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s you may already have known, I’m a History Major at Chapman University right now.  I’m allowed to do my Senior Thesis on any historical topic that I want (best news ever, by the way), so I have chosen to become a Deaf Historian for the next year-and-a-half!  I’m studying the National Association of the Deaf films that were made between 1910 and 1920 in an effort to preserve sign language.  So far, it’s been fascinating.  I haven’t been able to get my hands on all the films yet, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to soon.  They’re all at the Gallaudet University archives, along with all the correspondence of NAD President George Veditz.  It also looks like a school-sponsored trip to the Gallaudet archives might be in the cards for me.  Super exciting!

So, as part of my task to get rolling on this subject, I had to create an essay on how others have studied that topic in the past.  It’s ten pages long, and heavily footnoted (Yikes!).  I’ve included the intro down below, because I think it really gives a lot of info on the background of the films that’s fun, and also super interesting.  I always say to take my stuff with a grain of salt, because it’s not particularly well-researched, but you can take this one as well-researched fact.  I’ll paste the footnotes at the bottom.  I’ll also post the whole essay at some point, but I want to make it easy for those who don’t want to wade through a ten page essay on historic theory to skip.  🙂  Here it is!

George Veditz and the National Association for the Deaf Films

            In 1880 in Milan, Italy, the International Congress on Education for the Deaf voted to ban the use of sign language in Deaf[1] schools. [2]  Spurred by the rhetoric of Alexander Graham Bell, known to most Americans as the inventor of the telephone, American Deaf schools flocked to comply with the Milan Conference’s decision.  In return, a movement was spawned by Deaf community leaders advocating sign language instruction, fiercely hanging onto the culture they had fought so hard to create.  Still, it looked as if the Deaf were losing this fight as Alexander Graham Bell, a follower of eugenics, tried to convince everyone that the Deaf were forming their own separate race.  Even those who didn’t subscribe to eugenics “demanded the elimination of sign language, believing that it undermined English language acquisition and promoted deaf separatism.” [3]  In the end, deaf people would have to live in a hearing world, they argued, and they should have the skills to deal with that fact. Science has since proved what Deaf people knew all along, that this theory does not work in practicality.  Keeping sign language away from deaf people keeps all language away from deaf people, and can be harmful to cognitive development.[4]  Still, it looked as if sign might become extinct in the near future.

This is the climate in which the National Association of the Deaf, under President George Veditz, decided to make several films for the preservation of Sign Language.  “The N.A.D… has collected a fund of $5,000, called the Moving Picture Fund.” Veditz wrote, “…I am sorry that it is not $20,000.”[5]  With such a limited budget, Veditz and the NAD Board had to decide carefully which signers they would film and what subjects they would cover.  Ultimately, the films they chose to make tended to center on Deaf history, American patriotism, and religion[6].  Eighteen films were made in all, from the years 1913-1920, but only fourteen of these survived to the modern age.[7]  The loss of 4 films was due in large part to their heavy use by the Deaf community, and the poorly trained film operators responsible for winding the machines.

The films were made by pointing a static camera at the signers and having them lecture to it.  Often, small amounts of scenery such as vases and curtains were placed in the background for visual effect.  Because of the black and white picture and the poor resolution of the film, signers had to make sure they produced their signs large and signed slowly so everyone could see them.  After a few mistakes, most notably the film showing Edward Minter Gallaudet’s lecture – a retelling of Lorna Doone – filmmakers were also careful to place the lecturers on plain, dark backgrounds so their hands would show up easily.[8]  These films compared favorably with other films of the time in technical skill and appearance.

Once the films were completed, they were circulated throughout the United States to local Deaf Clubs.  These clubs would often couple the film screening with live entertainment, making each screening a huge event in the local Deaf community.  Large groups of signers would congregate in the hall downtown to see the films.  Sometimes, requests were made for the NAD to send transcripts of the films that could be read for any hearing visitors in the audience.  Although Veditz’s film, featuring his impassioned plea for sign language is the best known today, it was E.M. Gallaudet’s film that was most requested when the films were released, despite the difficult background of his film.[9]  This was probably due to the popularity of E.M. Gallaudet’s father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.  T.H. Gallaudet had been instrumental in forming the first school for the Deaf, in Hartford, Connecticut.

