Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

Sign Languages and the Mind: Their History, Science and Power, Part 2


– Okay, I’m Steve Anderson. I was previously the Chair
of the Linguistics Department at Yale, which will
turn out to be relevant. It’s my pleasure to introduce Gerald Shea. Gerry is not either a
linguist or a psychologist and so perhaps it’s useful for me to give a little background. In fact, almost exactly eight years ago I received in the mail a manuscript from someone I didn’t know about a topic about which I didn’t know very much. I’m sure Bob Frank as
current chair will confirm the fact that we get lots of… The Chair of Linguistics
at Yale gets lots of things and some of them are a little unusual. But this one seemed to be
worth a lot more attention and not only because the
author was a Yalie, BA 64. The manuscript I had, which
was called Language of Light. No, it was called a Song Without Words. It was interesting for two
somewhat different reasons. On the one hand it
described the experience of someone whose language
experience is rather different from any of the ones
that cognitive scientists tend to study. On the one hand we study hearing people who learn spoken languages
and on the other hand we study Deaf people
who learn sign languages but here was the experience of someone who had lost a great deal of his hearing at a very early age, but that
fact hadn’t actually been properly diagnosed
until much later in life and he succeeded in the hearing community despite his hearing deficit. Getting through Yale and getting through Columbia Law School. This seemed to me was a
situation that cognitive science ought to pay attention to. It’s rather unusual to characterize the linguistic experience
of someone functioning in a spoken language who has
actually very limited access to speech as a consequence
of the hearing deficit. So on the one hand that struck
me as an interesting problem for cognitive scientists. On the other hand the book
contained a great deal of really interesting information about the history of the
emergence and development of signed language in
France, which as we know is the background out of which ASL comes, work that was based on
Gerry’s work in the libraries and archives in France in
which taught me a great deal. I mean I had done some
reading on this background but I learned a lot from
looking at this manuscript. So I was happy to encourage it and to recommend it for publication and to provide some comments, especially on the linguistic aspects. As I’ve said, Gerry isn’t a linguist and there were some things that I thought needed a little bit of commentary. But then in 2013, the book was published as Song Without Words. The book is lovely and an eloquent book. If you haven’t read it, you surely should. But when I saw what came out in print I was somewhat less happy at
the fact that all this stuff about the science of sign and
the history had been omitted and this was almost entirely
about Gerry’s experience as a partially hearing person. Well, I talked to him
about this and he said that’s because the
publishers wanted this to be a general audience book
and they said take all that science and history stuff out of it. People will like it more if
it’s just a lovely experience. It is a wonderful book,
but I’m afraid that because that material was omitted,
it’s attracted less attention from linguists and cognitive scientists than perhaps it ought to have. But anyway, I was very
happy a few years later when I heard from Gerry
that he was interested in taking the material from
his original manuscript that hadn’t been included, expanding it, and publishing that as a separate book. So I was happy to put
him in touch with people at Yale University Press. The result is an absolutely wonderful book on the historical origins and development of signed languages and the
Deaf community in France and subsequently in this country. If you haven’t read Language of Light then you should certainly
read that one too. So without further ado,
I will turn this over to Gerry who will, I gather,
be giving you material mostly from the second book. Thank you. (audience applauds) – Thank you very much, Steve, and thank you all for coming. I think I’ll take this device off. Thanks to Raffaella
Zanuttini and her staff for organizing this conference so ably and it’s really a delight to be here as it was to hear the two prior speakers. I learned a lot in the first
hour and a half of today. As Steve explained, I
first became familiar with the history and languages of the Deaf when I was looking for information
about the partially Deaf for my first book, the
memoir that Steve mentioned. As I discuss at length in that
book, I am partially Deaf, a condition that arose following an extended childhood illness. When others speak, I
hear an elusive language to which in a rapid course of conversation I endeavored to give meaning. The words of this language,
what I call its lyricals, a term of my invention
are transitional words, wrong words, non-words. That in lieu of those actually spoken register in the minds
of the partially Deaf. The high frequency and the soft consonants are usually missing. The vowels and the occasional
consonant aren’t enough. In my life and the lives of
the partially Deaf like me are a constant unscrambling of language punctuated by masks of understanding. I communicate fairly
effectively using the hearing I’ve retained, lip reading, hearing aids, and an assortment of
assistive listening devices. There’s no time here
to dwell on my history. It’s all in Song Without
Words if you want to buy it on Amazon and it’s all in there. When I finally did get
hearing aids at age 34, a lot of sounds came back to me that were the sounds of childhood. Crickets, birds, not seagulls
which I’ve always heard but, you know, birds twerping in the air. Piccolos, high stringed
instruments that brought the melody back to
music for me rather than the counter point of low instruments. As to water, water is a beautiful sound. When I was presenting the
book at a gathering in London, the first book, a Song Without Words, a reporter Hayley Campbell
from the New Statesman came up to me and said
hey, tell me something that I haven’t… You know, that’s not the
