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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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The abbé de l’Epée gets no better results. Not that the able teachers are to blame. They do everything humanly possible. But the voice can be guided correctly only by hearing, and no other guide can adequately replace hearing. So the better-educated deaf make little use of speech. I know and have several times seen the pupil who has earned the most honor for M. Pereire [Saboureux de Fontenay]. This young man is very learned, with a great deal of knowledge in a variety of subjects, being especially well-versed in languages. He himself agrees with me about everything I have just claimed, and will converse only in writing. Generally, all other deaf people express the same repugnance for speaking; the more enlightened they are, the better they appreciate the inadequacy of their speech.

As for the art of lipreading, it may doubtless have some utility; we should not ignore it in the education of the deaf, hut we would b unwise to put too much reliance on its help. In talking to a deal person, one must have the habit of speaking in a certain way to he understood by him even so, this is practicable only for short and common phrases, for fairly long and quickly articulated phrases, I have yet to come across a deaf person who could follow and understand them.

In the pulpit and at the bar we have orators whose pronunciation is extremely careful and distinct, but I strongly doubt whether any deaf person can ever he enabled to understand them by looking at their lips. Unless I am mistaken, this art will never reach that point. Half of all speech articulations are made inside the mouth so that, normally. They are hidden from view. And even when articulation is slow and forceful—making the speech mechanism maximally visible—lipreading is still not easy and, for even the most intelligent deaf person, requires long association with the speaker. This was made quite evident to me in conversation with the author of this hook. Whatever pains I took to articulate clearly, he could understand only a few of my words and we were obliged to resort to pen or pencil.

So the soundest part of the education of the deaf is reading and writing combined with an understanding of the language in which they are taught. With this knowledge and the right talent, they can go as far as other people in the pursuit of knowledge.

Indisputably, the surest way to communicate with the deaf is in writing and sign language. One can scarcely live with a deaf person and take an interest in him without promptly getting into the habit of speaking and listening to him in sign language. Every person carries the seed of it, so to speak, within himself; circumstances effortlessly promote the seed’s germination and the language flowers without teacher or method.

8. In practicing an art as useful and interesting as the education of the deaf, it is especially dangerous to make a mistake and lay down principles that deflect the effort from the proper path: the wise observations of our deaf author seem to me highly appropriate for correcting the abbé Deschamps and for focusing the public’s ideas on the true elements of a new-fledged art, which is excusably still not fully explored.

The main point of contention between the abbé Deschamps and his opponent may he reduced to this: what should the primary medium for the education of the deaf be, lipreading or the use of natural and methodical signs?

First, we should see what the two opponents agree on: this preliminary discussion will shed a great deal of light on the question and enable everyone to judge the issue.


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