Although the films had a major impact on the Deaf community when they were first produced, scholarship on them has been spotty at best.  Many books cover the topic, but devote no more than a few pages to the exploration of the history of these films.  Some give no more than a brief mention to Veditz’s films as being the precursor to modern Sign Language recording.  This paper attempts to explore in greater detail not only the motives behind George Veditz’s creation of these films, and how these films influenced deaf culture as a whole, but also why the topic hasn’t been better covered by Deaf Historians.

That’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed! 🙂  Also, a link to Veditz’s film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XITbj3NTLUQ


[1] The deaf community uses the term “Deaf” with a capital D to denote the segment of deaf people who consider themselves culturally deaf.  This separates them from other groups such as the elderly, who may experience total hearing loss, but hardly identify with the Deaf as a community.  I feel it is important to make this designation in the language Deaf people use about themselves, and have continued this practice throughout the paper.

[2] Daniel Eagan, America’s Film Legacy, (The Continuum Publishing Group: New York, 2012), Page 11

[3] Signs of Resistance, Page 3

[4] Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf, (University of California Press: Berkley, 1990), Page 54

[5] Eagan, America’s Film Legacy, Page 11

[6] Susan Burch, Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History 1900-WWII, (New York University Press: New York, 2002), Page 58

[7] Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, (Harvard University Press: Massachusetts, 2005), Page 58

[8] Padden and Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, Page 63

[9] Padden and Humphries, inside Deaf Culture, (Harvard University Press: Massachusetts, 2005), Page 63

    

 

etty G. Miller was born in 1934, and her parents were both Deaf.  Betty had two older brothers who were hearing, so everyone just assumed that Betty was too, especially because she could clearly hear a little bit.  It was a surprise to everyone in her family when she attended Kindergarten for the first time and was diagnosed as Hard of Hearing.  This threw her family for a loop.  Remembering all the prejudice and oppression they had experienced at the hands of hearing people, Betty’s parents decided that they wanted her to make the most use of whatever hearing she had.  This is why they made the surprising decision to send her to Bell School in Chicago – a school known for Oralistic practices.  Later, Betty’s parents took her out of Bell School and switched her into a regular mainstream school.  But the mainstream school didn’t have speech therapy, so Betty went to still another school in the evenings to be tutored in speech.

Betty did the best she could at these schools, and was a very successful student.  She got her degree in Art Education from Pennsylvania State University , but it wasn’t until she started to teach at Gallaudet University that things seemed to click for her.  She finally felt the sense of belonging that she had missed out on in her mainstream school career.  Betty’s art focused completely on the Deaf experience, depicting the oppression Deaf people face at the hands of hearing, and also exhibiting the joy of sign that can be found throughout the Deaf community.  Many of her paintings depict puppet-like deaf people – no doubt a response to all her speech therapy classes.  Artwork that focused entirely on the Deaf experience was an entirely new form of artwork in the 1970’s, and came to be called “Deaf View/Image Art.” Or De’VIA Betty was one of the early pioneers of this form of art.

Betty’s first one woman show took place at Gallaudet University in 1972, entitled “The Silent World”.  It was so successful, that throughout the 1970s’, she continued to have shows frequently at Gallaudet.  They were all very well received.  This spurred a series of one woman shows throughout the 1980’s and ‘90’s, and also many collaborative shows with other Deaf artists.  In 1993, Betty put on a showcase of eight Deaf artists, which was the largest collection of De’VIA that had ever taken place.

After 13 years of teaching at Gallaudet, Betty decided it was time to move on.  After a time touring around the country putting on shows, she became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor – the first Deaf person to ever do so.  This has allowed her to have a rewarding career helping other Deaf people overcome serious addiction problems, and also educating other Drug and Alcohol counselors on how best to work with Deaf people.  She has published a book about her and others experiences entitled “Deaf and Sober: Journeys Through Recovery” which she has both authored and illustrated.

Betty is currently in her 80’s.  Unfortunately, she has suffered from some memory loss and doesn’t create art very often anymore.  When she does, it’s usually in Neon  – a medium she discovered in the late 1990’s.  Still, her pioneering efforts in the field of De’VIA will always be remembered as some of the greatest contributions of the 20th century art world.  Without Betty, the world would be a little less bright and a little less Deaf-aware.

I just attended a whole day of Orientation events at Chapman University.  I was thrilled to find that they had ASL interpreters for all the large group events with podium speakers!  For the 1 1/2 hour long convocation ceremony, they even had a team!  First of all, props to Chapman for understanding and paying for the services Deaf people need.  That being said, I think they could improve their service even more.