critics don’t talk about it, that nobody knows about it. And I said, well, I’ll tell
you a little bit about water. When I got hearing aids,
the first day I got them I went off to pee and I had them on and it was the first time
I realized since childhood but I had forgotten
that, that when you pee it actually makes a sound. So Hayley Campbell in the New
Statesman, she liked that. And the New Statesman,
these aren’t my words, of course they’re hers, she
said imagine what it would be like going through life without knowing what piss sounded like. (audience laughing) This room scares me to death. One more anecdote. I think I was in this room
the very first lecture I was at Yale and the
teacher started to speak, I don’t know, it was probably history. Something easy. When he started to speak,
everybody picked up their pen and pencil, and
of course, I could hear his voice and a few words,
but they were actually starting to write and
I thought, this must be a very good university since the students are still writing. So my theme song might’ve
been something like Gaudeamus Igitur since we
can’t even hear the teachers. Moving on to the history now. I have no fluent understanding
of the signed languages of the profoundly Deaf, but the grace and visual clarity of
those who communicate in sign languages as you have just seen and as you are seeing
now, are to me, a wonder. I feel a close affinity to them. Theirs is not an unplanned,
but a natural visual poetry at once both the speech
and the music of the Deaf. Though I live in the realm of the hearing, a part of my life in the form of my search for communicative grace
and clarity is quartered in my understanding of
the world of the Deaf and I feel as if a part of it. As I’ve mentioned, I
originally became familiar with the history and languages of the Deaf when I was looking for
information about people like me. I found that history
so rich and intriguing and fraught with pathos that
I decided to write about it. The Language of Light, my
book covers a long history from the classical period
through our own day in about 200 pages. I can’t talk about all
of that in half an hour, thus I’d like to focus on what I consider the centerpiece of the history of the Deaf and signed languages,
I.E. the accomplishments of the great French teachers
of the early 19th century, notably Auguste Bébian. This is also the heart of the book. I call this period the
Enlightenment, or the Age of Bébian. But I’ll also mention in
unforgivable nutshell form the time before and the
time after that era. The Age of Bébian as we
shall see was an island of eloquence and wisdom in a
wide, rapidly running river of ignorance and prejudice
on the part of the hearing. A brief note first on what
history and linguistics have taught us about signed languages and we’ve heard much of that this morning. Children born profoundly Deaf, of course, hear virtually nothing at all. They’re unable to speak
because their ears can’t transmit to the brain
the information it needs to shape the imitative
speaking patterns of the voice. These children then turn
instinctively to gestures in order to communicate with others. They do so extraordinarily
and efficiently. Once they are exposed to a signed language which they learn quickly and naturally. They’re very soon able exactly like their hearing counterparts
to express a limitless number of ideas in well-formed sentences with impeccable syntax. The discourse of the Deaf
is not as in the case of spoken languages
configured by the tongue and other organs of
speech, arranging molecules in the air for the ear,
but by the motion of hands and other gestures that
are transmitted by light to the eyes of their interlocutors, hence my title the Language of Light. Signed languages are just as sophisticated as our spoken tongue. They have their own linguistics unit just as our oral languages do. When Deaf individuals
render or interpret signs they use the same regions of the brain that the hearing do when they speak and listen to speech. They are hearing their language. There is little historical
record of the Deaf or their languages
before the 16th century, but signed languages in
various forms and degrees of sophistication have probably existed for at the very least, 100,000 years. For as long as mankind
and thus have Deaf people. Signed languages were
not invented by anyone, nor was French, English, or German. So the time before Bébian. Aristotle found the Blind
more intelligent than the Deaf because the Blind could hear. He believed that all rational discourse had to be audible. Sandy Gusten thought Deaf people could never learn to read. The Justinian Code in 522
provide that if a person was Deaf from birth and couldn’t speak he had virtually no rights. Diderot thought that to teach the Deaf abstractions was an insurmountable task. Juan Pablo Bonet in 17th century Spain called the congenitally
Deaf monsters of nature and human only in form. His goal was to cure them by teaching them how to speak. He failed, of course, as
did all of his Spanish, British, Dutch, French, German, and American Oralist successors. It was virtually impossible for
a person to speak distinctly if since birth or early
infancy he or she had not been able to hear. Lip reading is just as difficult. While I and other partially Deaf people lip read bit, you have to be able to hear in order to do it well, or as well as we do
which is not very well. So forget about all those Deaf characters reading lips for the CIA
in those movies you see through hermetically sealed
windows in a telescope. They’re just reciting a
script that they’ve memorized. I did though manage to do it once. I was watching Bill Clinton play golf with Greg Norman I think,
who wore that, you know, straw hat and it was the party afterwards somewhere in the states and
Clinton stepped backwards and fell over the porch and broke his leg. They wheeled him out to Air Force One to set the leg in Washington. The leg was sticking out and
it was two kilometers out on the tarmac but the
cameras with their big lenses were there watching him, but no sound. Clinton said. (audience laughing) Now, the first three
