« PreviousContinue »
tellectual wealth. In short, though such a community would no doubt exhibit much that would be peculiar, yet, even though writing should be unknown, the present intellectual degradation of the deaf and dumb would by no means be one of its characteristics. And no doubt, some mode of writing would in time come into use, beiter adapted to the circumstances of the deaf and dumb, than the tedious and complicated characters for words now in use.
With many of the educated deaf, and with some of their teachers, the formation of such a community has been a favorite project. But for that end, all the ties of early associations, of business, of country, home and kindred, must be broken
up. It would be too much to expect such sacrifices from many of the families accidentally containing deaf mute chil
and if these children should be taken from their natural protectors, without regard to the yearnings of parental and fraternal affection, and settled for life in a community of deaf mutes exclusively, marriages would take place among them, when of suitable age, as certainly as in any other community; and a multitude of children would soon grow up, able to hear with few exceptions, for deafness is rarely hereditary, but, -like those children mentioned by Herodotus, whom an ancient king of Egypt, desirous of ascertaining what was the original language of mankind, caused to be brought up in seclusion by dumb persons—without any spoken language, because there was no spoken language for them to learn. The project of a deaf mute community on a large scale, is therefore generally considered an Utopian scheme. It is at present, and will long continue necessary to place the deaf mute child, for a limited number of years, in an institution, where all the facilities of intellectual development afforded by a deaf mute community are provided during the term of his stay ; and where, moreover, he will be taught, as far as practicable, a language universally intelligible among those to whose society he will return.
The causes which make the perfect acquisition of a written language so peculiarly difficult for the deaf and dumb, and their instruction in it a task so long and wearisome, are not generally understood. Strange to say, many people confound this case with that of children learning to read and write in ordinary schools. The latter, already masters, for all necessary purposes, of their mother tongue, have only to learn
twenty-six characters representing the elementary sounds of words already familiar. "When the value of these characters is once well fixed in the memory, the only remaining difficullies are those arising from an irregular orthography. To the deaf mute, on the other hand, not only the characters representing words are strangers, but the sounds of the words themselves have not, and for him never can have any existence.
When he has become familiar with the form of every letter in the alphabet, he is not a step further advanced towards a knowledge of words, than the English child who has learned the Hebrew alphabet, is thereby advanced towards a knowledge of the words of that language. In each case it is necessary to explain the value of each individual word, and the laws of construction, in the study of a foreign language, often present much greater difficulties than the nomenclature.
The Hebrew is here selected, because its alphabet, its words, and its syntax being all radically different from our own, it affords a good illustration, though still an inadequate one, of the difficulty of the acquisition of a written language, by those who, though living among the people by whom that language is spoken, have never heard a word of it, and to whom therefore, it is as truly a foreign language as the Hebrew is to us.
A still better illustration would be the case of an European or American attempting to learn from books the Chinese written language ; yet in ihat we are told, there are only about two hundred and fourteen radical characters, and, these being once well fixed in the memory, it becomes comparatively an easy task to understand and remember the thirty-three thousand characters formed by combinations of these. But if we examine the English language, we shall find several thousand words, primitives to us, though very many of them may be compounds or derivatives in the languages whence they were taken. Each of these primitive words must be retained by a direct effort of the memory, unassisted by any associations with other words, in our language, previously known; and in the case of the deaf and dumb, they must be recollected, as we recollect the Chinese characters, by their appearance on paper, unaided by any associations of their parts with the sounds of words. To this class of learners, our written words must appear as a jumble of letters, each by itself sig
nifying nothing, any more than the different strokes of the pen which compose one of the Chinese characters.
From this view of the case it is evident that the perfect acquisition of the written language of his country, must, for a deaf mute, require even more time than the perfect acquisition of the written language of China for an European, since for the former, the number of arbitrary characters is much greater, and the difficulties of construction are certainly not less.
Those aware of the severe mental labor which the study of languages, like the Hebrew and Chinese, exacts for so many years, will cease to be surprised that, in most cases, after four or five years instruction the deaf mute is, with respect to the study of written language, but little advanced beyond that point at which the education of those who hear usually begins,-namely, that at which the meaning of unfamiliar words can be explained by other words previously known; and that very many can hardly be said to reach this point, at least so as to derive benefit from the dictionaries in
We need not therefore wonder that so many, after completing the period allowed them, and returning to the society of those little qualified to aid or encourage them in intellectual pursuits, forget much that they may have learned in the school-room, and only retain so much knowledge of the simplest forms of language, as to hold necessary communication with those with whom they have to deal.
