Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Here is the old erroneous definition of American Sign Language that used to be included in the University Faculty Guidelines at Gallaudet

To see Ryan Commerson's video commentary on this old policy, please go here:

NOTE: This policy was officially revoked and replaced with a new policy on April 30, 2007. See the UPDATE below.


Page 3 of the University Faculty Guidelines (May 2006)

2.2 Policy Concerning Communication

The University Faculty Recognizes that the Gallaudet academic community includes persons who depend on a variety of communication modes and that a major purpose of instruction is the communication of information and ideas. Gallaudet's mission, as a unique educational institution, is inextricably bound to the need for accessible and direct communication among students, faculty, and staff. Historically, the university has integrated sign language into its educational programs. The University Faculty is now committed to a working model of a bilingual (American Sign Language and English) multi-cultural community where deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people can learn and work together without communication barriers. The centrality of communication at Gallaudet permeates all programs and services. Accessible communication is the right of all members of the Gallaudet community and the people served. The university faculty encourages the learning and clear use of American Sign Language and English in all aspects of university life to meet the needs of the individuals served. To facilitate meaningful visual communication, the Faculty is expected to use clear sign communication, with or without voice in the classroom, in faculty meetings, and in meetings of like nature, as well as when communicating with individual students. The term American Sign Language is to be used in an all-inclusive sense and includes signs expressed in English word order, with or without voice--in much the same way many deaf and hard-of-hearing people communicate among themselves and with hearing people.

UPDATE, May 12, 2007

The old policy was officially revoked by the Gallaudet Faculty Senate and a new policy was officially approved on April 30, 2007. Here is the new policy:


2.2 Policy Concerning Communication

The University Faculty recognizes that our community is comprised of deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing individuals who depend on a variety of communication modalities. Gallaudet’s mission as a unique educational institution is inextricably bound to the need for direct, comprehensible and accessible communication among students and faculty. To that end, all members of the University Faculty are committed to promoting bilingual (American Sign Language and Written English) communication. The University is committed to providing training and resources, as needed, to support all members of the Faculty in developing the necessary language skills.

This policy is not prescriptive, allowing considerable latitude with regard to acceptable communication on campus; the only restrictions are that the communication be direct, comprehensible and accessible.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Installation speech of Gallaudet President Robert R. Davila

This has truly been a wonderful experience. I'm at a loss for words. But I know I can't escape without giving you a few. I just want to tell you that I stand here today, humbled and honored. I accept both the honor you have bestowed upon me and the enormous responsibility to be the steward, the leader of our great university. I thank the students, faculty, and staff for their warm welcome and introduction.

I share much in common with students and the faculty and staff who are here. I thank the Board of Trustees for their continuing support and encouragement. Without all of this support from the community that I am now leading, I would not succeed. And I hope we can continue to support one another and stick with our mission. I consider this maybe the toughest job and the greatest responsibility that I've ever accepted. But my experience in the last four months has taught me that this community, of which you are all members and that we all share responsibility for, can do anything when we put our minds to it. And in no time more than today, 2007, have we really needed this kind of united responsibility.

Truly, the students who come here to study deserve nothing but the best possible education that we can give them. And that's truly the fundamental purpose of our university. This university has proven time and time again over the years that it can do wonderful service for individuals and helping to shape their lives in a way that students deserve and that will carry them throughout their lives.

Just a small example: On Sunday I spoke to a gathering in Connecticut. It was a chapter of the GUAA--the Alumni Association. And I stood up on a raised platform, as I am doing now, and gave an address. There were about 150 people, all dressed in their finery. It was a beautiful audience to speak to. And during the middle of the speech, I was looking at the audience and the thought struck me. I thought: Wow, look here. These are people who've had success in their lives--mothers and fathers, homeowners, professionals, a few lawyers, a few chemists, people from the technology fields--a few teachers--people from a variety of professions.

It reminded me that when I was a young man, when I was ready to leave college, people did not have opportunities to have those kinds of jobs. That's progress that we've made since then, and we have to credit this great university and the people within it for that success and the success that deaf people have made over the years.

I thank God that I'm still young enough to have benefited from those opportunities, and now old enough to appreciate what will be for others. It's truly wonderful. We love this university. There's no other reason I would have wanted to come here to work after I was fully retired. I would have stayed in retirement, but the only reason I could fathom, or imagine, to be called to come out of retirement would be to come to work and help.

Again, like I said. I can't do this alone. It's a responsibility that all of us share for the future and for our community's sake, and the competition we face with the development of global economy and technology that influences how people live and work and learn all over the world. We have a greater responsibility than ever before to be sure that we provide students the preparation, the education, the knowledge and the tools that are needed to succeed and be competitive.