words are clear, right? What the F are the first three words. But what’s the rest? What is. Now, no one in this room has an idea. Sometimes with context you can get it and what he said was what the F are those photographers doing there? I was very proud of myself but it was a once in a lifetime event. (audience laughing) So what did Bonet think
about Sign Language? He said if you placed two Deaf mutes in each other’s presence,
meeting for the first time, they can communicate because
they use the same signs. (speaking in foreign language) But he, like others, was
not interested in trying to understand these
signs, or to ask himself what the Deaf were saying to each other, or where their signs came from, or whether these
communications might be a form of language, indeed, because it interfered with their learning the
speech they weren’t learning. He found it important as
alas, many speech therapists and doctors do today, quote never to let the
mute use it unquote. Tortuous so called medical
treatments went hand-in-hand with the tyranny of oral teaching in the centuries before the Enlightenment. These amounted to trials by
ordeal, yielding considerable suffering, illness, and
sometimes the death. The premise was that
drilling, cutting, fracturing, scorching, or poisoning
would open up the ear and the brain to sounds. It was into this oral world that arrived the Abbé de L’Épée, a hearing priest about to make history. Observing Deaf twin girls
signing to each other in 1755, he suspected that their signs were mutually recognizable
representations of ideas. Going a step further, he wondered whether just as hearing children
are taught to write what they hear, so these
children might be taught to write what they see, I.E. to be taught in their own signs the
meaning of written words and to learn how to read
and write those words. L’Épée established a school
for the Deaf in Paris in 1755 and the royal government
ultimately granted him a substantial annual stipend to run it. But for all his perceptiveness,
it was the first time anybody had done this. L’Épée didn’t become fluent in signs and never understood it
was a complete language. He gave the students his
own supplementary signs rather than learning
from them and mastering their own integral tongue. He died in 1789 but in 1794,
the government gave his school its imposing home on the rue Saint-Jacques where it is today. The National Institute for Deaf Children, called Saint-Jacques. It was to become and
today remains the beacon of the age of the Enlightenment. August Bébian who was hearing, and perhaps history’s greatest teacher of the Deaf was born the year L’Épée died. He was sent by his father from Guadeloupe where he was born to study at the (speaking in foreign
language) in Paris. His parents were friends of
the director of Saint-Jacques who offered to find a
place for him to live. Bébian lived near the
school and in the afternoons and during the vacations
he was constantly here joining the Deaf students
in their classes, workshops, and games. Although hearing, he
made friends with several of the Deaf students and
thanks to Jean Massieu, a noted Deaf teacher
there, learned to sign as well as those who were Deaf from birth. An unprecedented accomplishment. Bébian’s writings and
teachings were to become the cornerstone of the
education of the Deaf in Europe and of the Deaf
in the United States. What was needed, he
realized, in order to teach his students to read and write was the immediate translation of
their own thoughts and images as expressed in their own language into the corresponding
written words in French. Central to his thought in
teaching is the reality that words are about the
expression of pre-existing ideas. An idea, whether the
conception of a material object or an abstract thought
necessarily precedes the spoken word interpreted. It is thus the idea, he
wrote, that must give the word meaning before the word can,
in turn, become an effective interpreter of the
idea, or what John Locke had interestingly called
the sign of the idea. The hearing ordinarily convey
their thoughts by speaking, or by writing down words made of letters that are depictions of the sound we make with our voices. What Bébian eloquently called
the painting of our speech. While students arriving at
Saint-Jacques would have at least the rudiments of sign, Bébian in his practical teaching manual hypothesized the case of a
new student at Saint-Jacques in order to illustrate
for parents and teachers that even the teaching of individual words should begin with the
thought, not the written word. The teacher might show the
picture of a saber in a book and then move his dominant
hand from opposite waist to shoulder height as if drawing a saber from its sheath. Exaggerating the sign, remember they’re not recognizable iconic. The student would invariably do the same. Bébian would unsheathe
the imaginary saber again and have the student show
him its picture in the book. Whereupon he would point
to the written word beneath the picture. He would then have the
student finger spell the word if he knew finger spelling
and ask him in sign what the word meant, what. The student would then repeat the gesture and before long would understand
that this written word and others were a kind
of conventional drawing of the idea first expressed in sign. As to ideas expressed in whole sentences, Bébian knew that the apparent
goal before his time, a barren goal before
his time, and continuing to his own day was to give
to the Deaf and I quote the mechanical faculty of speech without enabling them
to attach a precise idea to its components,
leaving them in the dark not only as to the absolute value of words but their relative value
and the influence they have over each other in the
composition of a phrase. Hence the drill even today of parents and speech therapists hammering home the pronunciation and lip
reading of multiple words by Deaf children have a
necessity got things backwards. For without Sign Language, it is difficult if not impossible to
convey ideas and syntax and whole meanings of sentences. Bébian thus correctly
emphasized that French grammar, which he described as the
relationship between words and our spoken languages had to be taught through the median of Sign Language. He said the Deaf student must
be able to write the word in order to read it and
to be able to read it he has to understand it and
