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Volume 14 2, No. 3, 1997 Must the Sign-Language Go? Gallaudet University's College Hall, ca. 1910. Gallaudet University Archives. Language should be subordinate to thought, not thought to language . —Henry Drummond Edward M. Gallaudet President, Gallaudet College, Washington, D.C. One evening last March I sat among the students of the College and enjoyed with them a lecture by one of my colleagues , on "Man's First Steps Towards Civilization." This lecture was one of a course given during the winter by the members of the College faculty, in turn, on subjects naturally suggested by the line of work followed by each professor in his teaching. These courses have been given to our students for twenty years and the subjects of a few of them will furnish an idea of the wide range of thought thus presented : The Indo-European Family of Languages; Oxygen and Certain Oxygen Compounds; The Monroe Doctrine and the Panama Canal; The Ocean Tides; Student Life in Ancient Athens; What I Saw in Alaska; The Disputed Ownership of Alsace and Lorraine. All the lectures in these courses have been delivered in the languages of signs, with very little manual spelling , and but a few words written on the black-board. What I know of the giving of lectures to the deaf through the use of the manual alphabet alone, or speech and lip-reading, leads me to express the opinion that these lectures could not have been enjoyed by assemblages of deaf persons through either of these means with one-half the pleasure and profit with which our students enjoyed them through the language of signs. Many years ago, in the early days of the College, that master of the sign-language , Rev. Wm. W. Turner, Instructor and Principal of the American School for the Deaf at Hartford, gave several lectures to our students on Natural Science . In closing the course he took an Reprinted from Gallaudet, E. M. 1899. Must the sign-language go? American Annals of the Deaf, 44(3), 221-229. Volume 142, No. 3, 1997 American Annals of the Deaf Must the Sign-Language Go? evening to describe the life-work of the great botanist Linnaeus. This description stands out clear and sharp in my memory as a masterpiece of sign-making . I do not think any lecture which has reached my mind through the ear has charmed or interested me more than this. I believe I enjoy lectures given in signs as keenly and understand them as completely as any deaf person can. I feel that my familiarity with the spontaneous language of the deaf from my earliest childhood makes it possible for me to appreciate what lectures in signs are to the deaf, as few are able to do who have learned the language of signs in adult life, and certainly as those who have no knowledge of that language. I hope it is not assuming too much for me to say that my long-continued relation to the deaf of instructor to pupil has opened my mind, as fully as that of any instructor could be, to the possibility of injurious effects resulting from the use of signs in the effort to give the deaf a command of verbal language. As long ago as 1868, in a paper read before the First Conference of Principals, I called attention to an evil which I felt was then existing in many of ours schools, namely, the excessive use of signs in the schoolroom, and urged that manual spelling should be brought largely into use at as early a stage as possible, with a view of securing frequent practice in verbal language on the part of the pupil. Two years later, in 1870, at the Indianapolis Convention, I spoke of the signlanguage as a "dangerous thing" in the education of the deaf, and urged that it ought to be used "as little as possible." In the efforts which have been made lately to abolish the use of the sign-language altogether in schools for the deaf, these declarations of mine have been quoted to give the impression that I supported this extreme policy. That this does me great injustice will...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0375
Print ISSN
0002-726X
Pages
pp. 31-34
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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