And so what we do here on campus for our people levels the playing field for them for when they leave college. And that responsibility will never change. In fact, the responsibility for us who remain concerns our knowledge and expertise in different fields and will increase as time goes by.

I'm really proud to be called to be a leader of this university. I feel humbled with this responsibility, but I'm encouraged by the experiences I've had in the last four months that we have wonderful people here on this campus, people willing to work, willing to sacrifice, willing to do everything possible to keep us No. 1 in the field of work that we do.

So I accept this responsibility, and I accept the mission of the university to prepare young people for the larger competitive society that they will enter sometime later. We really wish to do the best for them and we have demonstrated that we are capable of doing that. That will never change.

I want to thank you for asking me to be your leader. I accept that responsibility. I cherish that responsibility. I'll do everything I can, and I'll be calling on you all, because together we can't lose.

Thank you very much for this wonderful opportunity, ladies and gentlemen! [Cheers and visual applause]. And thanks go to the Board for their continuing support. And, of course, I want to thank my family for giving me so much of themselves.

Thank you very much.

[Standing ovation]

[End of translation of speech]


CLICK HERE to read previous posts of the Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues blog.

BREAKING NEWS--Congresswoman Norton compares UFG to American Revolution of 1776

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton today spoke of the Unity for Gallaudet protest of 2006 as a "student uprising" and a "revolution" at the Installation of Robert R. Davila as Gallaudet's Ninth President:



Students probably regard the uprising of 2006 as their revolution, yet they and all of us who love Gallaudet and who read history know all too well that revolutions do not always bring the changes that are promised.


Congresswoman Norton then went on to compare the Unity for Gallaudet protest to the American Revolution of 1776, saying: "...we are still trying to realize some of its major promises," in reference to the fact that the American Revolution of 1776 was fought over the issue of democratic representation, and that citizens of the District of Columbia, including Gallaudet student residents of DC, are still today denied full representation in the US Congress.

Congresswoman Norton's comments have important implications for the future of Gallaudet, as the issue of the American Deaf Community involvement in Gallaudet's governance is raised. Many believe that members of Gallaudet's Board of Trustees should be elected by the alumni members of Gallaudet, or appointed in a more democratic fashion.

Currently the Education of the Deaf Act specifies that the Board members are empowered to select their own members. The Gallaudet University Alumni Association recently requested that the composition of the Gallaudet Board of Trustees be changed to incorporate a super majority of 75% of Gallaudet alumni members.

CLICK HERE to read Congresswoman Norton's speech.

CLICK HERE to read a translation of President Davila's Installation Speech.

CLICK HERE to read previous posts of the Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues blog.

Installation speech of Eleanor Holmes Norton


The following speech by Eleanor Holmes Norton will be remembered as a historic event in Gallaudet history and the history of the Unity for Gallaudet protest movement.

CLICK HERE to see the related breaking news bulletin of May 9, 2007

From Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's speech at the the Installation of Gallaudet President Robert R. Davila:

...I'm here above all as a proud daughter of Gallaudet who proudly has an honorary degree from Gallaudet University. And I am here, and honored, at the Installation of President Robert Davila, which makes me think of a word usually reserved for graduations. The word is "commencement."

That word, of course, always has important meaning at graduation time, as it surely will this year on Friday, May the 11th, for the great--for the first graduation since the student rebellion of last year ended. But if "commencement" means the beginning for graduates who have just finished the vicissitudes of a college education, imagine what it must mean for President Davila. We look to our new President for [a] multitude of new beginnings, for students, faculty, staff, and for this great institution itself.

Students probably regard The Uprising of 2006 as their revolution, yet they and all of us who love Gallaudet and who read history know all too well that revolutions do not always bring the changes that are promised. Too few revolutions are remembered with the fondness of the American Revolution of 1776. And we are still trying to realize some of its major promises, not the least of them that the Revolution was fought because the Americans were denied representation.

May the slogan of that great revolution--a slogan that is honored and revered by Gallaudet students, who, when they are in the District of Columbia, qualify to vote wherever their residence may have been, are qualified to vote. So I say in their name as well: May the slogan of our great Revolution--"No taxation without representation"--come to life in the Nation's Capital this year, with the DC-Utah bill to give DC residents, including the residents of Gallaudet [University] a vote in the House of Representatives for the first time in 206 years.

[Visual applause]

I surely believe that under President Davila, Gallaudet will continue in the great tradition signified by the signing of your charter by Abraham Lincoln, as our country began to keep some of the promises inherent in our founding.

