Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

On the Natural Language of Signs and Its Value and Uses in the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

On the Natural Language of Signs and Its Value and Uses in the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb

Article excerpt

We have considered, in the preceding number, the origin, universality, and some of the advantages of the natural language of signs originally employed by the deaf and dumb; expanded and improved by themselves and their teachers; and used, more or less, in their social intercourse at the institutions where they are assembled, and in the process of their education. The extent to which these natural signs should be encouraged and made use of in this process, is a question about which there exists considerable diversity of views, especially in Europe, among the various schools, and among teachers whose talents and experiences entitle their respective opinions to much weight.

My object is not to discuss the question of extent (though I may touch upon it as I go along), but to show the intrinsic value, and, indeed, indispensable necessity of the use of natural signs in the education of the deaf and dumb,-to a great degree in the earlier stages of their education, and, in some degree, through the whole course of it. In attempting this, I wish I had time to go, somewhat at length, into the genius of this natural language of signs; to compare it with merely oral language; and to show, as I think I could, its decided superiority over the latter, so far as respects its peculiar adaptation to the mind of childhood and early youth, when objects addressed to the senses, and especially to the sight, have such sway over this mind,-when the expressions of the human countenance, with the general air and manners, attitudes, and movements of the body, are so closely scrutinized by the young observer, while he receives, from these sources, some of the deepest and most lasting impressions that are ever made on his intellect and heart,-and when his first understanding of the meaning of words, singly, or in short colloquial phrases, which he hears uttered, depends so much on the unfolding of this meaning by objects, or combinations of objects and circumstances addressed solely to his eye. The natural language of signs is abundantly capable of either portraying or recalling these objects and circumstances. The life, picturelike delineation, pantomimic spirit, variety, and grace with which this may be done, with the transparent beaming forth of the soul of him who communicates, through the eye, the countenance, the attitudes, movements, and gestures of the body, to the youthful mind that receives the communication, constitute a visual language which has a charm for such a mind, and a perspicuity, too, for such a purpose, that merely oral language does not possess.

It is greatly to be regretted that much more of this visual language does not accompany the oral, in the domestic circle, and, indeed, in all our social intercourse. Our public speakers often show the want of it, in their unimpassioned looks, frigid, monotonous attitude, and quiescent limbs, even when they are uttering the most eloquent, and soul-stirring thoughts. Would they but look out and act out these thoughts, as well as speak them, how much greater power their eloquence would have. Why has the Creator furnished us with such as elaborate and wonderful apparatus of nerves and muscles, to subserve the purposes of this visual language; with such an eye and countenance, as variable in the expressions are all the internal workings of the soul and graphically indicative of them; and with such a versatility of attitude and gesture susceptible of being "known and read of all men,"-thus to supply the deficiencies of our oral intercourse and to perfect the communion of one soul with another, if we are to make no more use of these things than if we were so many colorless and motionless statues! If this visual language were vastly more cultivated than it is, and employed in the early training of children and youth in our families, schools, and other seminaries of learning, we should find its happy results in all the processes of education; on all occasions where the persuasions of eloquence are employed; and in the higher zest which would be given to the enjoyments of social life. …

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