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Volume 14 2, No. 3, 1997 Is the Sign-Language Used to Excess in Teaching Deaf-Mutes? Edward M. Gallaudet President, National Deaf-Mute College, Washington, D.C. Edward Miner Gallaudet at his desk, 1907. Gallaudet University Archives. There are often ideas suggested for consideration, which seem to carry absurdity on their very face. One would smile, who should be asked if the art of swimming could not be acquired without venturing into the water, or if the deaf and dumb were not often fine musicians, or if Washington were not a finished city. The writer is not without his apprehensions , lest there be some, who will be disposed to regard the question he now presents, as absurd on its face; who will speak of the natural language of the deaf-mute, and wonder how there can be an abuse by him of that which constitutes his native vehicle of expressing thought. It was a grand achievement of De l'Epée, when he grasped the crude pantomimic utterances of his first two pupils, and, making their difficulties his own, built up a language of gestures, by means of which he might place himself in ready communication with the class of persons to which he devoted his life. And Hill, of Weissenfels, speaks truly, when he says of the sign language, "it is the element in which the mental life of the deaf-mute begins to germinate; the only means whereby he, on his admission to school, may express his thoughts, feelings and wishes; hence, at first, the only, and consequently, indispensable means of comprehension between teacher and pupil;" and, again, "the most convenient , quick, and ceratin means, in many cases, of making one's self understood by deaf-mutes, whether during tuition or out of school-hours." Far be it from the writer of this article , to deny to the sign language that position of great dignity and importance , which it deserves, in the instruction of the deaf and dumb. Indispensable in the early stages of the course, it is of great value at every step. In explanation, in narration, in correction, in discipline, in free social Reprinted from Gallaudet, E. M. 1871. American Annals of the Deaf, 16(1), 26-33. Volume 142, No. 3, 1997 American Annals of the Deaf Is the Sign Language Used to Excess? intercourse, and, above all, in the imparting of religious and moral instruction , the beautiful language of pantomime supplies a lack, the existence of which contributed, probably, more than any other single cause, to that long enthrallment in ignorance, from which the deaf and dumb have but just emerged. In advocating the use of sign language , at almost every stage of progress in the training of a deaf-mute, the writer could be counted as second to none; in acknowledging the force, clearness, and beauty of expression possible in this language, he could be ranked among its most enthusiastic admirers; while he would, at the same time, maintain, with all respect to those of a contrary opinion, that in the abuse of signs, and by this meant their excessive use, may be found one of the gravest defects under which our national system of teaching the deaf is laboring. In advancing this idea, no claim is made to novelty; for the early readers of the Annals will remember the setting forth of a similar view by the first editor CMr. Luzerne Rae), in an article published eighteen years ago, in which the ground was taken, that "a too abundant and too constant use of signs, to the neglect of dactylology and written language, is the grand practical error of the American institutions for the deaf and dumb." "By the aid of signs," says Mr. Rae in the able paper referred to, "we can fill the minds of our pupils, to almost any extent, with the raw material of knowledge. We can tell them of things in heaven and things on earth, and we find little difficulty in securing an intelligent reception of what we say. This is well, indeed; but they come to us for something far more essential to their welfare than this alone. They come to be provided with...


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