Like the United States when it was founded, Gallaudet is first of a kind, one of a kind, and a beacon to all the world. Here, all languages are welcome and possible, sign language, and every other language as well, including spoken English. And here, all are invited to communicate with another, deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing people. Would that that could be said in universities across the United States of America.

Your own story, Mr. President, is in keeping with the inspiring stories of many of Gallaudet's own students in this college here today. A little boy who had experienced the wonders of hearing, the sounds of music, and of nature, and the voices of his mother and father, becomes deaf at eight, and then, not even in puberty, goes alone, to Berkeley, for his first formal education, denied his parents, as poor farm workers. Could those parents, or even you, Mr. President, have envisioned that this child would become president of a major university that is recognized and admired the world over?

You own character, grit, and many or your personal characteristics account for your success. I think that you would concede, however, Mr. President, that even your gifts could not have been offered here and elsewhere without the gift of education that you yourself received. Today, we need to educate each and every deaf and hard-of-hearing person with the desire to go to college. No less than our place in the world depends upon leaving no willing mind untrained.

Demographers warn about ominous signs that we may be peaking in college attendance just as we need quickly to surge, to double and triple our college rates to compete with the very ambitious Chinese and Indians and Japanese and Asians who are exporting their college-trained people just to help us keep ahead. We have the most educated work force in the world today, to be sure, because almost 85% have a high school diploma, up from 25% in 1940, and 28% have a college degree--a five-fold increase.

However, a high school education will not keep us competitive in a global and technological economy. And predictions are that growing numbers of poor, and poorly educated people, meaning that high school and college attendance, could even decline somewhat. This, of course, because the highly educated and very numerous Baby Boom generation is retiring.

As we stare these demographic predictors in the face, there is a premium on Gallaudet and all that it can offer. Your students will graduate not in the century of the telephone, but of the computer. They will go to work in an economy where people communicate digitally, not vocally, where the brain and what it can do counts, not old modes of communication. Today and tomorrow we will type it and e-mail it and use other short-hand and fast digital modes of interoperable communication, and the language is not likely to be English and French, but computer languages, such as C++, [Visual C+++], Java, Pearl and [HTML].

This means that Gallaudet's emphasis on technology puts you already ahead of the game, the game that is galloping upon us. I have no doubt that if Gallaudet continues to keep looking forward, and does not look back, you will be even better positioned than most, in a world that is less interested in what spoken language you speak, than in what computer language you know.

I believe, Mr. President, that you are a perfect messenger to carry forward the Gallaudet revolution of students and faculty and all of us across the board. All have gathered around you. All love you. All are grateful that you have returned to an institution that has only had eight presidents in all its 143 years, and that you have already served so very sell. Who knows? Who could know the university and what it needs, better than a man who has taught here in the classroom of the elementary school and the high school, and nine years in the college itself?

Mr. President, you know Gallaudet as no president has ever known it, in all its iterations and at all its levels. Much is at stake, especially for an institution which depends on the Federal Government for two-thirds of its budget, and where many of us will look especially to you for what is done with the Kendall School and your secondary school. But your broad shoulders are ready-made for the task you have so generously agreed to make your own, Mr. President. It is a testament to your lifetime of work for the deaf and hard-of-hearing in education and as an administrator in the Department of Education. It is a testament to your lifetime of devotion to education that all have gathered around you, from student and faculty revolutionaries across the board and back again.

There can be no more deserved homecoming for you, Mr. President, and there could be no better sign that Gallaudet is on its way and challenging all the rest of higher education to catch up with this great American university. I bring you the congratulations, Mr. President, of the Congress of the United States.

[Standing ovation]

[End of transcript of speech excerpt]

VIDEO (fast-forward to 27:00 minutes to see speech):

CLICK HERE to read previous posts of the Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues blog.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

ASL is not "Broken English"! (not even close!)

ASL is not "broken English." It is true that PSE is more like "broken English," because that's what happens in a pidginization process.

In a situation where the pidginization process occurs, there is linguistic contact between people who don't know each other's language, and they just know bits and pieces of the other language.

There is a stark contrast between ASL and PSE. ASL uses all the rich capabilities of three-dimensional space and the rules of grammar characteristic of a visual (signed) language. There is no deficiency there. It is a full-standing and beautiful linguistic phenomenon on its own. Most of its vocabulary is non-English based and evolved on its own, independently of English.

All languages in the world are interrelated and vocabulary words are borrowed from one to the other. When a word is borrowed from one language into another, it becomes re-lexicalized into that new language and no longer belongs to the former language where it came from.