My husband works at Chapman University, which means that I get to meet all sorts of behind-the-scene University people that most students don’t.  At a wedding a while ago, I met the woman who was in charge of booking the interpreters for special events at Chapman.  She told me that they were looking to improve the services they offered.  I believe I told them about RID certification and how that was a really good way to know you have an amazing interpreter.

The interpreters yesterday were a mixed bag.  I think they probably came from an agency, but really I’m just guessing.  The first group I watched was a team of two women.  The first woman was absolutely amazing and gave an equal-access interpretation.  She was funny when the speaker was funny, extremely animated, and caught almost every bit of information being thrown out by the speaker.  The second gal was not as good.  To be fair, she was interpreting for a man using lots of folksy language and English idioms, but I felt that she didn’t match the speaker very well and she left out a lot of non-essential information.

The team did well, though.  I hardly noticed when they switched between each other and they even kept interpreting through the non-captioned video that was shown.  I was thoroughly impressed.

That night, I went to a talk on the History and Traditions of Chapman University.  It was such a cool and funny class.  I was sitting in a really bad place to watch the interpreter (there were very tall people all around me and she was standing on the floor).  While I can’t really comment on the rest of the interpreting job she was doing, she didn’t interpret through the non-captioned movie, which I didn’t appreciate.

The two bits of advice I would have to Chapman about using interpreters in the future would be to ask the agency for people who are RID certified or have been interpreting more than five years.  They do so much to make their students feel welcome, and I really think it would be such a relief for Deaf students to see that they were getting equal access to information being presented.  It would make Deaf parents feel that they were leaving their student in the hands of someone who not only cares, but is willing to go above and beyond to meet the needs of their child.

The second piece of advice would be to put those interpreters on a podium, please!!  I’d like to be able to see them no matter where I was sitting, and a little elevation will do just that.

Chapman University is a class act.  For people who know next to nothing about interpreters or interpreting, they did really well!  I was impressed by everything I saw yesterday, not just the interpreters.  Watching their interpreters made me feel like they really cared, though.  They really wanted everyone to have a good experience at orientation, not just the “normal” hearing freshmen.  I think I’m going to like attending here!

y ASL pin came several months ago, and I’ve been wearing it proudly.  For those who are interested in that sort of thing, here it is:  I’m now equipt and ready to help anyone who signs!

n my interpreting class last night everyone was required to do a group presentation on a topic of their choice.  There are only four boys in the class, so they all banded together and decided to do gender issues in interpreting.  Out of all the presentations, theirs impressed me the most.  They brought up a ton of interesting stuff.  that I had never contemplated before about interpreting for a person of the opposite gender.

*Disclaimer: There are dirty words in this post.

To start off their presentation one of the boys signed a story to us and asked us to write down our interpretation.  He told us it was an informal conversation among friends, so we should keep that in mind while interpreting.  My translation was “3 of my friends and I went out to a bar.  We were sitting at the counter when this girl walked up and sat down.  Her skirt was so short, you could totally see her vagina.”    Other girls had written down silly euphemisms like “Lady Junk” and our female teacher wrote down “she was clearly not wearing chonies.”

The boy’s point on this was that none of those words would have come out of their mouths… possibly vagina, but not very likely.  When they did the same excercise, they came up with words that would be considered much dirtier, like pussy and snatch… words that most females feel uncomfortable saying.  I’ve spent a lot of time around (extremely) rude and crass boys before, but none of those other terms came to my mind as I was translating.  I don’t know if I was just so concentrated on the meaning that I forgot I was representing someone else’s conversation, or if it’s truly because I’m female and uncomfortable with saying those things.  Maybe it was a little of both.  I think this exercise was a drastic example of how the male mind and the female mind work completely differently, and that you have to be aware of those things if you’re going to interpret for someone of the opposite gender.

Another thing they brought up was “Passive Voice”.    Passive Voice is a way of speaking and acting towards another person that is deferential.  Women often use passive voice when interacting with people, both male and female, so as not to be perceived as bitchy.  We do it without thinking about it, so it’s not a conscious choice or anything.  Males, however, often use a more aggressive voice – especially in business situations.  This will influence your interpreting style.

To illustrate this, the boys talked about the story of a woman interpreter and her male deaf client who was a manager at a company.  She noticed as she was interpreting for him at work meetings that the assignments he gave people either didn’t get done or got done much slower than some of the other manager’s requests.  She decided to have a chat with her client about how he wanted to be perceived around the office and then did her best to perpetuate that image through her speaking, even if it was uncomfortable for her.  People suddenly started taking his assignments more seriously.  When her client’s work evaluation came up, she did the same.  Instead of saying things like “I think I did pretty well this year”, she would say things like, ” I did great this year and this is why.”  She said she felt very rude and pushy doing it that way, but the performance evaluation went amazingly well.  When it was over, her deaf client told her it was the best evaluation he had ever had.