he’ll be able to understand it only if he understands the whole sentence. To do that, his instruction
must begin in sign. Writing for the Deaf
pre-aphasia represented nothing at all. It consists of lines or strokes forming meaningless characters. More complex than their painting of sounds for the hearing, and far more removed from the underlying
idea that its expression in their native language
and in trying to read lips the Deaf are not receiving any idea but are forced to observe
obscure lip movements in order to guess sounds they cannot hear so that they may infer the other sounds that the lips failed to show at all. The mental torture of Bonet
and his Oralist successors. If the Deaf student,
Bébian wrote, is brought to a standstill to begin with
by the singular difficulty of pronouncing sounds of which the signs fixed on paper lie
stationary before his eyes, how is he going to
understand the rapid signs that slip through the lips? It is with their own
language that the education of the Deaf must begin,
not with the spoken word. We know, Bébian wrote, that
the Deaf have a language one doesn’t teach them. Although with art and
exercise, one can offer it the happiest development. It is, in a way, the
reflection of their sensations, the relief of their oppressions. We carry the same timeless
and limitless principle within all of us that
of the first language of any human being which
gives immediate expression to his thought and is not a translation of any other language but expresses his intimate connection with ideas. One ever looks to his first language with difficulty for the
expression of an idea. The thought born in the brain bursts forth like a flame sparkling in crystal. How effective was Bébian? In 1789 at the time of L’Épée’s death there were six schools
for the Deaf in France. By 1858, there were 54 such schools and sign was the language of
instruction in all of them. A significant number of
teachers for the Deaf were Deaf themselves. Deaf education and literacy
were springing up everywhere. With Deaf children in Europe reading (speaking in foreign language) as well as Augustine’s
Spiritual Dimensions. Proclaiming that the Deaf
would never be able to read the very book they were
reading or any other. On the more practical side,
the potential of the Deaf in the arts and sciences and
commerce were now realizable and signed languages
were becoming the motor of their equality. Together, Bébian and his
Deaf colleagues and students were changing the world. Students were entering the
professions of the hearing, including work in lawyer offices, banks, trading companies, et cetera. Some were accomplished painters and poets. It wasn’t a perfect world but
now they had two languages, French Sign Language and the written and European Sign Language. Languages, pardon me. The written language of the hearing. They were succeeding in the hearing world. What happened in America? Well, we were, of course,
seeking solutions too and in 1816, as most of us here know, Thomas Gallaudet of
Hartford came to France looking for one, a solution. Leaving London after the
British wanted to charge him for teaching him their
ineffective oral methods, which they maintained were secret. He went to Saint-Jacques
and took back to the States with him a prominent
teacher named Laurant Clerc. Clerc and Gallaudet brought
Bébian’s teaching with him to the United States,
with which they formed the Deaf core of American teachers. English immigrants had given us our spoken and written language, but
the French and the person of Laurent Clerc enriched
American Sign Language with French Sign and used a
new combined language, ASL, to teach the American
Deaf the written language of France’s rival across the channel. By the 1850’s, some
250 of the 550 teachers and administrators in the
burgeoning national network of schools were themselves Deaf. By the 1860’s, there was
26 schools and sign was the language of instruction of all. But for a variety of reasons,
the champions of speech teaching would never let go. Bébian’s Deaf pupil, Ferdinand Berthier, the greatest Deaf teacher of the Deaf and Deaf leader of the 19th century was well aware of it. He did a lot to try to stop it. One of the most beautiful
things he did, I think, was to organize annual Deaf
banquets that were held all around Paris between
1832 and 1869 or so. He invited the greats to come
(speaking in foreign language) and many others. Like today, he had
children of Deaf parents who were hearing do the interpreting so that everybody could
understand everybody else just as we are doing today. Berthier was also a poet. I’ll quote this poem because I love it. It’s much better than
my English translation but here goes. As background, the Phoenician alphabet, about 1000 B.C. is the source of virtually all modern alphabets. Berthier himself referred to this point in his own poem pronouncing
in Sign Language and interpreted by another
at one of these banquets. Here it is: we do not speak, it is true, but still, do you think us
unable to express ourselves as well with our eyes, our
hands, our smiles, our lips? Our most beautiful discourse
is at the tips of our fingers and our language is
rich in secret beauties that you who speak will never know. Have we not, have we not,
our own art of Phoenecian to paint the words that
speak into our eyes? Your arts and sciences, safe or sound, are they not open to our ardent eyes? Show us the heavens,
ambitious airs of Acarus that I cannot ascend with you. But as I say, Berthier was well aware of the forces against him. He warned his colleagues
and students alike that if they didn’t
fight for their education in their own language,
they would lose everything. After Bébian, the 19th
century Oralist movement deliberately set out to
destroy the languages and educational institutions of the Deaf. In fact, the movement all but ruined the extraordinary accomplishments
of the great European and American teachers of the
earlier part of the century. The Oralists were lead
by Alexander Graham Bell and by hearing teachers of the Deaf and others in Europe
and the United States. At the 1880 Congress of Milan,
as many of us here know, a gathering of hearing educators
went with little knowledge of the signed languages. The assembly proudly
proclaimed the incontestable superiority of speech