Centuries ago, an educated person who was fluent in Latin might view Spanish, French, or Italian as being "broken Latin"---especially in a situation where almost all educated people used the Latin language as the lingua franca of educated discourse.

In those days, the "vulgar" languages (Spanish, French, Italian, etc.) were full languages in their own right, but they were being underused. The capability was there. There was nothing wrong with the Spanish, French, or Italian languages.

The temptation in those days would be to view Spanish, French and Italian as being deficient, due to their under utilization and the fact that educated people used Latin. But that would be a very wrong view and would be an example of linguistic chauvinism.

American Sign Language is a real and very beautiful language. There is nothing about ASL that resembles broken English. That mistaken view only occurs when people confuse PSE with ASL. The two are not the same. It was a mistaken view which was spread in the 20th Century in America, during a time when nativism and xenophobia occurred as a reaction to the large influx of immigrants into our country.

In the 1800's, Deaf people in America used ASL, but they didn't call it ASL. They called it "The Natural Language of Signs." They knew it was beautiful and something real in its own right. They even used the term "Language" in describing it. We even have films made between 1910 and 1920 showing people signing who were alive in those days, including Edward Miner Gallaudet himself, using the same type of sign language on camera that was used in the 1800's and that was called the "Natural Language of Signs." So the fact that they were using ASL in the 1800's in beyond dispute. It was a bona fide language back then, just as it is now.

The Conference of Milan of 1880 took place and in the early 1900's oralists took over control of deaf education in America. Hearing teachers of the deaf who had no familiarity with ASL would confuse PSE with ASL.

People looked at PSE and all they could see was broken English. But they were not looking at ASL, i.e., the real "Natural Language of Signs." They were looking at PSE, and so they had the wrong view that all sign language was "broken English." Even many deaf people themselves became confused about the issue.

Centuries ago, some writers who lived in Italy used the phrase the "new, sweet style" to refer to what we call "the Italian language" today. This is similar to the way ASL did not have a name in the 1800's and was called "The Natural Language of Signs."


The beginnings of Italian literature can be traced to the 13th century. The Italian language, one of the
Romance languages, has its origins in Latin as spoken during the later centuries of the Roman Empire. During the late 13th and early 14th centuries a group of poets and other writers began to use the “new, sweet style,” which they called the language they wrote in to distinguish it from Latin. Latin continued to be used by the church, the government, and business.

The three leading figures of the first flowering of Italian literature were Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio. Dante was the first to write in the Italian vernacular, and his symbolic poem, the
Divine Comedy, bridges the gap between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Petrarch was the first great lyric poet to use the Italian language. Boccaccio was the first to write what are now called short stories.


So we see that the Italian language is not "Broken Latin." Similarly, American Sign Language is definitely not "Broken English."

There is no resemblance whatsoever between ASL and broken English. Such a view represents a profound misunderstanding. It's a wrong view which leads to the oppression of deaf people and the development of incorrect and ineffective educational theories.

Now, with a proper view of the nature of ASL, Deaf people, along with hearing allies, can finally promote a better bilingual-bicultural education system. In fact, this was the educational system already being used in the 1800's at Gallaudet and in the residential schools that were being set up all over the United States, however they lacked the terminology and the full linguistic understanding of the situation and they did not call it "bilingual-bicultural," but that's what it was.

The situation is very similar to the situation where students in Italy centuries ago were taught in the "new, sweet style," which was actually the Italian language. Except in that situation, Latin was the parent language of Italian. Italian actually evolved directly from Latin over time, until it developed its own grammar which was distinct from Latin.

In the situation in America, ASL did not evolve from the English language, and ASL is in no way, shape, or form derived from English. ASL and English are actually very different languages, although some borrowing of vocabulary has occurred, which is typical of any language-contact situation.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Davila steers Gallaudet U. onto steady course

The memo below issued by Gallaudet President Robert Davila today represents extremely good news which shows that Gallaudet will soon be out of the troubled "reaffirmation of accreditation waters"--or actually already is out of those troubled waters and is now navigating a sure and steady course.

One sentence was clarified today by a member of the Davila administration who explained that the accreditors, in their recent exit interview, mentioned that Gallaudet, as an institution, needed to establish more and better contacts with other higher educational professional organizations. That's what Dr. Davila is referring to when he mentioned this, saying that they were concerned about "Gallaudet’s long history of isolation from the American higher education community." The statement is unrelated and has nothing to do with the utterly false claims of cultural bigots who attempt to disparage the cultural status of Gallaudetians and Deaf Americans.

The memo can be seen as being a wonderful first birthday present for FSSA, the Faculty, Staff, Student, Alumni Coalition, which was created on May 2, 2006 and whose members did so much to bring about the conditions which are allowing all these wonderful changes and improvements to be made.

