arguments.

I felt that the chief interest of this essay would come from its author, that perhaps for the first time a deaf-mute had the honor of being published; such a phenomenon had to be presented to the public in a form as close to its original as possible. Therefore the only liberty I took was to add a few notes to the text at points where they seemed pertinent.

To satisfy the public’s curiosity, I advised M. Desloges to give some personal information, the causes of his infirmity, his ideas of sound and speech, and the like. He discusses these matters in the following preface.


Most writers of books add a prefatory note begging the public’s indulgence and giving the good or bad reasons for taking up their pen; here are the reasons that prompted me to write this short volume.

My line of work obliges me to go into many homes1; once inside I am invariably questioned about the deaf. But most often the questions are as laughable as they are absurd; they merely prove that almost everyone has gotten the falsest possible ideas about us; few people have an adequate notion of our state, our resources, or our way of communicating with each other in sign language.

To add the last straw to the public’s errors, a new teacher of the deaf, the abbé Deschamps, publishes a book in which, not content to condemn and reject sign language as an instructional medium, he advances the oddest paradoxes and most erroneous criticisms of it.

As would a Frenchman seeing his language disparaged by a German who knew at most a few words of French, I too feel obliged to defend my own language from the false charges leveled against it by Deschamps and at the same time to justify the abbé de l’Epée’s method, which is entirely based on the use of signs. I attempt, more over, to give a more than usually accurate idea of the language of my comrades the congenitally deaf who are illiterate and whose only sources of instruction have been common sense and the company of their own kind. Here, in brief, is the whole aim of this short book.

As the whole of my subsistence comes from my daily work, while my writing must be done during the time I have for sleeping, I have trained myself to be very terse. So I shall leave unmentioned many things I disapprove of in Deschamps’s book although my opinion of them is no higher than of those I have faulted. For the same reason my presentation of sign language is limited to a simple outline of it, with no claim to a full explanation of its mechanism. That would be an immense enterprise requiring several volumes. Indeed, sometimes a particular sign made in the twinkling of an eye would require entire pages for a description of it to be complete. Moreover, I fear that these details would soon become boring to the delicate ears accustomed to the winsome sounds of speech. I fear that this language, which has so much strength and energy in its performance, would weaken under my beginner’s pen.

In the hope of gaining a wider public for this short essay, I say just enough to put thoughtful readers on the right path; I may, however, return to this topic and give a more detailed account of the way we can render ideas we wish to express visually, if this meager essay should have the good fortune to be well received by the readers.

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