over sign and resolved that Deaf students
should be taught only by the pure oral method. Before long, throughout
Europe, speech became virtually the sole method of teaching. By requiring Deaf students
to hear or lip read and to speak, impossible tasks. Virtually impossible tasks. Milan made so faculty… Milan made the sole
faculty the students lacked the instrument of their instruction. What was the motive of the Oralists? Why insist on teaching a
child words he couldn’t speak and staring at lips he
couldn’t understand? For some, notably the
oral teachers, the motive was the desire to keep their jobs. As to Bell, he conceded that Sign Language was the quickest method
of reaching the mind of a Deaf child, but it was
not the mind of a Deaf child that interested Bell. Quote: the production of a defective race of signing human beings,
he wrote, would be a great calamity to the world. If they were deprived of
their language of signs, the Deaf would be unable
to understand not only the hearing but each other. They would marry less,
have fewer children, and their number would diminish. Even Bell’s prejudice ideas about eugenics were without foundation
for as mentioned earlier about 95% of children
born Deaf then and today are born of hearing parents. Bell and his allies were
extraordinarily successful. In 1867, American Sign
Language had been the median of instruction in all
educational institutions for the Deaf. By 1927, it was used in virtually none. Deaf students were graduating
from Oralist schools in Europe and America as
functional illiterates in the written languages
of their native countries. Gallaudet College was
discouraging its students from becoming teachers. In France, the country of
Bébian, as recently as 2015 a prominent ear surgeon
wrote in Le Figaro, that quote: speech is the only language the brain can comprehend, unquote. Finally, some brighter sides. The eminent linguist, Noam
Chomsky, giving a lecture in Chicago in 1965,
mistakenly, that’s so rare that Chomsky makes a
mistake, defined language as a specific sound to
meaning correspondence. When asked where this
left the sign languages of the Deaf, Chomsky
revised his definition on the spot calling
language a specific signal to meaning correspondence. The distinction was
important for it was offered at a time when William
Stokoe and his colleagues at Gallaudet University
were rediscovering, they were rediscovering,
what had been known in France and America in the early 19th century. Much of what Stokoe wrote
about in linguistics was really taken from
Bébian’s own writings. Stokoe gave him credit, it
was very inconspicuous credit, but he did give Bébian credit. So these ideas that are coming up today, they’re not new ideas. These were ideas that were developed in the early 19th century
and were suppressed with the money of Bell
and the United States, with the Perriere’s in
Europe, with the help of the Oralist teachers
and the Oralist movement and they basically smothered what we knew so much so that when
people rediscovered it in the 20th century, they
thought they were discovering something new and they weren’t. Chomsky’s work and the work
of Stokoe and his successors were of exceptional significance. This was not so… This was so not simply
because the hearing world had forgotten what it
had known by the 1820’s, but because of the calamitous success as I just said, and I’m repeating myself, of the Oralist movement. Have the thoughts and work of
Chomsky, Stokoe, and others now helped to overcome the
educational plight of the Deaf? They’ve unquestionably
led to a renaissance of linguistic and educational
interest in sign languages, giving new life, including
now our academic life here at Yale, to the
seminal work of Bébian. It is now broadly understood
that Chomsky’s language faculty operates with equal facility,
whether stimulated by language heard by the ears of the hearing or beheld by the eyes of the Deaf. The primitive notions of
the Deaf and their language espoused at Milan and promoted by Bell are now rather thoroughly discredited but the educational problems
of the Deaf persist today. 80% of newborn Deaf babies in the west are being given cochlear implants. The implants are devices,
as most of us know, that produce hearing bypassing the ear and delivering electronic
signals directly to the auditory nerve. The benefits of cochlear
implants are measured today in a laboratory setting
and alas, appear to fall far short outside that setting. Thus, the real world
of daily communication is still a struggle despite the device. Notably, for children, who are born Deaf. Language can be said to give all of us, whether Deaf or hearing,
our modern soul in the age of science and to underpin
our rights as individuals. Whether that soul can best
be expressed and understood and can best understand
the world around it in its natural language,
or with cochlear implants, or perhaps both, is the
heart and soul of the matter. Is a smaller, fully
communicative world preferable to a larger, poorly communicative one? Is there a both worlds alternative? Are the implants a paradigmatic change or are they an extension
of the dramatic course of 19th and 20th century Deaf
history and of earlier times? There are a variety of views on these hotly debated questions. My own views are shaped
both by my own research, by careful study of
published test results, and naturally enough, by
my intimate acquaintance with the history. I propose no answers here,
but whatever the answers it is critically important that we ensure that these children going Deaf be given the opportunity to learn
as soon as possible in life what is their own, their
first, their natural language and advocation of the soul itself. Thank you very much. (audience applauds) – Thank you very much. We now have some time for questions. I suggest that we turn
your question period into the question period for everyone. So please feel free to ask questions for our last speaker but also
for the other two panelists. Okay. We have two microphones
that will run up and down the aisles to receive your questions. Okay, see, we have a question here. – [Audience Member] Hi, thank
you all for speaking today. It was great. Anyone can answer this but
it’s a question regarding the language acquisition.
