Professor K. Alexander
May 12, 2013
“What is Deaf Culture?”
Back in the 1800s, a deaf culture or community was non-existent unless you lived on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, which is next to the Atlantic Ocean off of Cape Cod. During the 1800’s, the islanders lived in isolation, having little contact with people from the mainland. Hereditary deafness was widespread in the communities on Martha’s Vineyard. In 1880, one out of four people in the village of Chilmark was deaf. Picturing the way of life would be tough since I wasn’t around during this time. I would say on clear mornings the Chilmark fishing fleet would be scattered across the bay with each team full of knowledge of the seas and what feeds the community, that the way they communicated with one another would be with their hands, faces, and body movements. Three out of four people in Chilmark could hear, but nearly everyone had a deaf parent or a deaf sister, a deaf uncle or a deaf child. Most hearing people were fully bilingual, as they spoke in English but learned sign language as a matter of course. Conversation in Chilmark slid from sign to English and back to sign again (Nomeland, 2012). Nobody seemed to care or even notice this was going on. Around that time, deaf people in the rest of the United States could not participate in many parts of society. The hearing society thought that because deaf people could not speak, this meant they were ignorant. Hearing people did not realize the deaf people could speak with their hands. Most deaf people were not allowed to get an education, take part in social activities, or even get married. But on Martha’s Vineyard, the deaf ran businesses, participated in government, and had large families.
After the American School for the Deaf opened in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817, almost all of the deaf people from Martha’s Vineyard were educated there. They brought their local sign language with them, and it mixed...
References: Basinger, Carol. (2000). Everything You Need to Know about Deafness. New York: Rosen Publishing Group.
Davis, Lennard J. (2000). My Sense of Silence: Memoirs of a Childhood with Deafness. Urbana, Ill.: Creative Nonfiction.
Lane, Harlan. (1999). The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community. San Diego, Calif.: Dawn Sign Press Publishers.
Nomeland, R. & M. (2012). The Deaf Community in America: History in the making. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers.
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