A Man without Words

A Man without Words

A Man without Words

A Man without Words

Synopsis

For more than a quarter of a century, Ildefonso, a Mexican Indian, lived in total isolation, set apart from the rest of the world. He wasn't a political prisoner or a social recluse, he was simply born deaf and had never been taught even the most basic language. Susan Schaller, then a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, encountered him in a class for the deaf where she had been sent as an interpreter and where he sat isolated, since he knew no sign language. She found him obviously intelligent and sharply observant but unable to communicate, and she felt compelled to bring him to a comprehension of words. The book vividly conveys the challenge, the frustrations, and the exhilaration of opening the mind of a congenitally deaf person to the concept of language. This second edition includes a new chapter and afterword.

Excerpt

All of us, in some sense, take language for granted. Why should we not, since we acquire it as children in early life? We acquire it by speaking, speaking with our parents, without the least difficulty, and without any need for explicit instruction. All human beings acquire language in the same automatic fashion; all of us, that is, except those who are deaf. But for those who are born profoundly deaf, the acquisition of language may be a much more difficult and chancy matter, because they cannot speak with their parents in the usual way: they cannot take in language by ear. They can, of course, take it in, effortlessly, by eye—if they have the good fortune to be exposed to a visual language, a sign language, when they need it. But suppose a child is not only deaf but born in a place or a country where education is not mandatory; suppose he never meets another deaf person, is never exposed to proper sign language: what then? He may grow into adolescence, and even to adulthood, without any language— a human being, perhaps a gifted one, deprived of what all the rest of us take for granted, deprived of the essentially human birthright of language.

What would life be like for such a languageless man?

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