– Be a little louder. – [Audience Member] Oh,
it’s a question regarding the language acquisition. I was wondering like we’re
talking about in class most if not all users
of sign are bilingual. They have their language of sign and also their written language
because Sign Language doesn’t have a written form. So how are the acquisition
processes for these different? Can you guys speak to your
personal experiences with this? Because there’s an understanding
of an inborn filter for language, but does it work differently for sign versus writing? – [Woman] So I think the question is: is the acquisition
process in Sign Language different from the language
acquisition process in spoken languages? – [Audience Member] No,
for when you’re learning how to write the written language. Because there’s a written English language versus a Sign Language. Most users of sign are
bilingual in that sense. So is a language acquisition
process for that different and how does that work? – [Interpreter] I can
speak a little bit to that. I don’t specialize in
literacy of Deaf children but I do know a little bit
about the research that exists. There are studies, a
great deal of studies, looking at that. There are, we know, Deaf
students who are very successful in terms of literacy skills. The question is how do they
become such good readers? And how do they become
literate in a written language that does not apply to their
Sign Language abilities? It’s entirely separate. Because the written
language does not track with the Sign Language that they use. Let me just back up for just a minute. For hearing children,
learning a spoken language tracks with the written
language that they also learn. There’s much research that
shows phonological knowledge of language really boosts
the ability to learn to read and write. So a lot of literacy instruction
has to do with phonology and how that plays into
learning to read and write. That phonology does not
map of the written language does not map onto a Sign
Language used by Deaf students. Research today is looking
at how Deaf students may capitalize on the phonology
of their Sign Language to assist in the process,
or support the process, of learning to read and write. Not all of the literacy
applies to Deaf children in this area but there are
some findings that we can apply to the situation in Deaf education. So there’s some evidence
that the morphology of sign languages in having
phonology a foundation in one language can be used
to enhance the language learning process in literacy
of a second language. – [Interpreter] I’d like to add one thing to what Amber said. So every child, regardless
of if they’re learning a spoken language or a Sign
Language has to be taught how to read and write. The writing systems aren’t universal, they’re a cultural invention. So it’s always the case
that the process of learning how to read and write is different from language acquisition. So the question is how is it
different for Sign Language and visual language users,
versus spoken language users? Because there’s not a one-to-one mapping in phonological firm and
that’s the research question. That we have not yet… Well, we’re still looking at now. It’s a current area of research. – As to syntax, Bébian
made a wonderful point in teaching kids that he
would first go through the notion of a sentence. This table, I strike. I think in those days, I don’t
know whether it’s the case now but the sentence would often begin with the object. So a signing student
would be signed by Bébian this table, I strike. He’d make sure the student got the idea and then having been through the exercise of teaching the child words and sentences he would say well, when you write it down you don’t write this table, I strike. You write I strike this table. This is the way these
crazy hearing people do it. (audience laughing) He was quite good I
think at getting syntax and grammar through to those kids. – There’s a question next to you. – [Audience Member] A
friend of mine online was upset with the
cochlear marketing where children were not supposed
to be taught sign. She herself was Deaf and she
was very offended with this and I can certainly understand her attitude towards genocide. – [Woman] Towards, what did you say? – [Audience Member] Genocide,
that’s where you discriminate an entire cultures. That’s what the cochlear people early on were trying to do. It’s a natural, very typical, natural asinine sort of thing people do. They wanted to help people so of course they had to exterminate
other efforts to help. But looking into this,
it looks to me as though baby sign is very beneficial
to the intellectual and spiritual development
of small children at a very important age of development. A child who can express
himself at the age of one is going to be developing
rhetorical abilities an entire year before most
children can make noises come out of their faces. But now, this evening,
I understand baby sign could be significant towards the training of future engineers because
of the spatial aspect. I say that very seriously. A moment ago we were talking
about the inadequacies of written language to
which I would respond that there is also a subject of drafting which could expend written language, could be seen as
expanding written language in the direction of spatial orientation. So it seems to me that baby sign is a very important subject. Sign Language should not be confined to special education or
of linguistic rarities but should be learned by every parent. Beyond that, I would like to know how do I say Nicaragua? That seems to be very
important this evening. Nicaragua. – How do you say what?