I think this is another good example of an interesting thing: I know how to be a woman in the world, but in order to be a good interpreter I should also learn about being a man in the world as best I can.  If I don’t learn more about gender dynamics and how men operate, I can potentially hurt a client by misrepresenting him.  I mean, best case scenario – he sounds silly.  Worst case scenario – he misses out on a promotion because he’s perceived as weak.

It’s a lot of food for thought, and something I’ve never really pondered before.  This interpreting stuff is harder than it looks!!

  

odger Young was born in the small, rural town of Tiffin, Ohio.  His family moved nearby, to the smaller town of Green Springs a few years later.  Rodger was the oldest of five children, and the family loved to get together and play music as a group.  Rodger also grew up hunting with his father in the woods and was an excellent marksman.

In Green Springs, sports was the hinge-pin of the community.  When Rodger started High School, he was determined to make his mark on the ball field despite his small stature.  He was too small to play Football, and the coach wouldn’t allow him to participate.  At 5’2″ he was also too short to play Basketball, but the coach took pity on him and decided to let him play anyway because of his enthusiasm.  Mostly, Rodger played in practice games, but it was during a regular game that tragedy struck.  Rodger was fouled and knocked flat onto the concrete, hitting his head and blacking out.  In the months following his accident, Rodger’s hearing and eyesight deteriorated to the point where he was almost completely deaf and needed to wear thick glasses.

Rodger’s school work was greatly impacted by his accident.  He could no longer hear the teacher, and he could no longer see the blackboard in class, no matter how close to the front of the room he sat.  After a year of struggling to keep his grades up, Rodger decided to drop out of High School and go to work for the local factory.  His family could use the money, and he didn’t feel like his school career was going anywhere.

A few years later, wanting a little extra spending cash, Rodger joined the Ohio National Guard with his brother.  During peace time, the national guard would meet a couple of weekends a year and there was little expectation that they would be in actual combat.  Rodger had been interested in the military before his accident, but knew that his hearing and eyesight would keep him out of the official US Army.  He didn’t pass the test to get into the National Guard with flying colors, but he explained to the man in charge why he wanted to join up, and they let him anyway.

The expectation that the National Guard wouldn’t be in actual combat ended with Pearl Harbor.  Suddenly, the Ohio National Guard had become nationalized as part of the regular US Army, and Rodger was on his way to the South Pacific to fight in World War 2.   Because of his amazing performance as a soldier in the National Guard, Roger was given the rank of  Sergeant with a troop of men under his command.  He did his best to hide the true extent of his hearing loss from the higher-ups in the Army, but it was well known that his hearing wasn’t perfect.

When word came from the top that a big campaign to take control of the Munda Airstrip would be underway, Rodger began to worry.  He knew he could take care of himself in battle, but he didn’t want to be responsible for others lives when he may not be able to hear an order to retreat, or hear where the enemy was located.  That night, he went to his commanding officer and asked to be demoted to a private.  At first, his commanding officer thought he was trying to get out of fighting completely, and he wouldn’t let Rodger step down.  Eventually, the officer ordered that a hearing test be performed.  When the test showed that Rodger was deaf, the commanding officer tried to send him away from the battle, but Rodger wouldn’t go. He insisted on staying and fighting, and the officer sent in Rodgers demotion paperwork that night.  Rodger would be responsible only for himself.

The battle didn’t go well for Rodger’s unit.  They were taking heavy machine-gun fire from a mounted gun operated by 5 Japanese men.  The machine-gun was set on top of a hill, and covered ground for miles.  Rodger’s unit had gotten themselves into a safe position for the moment, hiding behind some trees, but if they were to either advance or retreat, most of them would have probably been killed.  They couldn’t wait out the situation, either, as the Japanese would surely have ambushed them.  After carefully reviewing the situation, the Sergeant in charge of the unit decided to order the men to retreat anyway, as he didn’t see any other way out of the situation.  According to reports, Rodger looked right at the man and said, “I’m sorry Sir, but you know I don’t hear very well,” and went running toward the machine-gun.  He was able to launch a grenade into the midst of the five men operating the gun, killing them all, before dying of his wounds.  This heroic act allowed the rest of his unit to escape the battle without further loss of life.  It also gained Roger Young a posthumous Medal of Honor.

