Sign As A Replacement For Language Acquisition Historical Perspective

Michelle Arquines
Wikipedian Assignment
Foundations of Special Education

Category: Hearing Disabilities
Topic: Effects of Hearing Loss on Language Development

Article link:

Must the Sign-Language Go? Edward M. Gallaudet. American Annals of the Deaf; July 1997; 142, 3; ProQuest Education Journals. Page 31.
(Reprinted from Gallaudet, E. M. 1899. Must the Sign Language Go? American Annals of the Deaf, 44(3), 221-229.)

This article is an interesting look back at the history of deaf education. Written in 1899 by Gallaudet, this article discusses the early use of sign language in the education of the deaf. At the time, there was a debate about using signs in the classroom setting as a replacement for the use of verbal language – both spoken and written. From what I am gathering from the vernacular of the article, the mainstream thought was to educate the deaf using verbal language only so that the deaf community could integrate and assimilate as much as possible, reading lips and speaking aloud in order to communicate.

Gallaudet argues for acquisition of both verbal language and the use of signs. He urges the teaching of verbal language – written and spoken, as much as possible — in the very early stages of child development, and combined simultaneously with the use of signs so that expression is not impeded. He advocates the use of manual spelling through signs as early as possible in order to reinforce the verbal language acquisition. He quotes Henry Drummond, saying, “Language should be subordinate to thought, not thought to language.” Utilizing signs allows the user to communicate thoughts effectively and seamlessly, while repressing the use of signs relegates the user to communicating with more difficulty and consequently, with less fluency and freedom of expression.

His critics argue that the use of sign interferes with this acquisition of verbal language fluency, and stands in the way of proper speaking and understanding of others.

Gallaudet concludes by saying, “Teachers in schools where signs are not allowed in the classroom have told me that they have repeatedly found themselves unable to explain the meaning of a word or phrase, which could readily have been made clear by the use of signs. This not only involves a series of distinct losses to the pupils, but if forms a habit of not understanding, which is injurious.”

Looking back at this controversy from the present standpoint, it seems clear that Gallaudet’s point succeeded. Students who are deaf and have been dually educated are readily able to communicate in both written language and sign.