– Nicaragua. – [Woman] Oh, Nicaragua. Thank you for, yeah. I guess it was a simple question how do you say Nicaragua
and a longer question about the importance of signs. – [Interpreter] If you’re
asking a specific question about baby sign, I can’t answer that without first saying that we can’t talk about baby
signs for hearing children, unless we also are
talking about education, teaching Sign Language to Deaf children. So I would say issues about
teaching hearing infants to sign, okay. That’s an individual
decision for parents to make but we can’t talk about that first. I think first we need to address the fact that Deaf children need to
have equal opportunities. That’s where the focus needs to be first. (audience laughing) (mumbling) This is the sign for Nicaragua. Nicaragua. In NSL. (woman laughing) – [Audience Member] I have a question for particularly for Dr. Martin and colleagues about the relationship between
the origins of language and special works. So one of the interesting things
in the archeological record is that with a stone tool
traditions we see stone tools from a couple of million years
ago and they’re unchanged, unchanged, unchanged, and
then get bifacial blades the closer we get,
symmetrical stone flakes, and then they stay unchanged,
unchanged, unchanged and so on for another half a million years and then we see a stone
tool specialization, we see different shapes
of tools and so on. So of course the production
of the bifacial blades, the ones with the chips on either side, requires being able to manipulate tools and think about symmetry at the same time. So I’m wondering if you see
that as a potential clue to language development or
whether it’s something like the later proliferation of stone tools and the variation and so on
which might be more indicative. Is there any thoughts
you have on this matter would be great? – [Interpreter] Honestly,
I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking. You’re talking about
comparing the development of those two things over
time in the emergence of a language and how
spatial ideas like symmetry and things like that. How they influence and shape language, is that what you’re addressing? – [Audience Member] It’s
more the question related to Dr. Kocab’s point about
tracing language origins and I guess cultural evolution and biological evolution of language. So we see these I guess evidence. We see pieces of evidence
for cultural development over millions of years but
yet the work on Nicaragua and Sign Language suggests
that language development for these kids is very quick within, what? Two generations or three generations. So I’m wondering what lessons
we can learn about reading that contemporary situations
back into the remote past? Yeah, that’s kind of
how I feel about it too. (audience laughing) – [Woman] A difficult question, yeah. – [Interpreter] I have some thoughts. I’m not sure though if my thoughts though will actually answer your question. But would you like to take
a shot at that, Annemarie? Something that comes to mind for me is and I’m not sure if this is
exactly what you’re asking. Part of what Dr. Kocab talked about in terms of cognitive tools
and resources that we have, those may have appeared long, long ago and those might be things
that we can take advantage of to create language. So the languages that we create must… Those cognitive resources must be in place for that to occur. So the emergence of spatial language and how it emerges, for example, we see that for people learning Sign Language, well for all people, hearing or Deaf, there are strengths and weaknesses in terms of mental rotation capabilities. What some of us are good
at, strength that we bring to the table, come into play when we think about human beings. For those who talk about other things, have other strengths and weaknesses, there may be something
about the language itself that uses certain skills to incorporate into the development of the
language in the first place so that the kind of thing
you might be talking about is where long, long ago
historically perhaps a cognitive ability emerged at some point in the history of human
development and then there comes a time where language is needed
to capitalize on something to be able to do something
and then that feeds back into the development of
the language as a cycle. That’s the type of thing
I’m thinking about. I’m not sure if it addresses
what you’re interested in knowing about but
those are my thoughts. – [Interpreter] I’m
also not completely sure what the question was. Well, so you said that tools
started out as one thing and then at some point there
was a point where they became widespread and specialized
and you’re asking if that parallels what we’re
seeing in language emergence? Was that the question you were asking or are you talking
about Chomsky’s proposal for a single mutation
changes that allows for our language faculty? – [Audience Member] Yes,
so I guess the question… I guess not exactly I guess
is the answer to that. We have in the biological
versus the cultural ideas about evolution of language. There’s this gradualist
idea that we build up cultural scaffolding from
communications systems which non-linguistic like
or part linguistic like or something like that. But we also have this
biological capacity for language which is presumably relatively abrupt if it’s a single gene mutation. It’s the time it takes
for that to percolate through a population
which could be anything… – [Interpreter] Interpreters are actually having trouble hearing you. Your mic keeps dropping out it seems so they’re having difficulty
understanding the question that you’re asking and then
can’t interpret it correctly. – [Audience Member] Oh,
okay; yeah, I’m sorry. Is that better if I hold
it a bit closer, okay? Also maybe my accent. I have an Australian
accent and also a cold. It’s a complicated topic as well. I guess we have this biological abruptness versus cultural gradualism and some interplay of the
two and I think, Dr. Kocab, you have made that very clear in your talk to start the afternoon. But we also have this work in the cultural evolution literature and the cognitive evolution literature on these spatial manipulation… Evolution of spatial manipulation, evolution of stone tools,
and the combination of the learning of how to make stone tools and the cognitive capacity for just doing the manipulation to make the
chips that we need to make in the first place. So just doing the
manipulation of the stone to make the tools. It was just dragging to me
that your two talks together brought up many of these
points that come to debates in this literature. Yeah, so I was interested
in discussing that further. But I agree it’s a very complex topic and if we had answers
here, we could all go home. – [Woman] I think we have
time for one more question. – [Audience Member] Mr.
