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Not Children of a Lesser God

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Joined: 30 May 2013
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 25, 2014 10:08 pm    Post subject: Not Children of a Lesser God Reply with quote

One of the people who had the unenviable task of bringing me up, could be very caring but was also quite thoughtless and insensitive as people of his generation usually were. Recalling his schooldays, he said, "Eh, the Welsh [speaking] boys were thick, mun! They were really thick!" His attitude echoed that of the royal commissioners of education
in 1847 who said, "Few of them show intelligence. If the question is translated into Welsh, they do better."

Similarly, he laughed at two deaf workmates of his who made a hash of a crossword clue, filling in the squares as 'cool cider' instead of 'crocodile.' Neither he nor I then knew at what a linguistic disadvantage deaf people were.

By the 1970s, we recognised that it had been cruel and wrong to subject children to the Welsh not. Most of us didn't know that deaf children were still being shamed and punished in school for speaking Sign Language. The idea was that it should be eradicated in favour of lip reading. On the face of it , it did look as if lip reading would help them to integrate into the wider community.

The problem was that lip reading is extremely difficult. Most of us can lip read to a small extent, but hardly anyone can do it really well. If you're blind as well as deaf, it's hopeless.

Furthermore, the policy was that parents should hit children who signed at home. We heard of one mother who proudly told a teacher, ''My son made these awful signs at me last night. I slapped him from one side of the room to the other! By the way, what do these signs mean?" They meant, "I love you, Mummy."

Like Welsh, Sign Language was designated a 'monkey' language. The idea was that only monkeys talk with their hands. People should communicate orally. In that case, reading and writing should be banned as that is a visual form of communication.

The fact is that all Plains Indians spoke a form of Sign Language, however good their hearing was, because neighbouring nations had totally unrelated spoken languages. At one time, all the inhabitants of Martha's Vineyard spoke Sign Language as the majority were deaf.

I've heard idiots say Welsh is not a 'proper' language. It's even more common for people to see Sign Language as an invented and inadequate form of miming. This is not true. It evolved naturally over time like all human languages.

Mercifully, it has now made a comeback. The deaf are right to see themselves as an ethnic minority. It's not very surprising if they also see themselves as oppressed. So some will wear blue ribbons as a statement. It is what the Nazis made them wear. There have been other historical episodes of oppression. The Talmud classified deaf people as imbeciles and denied them civil rights. St Augustine said they could not be Christians as 'faith comes by hearing.'

As late as the 1970s, a good number of people confined to mental hospitals for life were in fact deaf. It's not clear why this is. Is it because it is easy to mistake deafness for a psychological disorder, or because decades of linguistic isolation will drive you mad? Probably, a bit of both.

I think it was Somerset Maugham who thought that Sign Language should be eradicated to prevent the deaf getting together and breeding. The evidence for oppressed minority status is quite impressive.

It is, of course, wrong that as late as the 1970s, teachers and policy makers who were supposed to be helping deaf kids, were scarring them for life instead. But they probably honestly thought they were doing something good, that they were helping them to fit into society.

Of course, there must have been an element of sadism and lust for domination too. But I don't think the perpetrators would have been aware of this themselves. We're all capable of massive self deception about our motives.

In the west, we are getting more empathetic as the decades go by. Comparatively speaking, even in the seventies, people were more crass, insensitive and stupid on average than they are now. Most people hit their children for one reason or other.

Unintentional cruelty is still cruelty. But would it make the deaf community feel better to see their former oppressors as stupid rather than evil?

They're going too far, I feel, in opposing implants which will enable deaf children to hear. It's not a from of cultural genocide, and it's in the child's best interests. If you can hear, you're much less likely to be run over by a car, and much more likely to be able to appreciate music. After all, if a child broke a leg, you wouldn't refuse to set it out of solidarity with the leg dragging community. Also, life is still cruel if you're deaf, because there's never any shortage of bullies.

I am not saying that speakers of Sign Language are being fanatical or have chips on their shoulders. Nor do I think their desire to be treated like human beings is 'obsessive' as dear little Royston would say. These responses are unhelpful. But I think they are going too far.

It's quite simple. If Sign Language is important to you for cultural reasons, keep on speaking it. It's always useful for pre-speech children.

Welsh is not absolutely necessary from a purely utilitarian point of view. But I think we should speak it because it is beautiful, it has great literature, and so that the bullies who tried to destroy it will not win.

And that's how it should be with Sign Language. Keep it up, and don't brood about your former moronic oppressors. If you let them make you bitter and twisted, they'll have won.

Last edited by marianneh on Fri Oct 27, 2017 8:28 am; edited 2 times in total
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Joined: 09 Feb 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 30, 2014 3:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was thrown but I see the point - " Sign Language " consists of unspoken words : can you master the business now of posting images and debate the use of gestures ( as opposed to painted signs - I am thinking hand and finger gestures - ? ) You could take some mobile phone images of your own hands to illustrate these ... I was thinking of doing a thread on ' secret ' signs eg the three feathers or the feathers inverted as ' Y Nodyn ' or the cockerel head etc.
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:31 pm    Post subject: reply Reply with quote

It shows how much I can't be trusted with technology that my original reply came up as a separate post! You can see that, the one called reply' above this for my words of wisdom. As I said, Roger and I may get round to decorating this post in due course.
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