A year or so after Rodger’s death, the Army decided that they’d like to have a song made about one of their heroes.  They commisioned a man named Frank Loesser to look through the Medal of Honor citations for a Private, and to tell that man’s story in song.  Thus the ballad of Rodger Young was born.   Had Rodger kept his rank as Sergeant, he would not have had a song made of his story.

Though Rodger Young was an unlikely looking hero with his coke-bottle glasses and his short frame, he saved many people’s lives that day in the South Pacific.  He will be remembered throughout history as a brave and courageous man.

At Disneyland where I work, they allow you to have a n extra little pin at the bottom of your name tag if you speak a language other than English.  I think the idea is that people from all over the world come to Disneyland and should you need extra assistance talking to anyone, you can just pull your friend aside who has a “Mandarin” name tag on and they can help you (or whatever language you need).  They’re really stringent about who they let have a pin.  You have to go and do a special test with a native speaker of that language.  If you pass the test, they put our name on a list, and only people with their name on the list are allowed to have the pin.

They offer an ASL name tag, but I’ve been holding off on getting one until I felt I knew enough sign to really help someone.  Besides, the guy I would be testing with is a CODA, interpreted for Hundreds of years at Disney World (OK, I’m exaggerating), and is now head of disability services for the whole park… very nerve-wracking.  I’m starting interpreting classes now, though.  I felt like this was something I should certainly be able to pass.  I also felt like this is just the first in a series of tests that I’m going to be taking in the next few years, so I better get used to it. 

Really, it ended up being super easy and a lot of fun.  The guy who tested me was extremely friendly and knowledgeable.  As soon as he started explaining what would happen, I knew I would pass no problem.  The test consisted of three parts:  Part one, he would give me a vocabulary work and I would sign it back to him.  Part two, he would sign a work or small phrase and I would tell him what he said.  Part 3 was a short conversation.  I don’t think I’ve taken a test so easy since ASL 1.  He was impressed that I knew the sign for “tickets” (super-easy!!!) and the hardest thing he signed to me was that he lost his 7-year-old daughter and explained to me what she was wearing.  The conversation part consisted  of the information you give to every deaf person you meet at any Deaf Event.  When the test was over, he told me that he thought it was the quickest he’s ever given, as he just skipped over the easy stuff.  Let me tell you, I felt great!!

The best part about the meeting, though, was all the information he gave me on Deaf Services at Disneyland.  He was saying that people will see my pin and expect me to be an expert, so he’d give me all the information he could.  Such cool stuff!! They have a little handheld Closed Captioning device that’s radio-tuned to the ride, so people on the ride can read what the overhead voice is saying in places like the haunted mansion.  They also offer interpreted performances four days a week, 2 days at California Adventure, and 2 days at Disneyland.  I have to say, I kinda want to ask for one of those Closed Captioning devices the next time I’m in the park.  It would be fun to see how accurate they are and how easy they are to read and use while riding the ride.  I’ll definitely have to do that and report back. 

The other thing we discussed that I thought was interesting is when I’m allowed to interpret and when I’m not.  It’s all stuff we’ve covered in classes I’ve taken too, but I thought it was great that he’s concerned about Deaf people having qualified interpreters when they need them.  All in all, I was very impressed with my Disney Deaf experience.  I can’t wait to try out their stuff for myself.  And in the mean time, I’ll be waiting for my pin to arrive!!

I started my first interpreting class two weeks ago, and boy are we talking about some interesting things!!  The name of the class is “Principles of Interpreting” and, as my teacher says, it’s everything about interpreting that doesn’t have to do with ASL.  We’ve been dealing with dress codes, on the job stress, talking about types of interpreting (who knew there were so many?!), and all sorts of other things. 

The topic I’m finding most pertinent right now is on the job stress.  A few weeks ago, I was in a work-type situation where there were a mixed group of Deaf and Hearing folks.  A very Audist gentleman was being a total A$$H*!@ to the Deaf folks, much more so than to any of the hearing.  He would spontaneously yell and reprimand people publicly.  I even once heard him say “I don’t care about Deaf Culture, I just want you to do it my way.”  I was not the interpreter in this situation (thank God!!)  but boy was I stressed!!  I think the worst thing for me was that this gentleman came into the situation spouting all the right stuff about Deaf Culture and Deaf rights.  It wasn’t that he didn’t know better.  it was just that, when push came to shove, he didn’t care.I was so stressed one night that – I’ll admit it – I went home and cried. 