Shea, in your striking book the Language of Light, one
of the more striking aspects of the story of Deaf
education to me, anyway, was the role of Helen
Keller in that story. You wanna tell a little bit about that? – The answer would be a long one but I’ll try to make it short. Helen Keller was remarkable. She was Deaf and Blind
from the age of about seven and she got all the way through Radcliffe but there is disappointing
evidence in the history that at a young age, the work
that was presented as her own was in fact plagiarized by
Anne Sullivan from a book. It was a great crisis in Helen’s life. The head of the Perkins
School in Boston disowned her in fact and she ultimately
recovered from that. Many people jumped to her defense. She was only a child, of course,
but there is some thought that much of her writing in later life may have been written
in large part by others. Whether it was or not, she was brilliant. She did get through Radcliffe
and accomplished a lot. But one of the problems
I think Helen always had, she never learned how
to speak well audibly. She never learned how to read lips whether read lips by touch. But Alexander Graham Bell used
her as a kind of adversement for Oralist teaching and
his favorite phrase well if Blind and Deaf Helen
Keller can speak and read lips and learn so much then why can’t the Deaf or not Blind accomplish that? But lots of what he said
about Helen was false. It also turns out in history
that when Helen was very young she had a well developed
system of home signs which could have been
with the proper teachers or somebody like Bébian and his successors turned her into an even more
remarkable woman, a genius, than she was without
the ability to practice her own native language. Those who are interested,
there’s a full chapter on Helen in the Language
of Light and you all may find it interesting. Thank you. – Okay, sure. There’s one more question there. – [Audience Member] All right, thank you. I have a question. A lot of hearing people, especially hearing parents
now, are finding, you know, the advantages of using
Sign Language with infants right away after birth
because the brain is just going right from the
beginning a child is born and they’re saying the
importance of making connection to the things that are in the world and it’s just so helpful for a child just on the ratio of knowledge. My question is… I’ve seen children here that
never had a basic language like for instance a child
that might be in school who really doesn’t know
Sign Language, who’s Deaf, doesn’t really understand
English even though they’re trying to teach that child English because at home the family
is speaking Spanish. So it seems like if you’re missing your fundamental language,
a foundational language, you’re really at a disadvantage. Also, with us, you know,
with hearing parents we’re always talking to
our child so right away, you know, it’s putting on
the jacket, the booties. This is milk. You know, we’re constantly
making a connection to things for them to be able to,
you know, gain knowledge of their environment. I was just curious when
you were in Nicaragua, did you find any Deaf
parents with Deaf children, or did you find families
that had many Deaf members to be able to see how they communicated and if that communication
was so much better because their children
were getting right away connections to the environment rather than three years of delayed
nothing, no language, no fundamental language
until they got into school. Did you find any families like that or is that something
you’d be interested in? Thank you. – [Interpreter] There
are a few individuals who have Deaf relatives,
Deaf aunts, and so forth. Yes, their language tends to be on par with what we would see in a typically developing situation. Absolutely having a rich environment has a positive impact on
their language development. One thing I want to make
sure that I emphasize, so often hearing parents
who have a Deaf child are afraid, how will I learn
Sign Language well enough? I can’t possibly do that. That’s not my language. That fear sometimes drives them, and there are a multitude
of other reasons as well, drive them to using spoken English. I didn’t highlight this
in my talk but a lot of what we know is that children are prodigious language learners and they often will surpass their input. Really, the message that
we want to send to parents is that anything helps. Learning sign with your kid helps their language development,
that’s been shown. So don’t underestimate what the kid has and what they can do. – [Interpreter] Right. And Deaf families in
Nicaragua are quite rare. I actually don’t know
anyone whose taken a look at counting that. We know of a few but there aren’t many. I feel like there’s more
here in the United States, but I could be wrong. I don’t think there’s
ever been a count done. In Nicaragua, I certainly
don’t know of many but a couple, yes. – [Woman] Okay, last question. – [Audience Member] I
already spoke so I’m happy to give up the mic to somebody who hasn’t. – [Woman] Why don’t you
speak so the interpreters can hear you? – [Audience Member] Okay, I’ll just talk. So I have a couple questions. My first one being as two
highly successful Deaf women, how do you go about facing
prejudice in the work place? I mean, that’s just
really fascinating to me. I’m a coder and so I
kind of have experience seeing that prejudice. I’m just wondering… I mean, I’m so, so happy
that you guys are here. I don’t know. I’m just interested in that. How do you give advice
about counteracting that prejudice and thinks like that? Sorry, that’s so much. (audience laughing) – [Interpreter] Wow. Yes, it’s okay in many
different ways, all the time. – [Audience Member] I’m so sorry. – [Interpreter] Maybe it will be helpful if you are curious about
if we’re currently facing that prejudice as adults
or when we were younger because my answer would be
different in those two contexts. – [Audience Members] You
guys are both working at high ranking institutions. Do you feel like you
still experience that? Okay. Sorry, that’s a bad question. – [Interpreter] It’s fine. – [Interpreter] Okay, yes, I
can say a couple of things. Yes, I do experience things like that. Also, I have created a space for myself at my current place of employment where I make it work for me. I make it that way
intentionally for myself. And also I have support from colleagues in my workplace. So to be honest, I think
I have a pretty good place of employment where my
colleagues are supportive of me and my work and they listen
to what I have to say about what I need. They basically allow me
to design the system there that I want, that works for me. I think it’s partly because,
well, quite honestly I don’t know why that is. I do feel that there are
just good people there. – [Interpreter] Just, I’ll
briefly add one thing. This goes back to the intro of this panel. I’m lucky that I’m in
the field that I’m in that appreciates the
importance of Sign Language, not only socially but on an intellectual and academic level. I’m also lucky because my institution has a lot of resources to
support me in that work but being in an environment where people really are appreciative of
the study of Sign Language like you all are, that helps a lot. That’s why I really
thank you all for hosting this wonderful event. Thank you.
– Thank you. Thank you very much. (audience applauds) (whimsical music)

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