Yet even with this scanty knowledge of written language, the knowledge of facts, of causes, of principles, of family, social and moral relations, which every mute of ordinary intellect acquires by a residence of a few years in an institution for the deaf and dumb, is of incalculable value. It lifts him in the scale of being, giving him the sweet assurance that he is a man, a member of the same great family with those around him. A veil is lifted from the face of nature, and the curtain drawn aside that hid the once mysterious springs of human actions. The world is no longer to him bounded by the hills that close his own view. He sees the sun set, and knows he has gone to shine on other lands, to foster the growth of the tea and the coffee-tree,-to ripen the orange and the fig,—to light the path of the elephant-riding Asiatic through his tiger-haunted jungle, and to parch the desert where the Arab speeds from Oasis to Oasis, on his camel,
and where the lordly lion dwells alone. When the desolation of winter is abroad on the earth, he looks forward with confidence to the return of a summer as bright, as warm, and as fruitful as the last, for the promise has been explained to him, that seed time and harvest shall not cease. He has been taught to shun the intoxicating draught which too many have put to the lips of the uneducated deaf and dumb; he has learned to respect habitually the rights of property, to set a sacred value on truth, and by their conduct in these respects, he knows whom among his fellow men to trust, and whom to distrust. With the world at large he can indeed hold but little intercourse, but with those familiar with his modes of expression, he establishes a dialect, partly of words and partly of signs, not only sufficient for all necessary purposes, but enabling him to mingle in the social parties, and share in the social enjoyments of those of his own age.
If he cannot understand the inflammatory appeals, and personal abuse of a party newspaper, he at least knows the most material facts in ihe history of his own country, and the structure of its government; he is aware why elections are held, and if he sides with a party merely because it is the side of his own best friends, he has a better motive of action than many can plead. If he does not hear, or seeing in writing, cannot fully appreciate the solemn words that bind man and woman together for life, ai least he is fully sensible of the sacred nature of the relation, and is himself competent to enter, and often does enter into it. Though he may not comprehend the eloquent appeals made in behalf of missions, he has heard of missionaries sent to the heathen, and perhaps has even been personally acquainted with such. He knows why they were sent and by whom, and how they went, and can even point out on the map the country to which they have gone. If he cannot hear the public preaching of the word, or even feel the full force of the exhortations in tracts put into his hands, he knows why men meet one day in seven, and can ofte derive profit by meeting with his hearing neighbors, recalling to his own mind under the influence of the day, of the place and of the occasion, some exhortation delivered long before by his teacher in his own language of signs, some precept of the Saviour, or some scene from sacred history. Nay more, he not unfrequently obtains the assurance of meeting his fellowworshippers in that celestial home, where finally the predic
tion of the prophet shall be more fully fulfilled than during the brief abode of the Messiah on earth, where in short, “ the deaf shall hear and the dumb shall sing."
We have now briefly considered the actual degree of success attained by instructors of the deaf and dumb. Though the instances of eminent success, at least during the usual scanty period of instruction, have been rare, yet, compared with the lot of far greater numbers who remain uneducated, the condition of the educated mute, even of one who would be considered below the average of his class, is one of intellectual, social and moral elevation, and his means of enjoyment of a far higher kind, and more accessible. It remains to be considered whether the almost insuperable difficulties which obstruct his perfect acquisition of written language, cannot be so far removed that the ability to derive high gratification from the perusal of books, shall no longer be the rare exception instead of the general rule.
We have spoken of written language as peculiarly difficult of acquisition for the deaf and dumb. If they consider each word as a single complex character, they are forced to commit to memory several thousand radical characters; and if, as is perhaps more common, they look on a word as an arhitrary jumble of letters, the case is, as we shall hereafter explain, still worse.
But the difficulty of acquiring words in the first instance, great as it is, is by no means the only, or even the principal difficulty. The ability to employ, without sensible effort, the signs for ideas furnished by any language in our ordinary social intercourse, and in our private ineditations, is necessary 10 a thorough acquaintance with that language. The deaf and dumb must not only laboriously commit to memory
the words of a written language and its laws of construction, but they must be led to form a systein of ideas corresponding to those words, and to employ either the images of those written words, or some other system of signs, parallel with, and readily convertible into the ordinary language of their countrymen, as the direct object and instrument of thought.
This faculty can in general only be acquired by the constant colloquial use of words, and such colloquial use implies a mode of exhibiting words in conversation more rapid and convenient than ordinary writing. Till it is acquired, written language must ever remain to this class of learners, a foreign