In class, we’ve been talking about worse situations than the one I experienced, such as being the operator for a 911 VRS call, or having to tell someone in a hospital that their mother just died.  I’ve heard all this can wear on an interpreter until the experience what’s called Vicarious Trauma.  Don’t worry, I’m not re-thinking my desire to become an interpreter, I’m just thinking about all the tools I’ll need to handle this.

I have never handled stress very well.  My usual master plan is to go home and have a good cry, which frankly frightens my husband.  Crying is not a good strategy for stress management, at least not for me.  But what other tools can I use?  I’ll be pondering that as I take the rest of this course.  Along with everything else I’m learning.

In the late 1600’s, an extended family from Weald, England settled on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in New England.  The family carried a strong hereditary deafness gene, and as they married and intermarried, the rate of deaf people born on the island rose steadily.  By the 1700’s almost everyone on the island had a deaf family member or two.  Because of the high rate of deafness, the society on the island was completely different from mainstream, mainland society.

Mainland New England at this time was generally a terrible place for deaf people to live.  Many people believed that deafness was a punishment from God.  While the families of deaf children may have developed home signs, mainstream society could not understand these rudimentary signs, usually only good for expressing basic needs and requests, and different from home to home.  Scholars debated about whether a deaf person could reason and learn like a hearing person.  There were almost no career opportunities for deaf adults.  The best they could hope for was to be trained to do manual labor for someone else’s business.

The prospects for deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard were completely different.  Many of the former residents of the island were interviewed, and they paint an idyllic picture of what it was like to live in Martha’s Vineyard during this time.  Because everyone had a deaf family member, everyone in the community knew sign language.  Deaf people were farmers, store clerks, anything they wanted to be.  Hearing people would sign to each other over the large expanses the island farms created, a deaf person could walk into a store and the clerk would always know sign.  Deaf people were even elected to high political office, becoming mayors and council members for the island, a thing unheard of in the rest of the country.  When telling stories about the community, the people who were being interviewed could only remember after much prompting if the people they were talking about were hearing or deaf.

The rare deaf/hearing equality experienced in Martha’s Vineyard is still remarkable today.  In a society where hearing people are ignorant about deaf issues and can be very rude, a place like Martha’s Vineyard seems particularly wonderful.  The equality that was shared by everyone, and the prejudices about deaf people that didn’t exist, make the little island community seem like the perfect place.  Many deaf people consider it the ultimate utopia.

Ironically, the opening of the first deaf school in Hartford, Connecticut was a big reason why the hereditary deafness on the island petered out.  Many deaf people from the island attended the school, met and married other deaf people who’s deafness wasn’t hereditary, and lived and had children near the school on the mainland of New England.  As more and more of the population moved away, less and less deaf children were born on the island.   In 1952, hereditary deafness died on the island with the death of Katie West.  Though the community is gone today, it’s signs live on.  Children attending the Hartford school mixed their signs in with the French Sign Language Laurent Clerc brought with him from Paris, creating much of the uniquely beautiful American Sign Language that exists today.

he MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grants were announced a few days ago.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur foundation gives $500,000.00 to 20-40 Americans who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”  These Americans can be in any field and they can spend the money on whatever they feel like, no strings attached.

This year Carol Padden was one of the recipients!  Carol and her husband, Tom Humphries, wrote several books about Deaf Culture, including “Deaf in America: voices from a culture”, “Inside Deaf Culture”, and two textbooks for learning American Sign Language.  I have read many of her books and consider them some of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of Deaf Culture.

Carol was born Deaf to her two Deaf parents and she also has a Deaf brother.  She attended a Deaf elementary school for a time before being put into a mainstream school.  Currently, Carol is a professor at University of California San Diego and studies signed languages.  She recently studied a new signed language in Africa that uses the actual body of the signer to indicate pronouns, as opposed to the area around the signer as in American Sign Language.

Carol is the first ever Deaf recipient of the Genius Grant.  She says she has no concrete plans for the money yet, but will probably use it for creative research.  “Maybe I have a few wild ideas I’ve been obsessing about,” she said in an interview “But they’re a little bit crazy. I’m not going to tell you about them until I can make them sound a little more rational.”

Not only am I excited that the field of Sign linguistics has gotten such amazing recognition, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.  Congratulations Carol Padden!!!

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