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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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1. The author, Pierre Desloges, was born in 1747 at Le Grand-Pressigny, near La Haye in the diocese of Tours. He is a bookbinder and paperhanger by trade. He resides in the Petit-Hôtel de Chartres, rue des Mauvais Garçons, Faubourg Saint-Germain in Paris.

2. To the author’s description of what remains of his speech (a description that is surprising in its precision), I would add some facts that his deaf ness makes it impossible for him to know: his voice is extremely weak, merely a low indistinct murmur in which dental articulations are noticeably predominant and take the place of the ones required by correct pronunciation. I have vainly implored him to give his voice greater volume and life, but he has always given me to understand that this was impossible. If that is so, it must be that his cruel childhood malady affected his vocal and auditory organs both.

I understand that with a great deal of effort and practice I would manage, as he says, to identify the inchoate sounds of his speech I have seen too little of him to try this. The most convenient way to converse with him is with pen in hand—that is what I have always done. Fortunately he knew how to combine the principles of reading and writing with the knowledge remaining of his early childhood language. Practice in reading has maintained and strengthened his knowledge of written language; his reflectiveness and natural talent have done the rest.

3. These experiments show what the nature of hearing is for our author and for all similar unfortunates: it is to have the perception, through touch or through a disturbance in the surrounding air, of certain perturbations occurring in nearby objects. For such people audition is merely the exercise and effect of touch in the strict sense. I am persuaded that our author, as intelligent as he is, no longer has the least trace of the precise idea we attach to the word “hear.” His explanation, which will be of inestimable value to readers of a philosophic turn of mind, gives more than ample proof of this.

4. According to estimates by M Pereire and the abbé de l’Epée, more than half the deaf who have studied with them were not completely deaf— their ears, like ours could experience true hearing of very loud and piercing noises. But these partially deaf people are no more advanced lot all that. For a child to suffer all the misfortunes of profound deafness, the only thing required is that his or her ear he obstructed to the point of an indistinct perception of speech sounds. Ignorant of the conventional sounds of spoken languages and of the ideas we attach to them he necessarily becomes mute. As for our author, he appears totally deaf; the sharpest whistling noise makes no impression on his ears.

5. Indisputably, the primary advantage of sign or mimic language is its clarity and precision; in these respects it surpasses spoken languages. Spoken languages can depict ideas only through the mediation of sounds; sign language depicts ideas directly. So spoken language, if I may he allowed to speak this way, is further from objects than sign language—spoken languages represent things only through a veil that must always he penetrated to reach an understanding of the thing expressed by the word.

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