What was once a sinking rowboat in 1856 that was rescued by Amos Kendall, and then in an amazingly short span of 1857 to 1864 was transformed by Edward and Sophia Gallaudet into a bona fide sailing vessel of higher education, will soon be sailing by for review again with all hands on deck, glistening under the bright yellow sun of enlightenment, engines running at full power, with civilians on shore marveling at the sight of the mighty ship passing before them.....


Office of the President

WASHINGTON, DC 20002-3695

May 2, 2007

Dear Alumni:

A visiting team from the Middle State Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) came to Gallaudet yesterday and today to discuss our supplemental information report submitted to the commission on April 3. The report responded to concerns of the MSCHE regarding the University’s re-accreditation, including: effectiveness of shared governance, a climate that fosters respect among all people, mission review, implementation of a comprehensive institutional strategic plan, development of a comprehensive enrollment management plan, and academic rigor.

While on campus, the team met with me, representatives of the Board of Trustees, the University Faculty Senate, the President’s Management Team, Academic Affairs Unit Administrators, the Committee on Bilingualism, and the six working teams of my President’s Agenda for a Better Gallaudet University. The team also held open meetings for students, faculty, and staff to share input and ask questions. I sincerely thank everyone who devoted their time and effort to this visit by the MSCHE. I was especially impressed with the dialogue between our students and the members of the team. Your commitment during this challenging time was recognized by the team during its exit report to the community. During the exit report, the MSCHE team commended us for the preparation of the supplemental information report and progress we have made toward addressing the concerns raised by MSCHE since its last visit in January. It was noted that from this report and from their meetings with various campus constituencies that Gallaudet is moving in the right direction, and that many people spoke highly of an improving climate with much better communication. The team also mentioned that a great deal of healing has taken place, and commented that this could not have happened without much hard work.

However, the team expressed its concern over what it sees as Gallaudet’s long history of isolation from the American higher education community. It was also disappointed in what it called a lack of documented evidence of accountability—particularly in a time when the federal government has increasingly high expectations for institutions of higher learning. The team added that Gallaudet has not produced compelling evidence that the University is in full compliance with commission standards, but at the same time, it said that this is understandable, recognizing that the past six months have been a tumultuous time for the University.

The team mentioned something that struck me in a profound way. It said that Gallaudet is on a long and difficult journey, and it is this comment that I want to emphasize to you. We can take advantage of this “journey” by working together to make Gallaudet emerge stronger and more vibrant than ever. The strength of Gallaudet University is based on a foundation that is almost 150 years old, solidified by the unity of the deaf community. It is a treasure, a center of learning, research, culture, and empowerment that, unfortunately, many deaf people around the world can only dream of attending. Now, as always, Gallaudet is defined by the strength and determination of its people. This is a fact that the MSCHE team recognizes. Pointing to the considerable talents of the Gallaudet community, the team said it feels that the University is capable of demonstrating full compliance with the Middle States’ standards. As an alumnus who used a Gallaudet education to attain opportunities, I emphatically agree. My expectations for my alma mater are very high, and I’m sure yours are, as well.

We are now facing a timeline that is very tight and which will require engagement from all areas of the campus. The MSCHE team is proposing a two-year timeline beginning on the calendar date that non-compliance was determined. In our case, the two-year timeline started in November 2006, following the campus closing during the protest. We must sustain the high degree of volunteerism and involvement that now characterizes campus life for faculty, staff, teachers, and students. I urge everyone to join me on this journey and help Gallaudet meet this challenge.

Bob Davila

CLICK HERE to read previous posts of the Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues blog.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The dramatic and historic events of May 1, 2006

Exactly one year ago today at approximately 2:30 pm, May 1, 2006, an assembly was held in the Swindells Auditorium on the Gallaudet University campus.

THIS VIDEO taken by Gallaudet student Tommy Korn, shows the historic event.

Here is a transcript of the audio track:

BOARD CHAIR CELIA MAY BALDWIN (voice of interpreter): The Board came to a unanimous decision. We presented an offer to this individual. The entire Board is in support of that offer. The offer *was* accepted this morning. And so it is with great pleasure that I announce to you the ninth president of this university will be.... Doctor... Jane... Fernandes...

Scattered applause. Loud jeers and boos

Celia May Baldwin turns her head, inviting individuals off stage to walk onto the stage, while Ryan Commerson walks down the center aisle of the auditorium toward the front so that deaf audience members can see his signs.

The interpreter interprets Celia May Baldwin's comments made to people (Board members) off stage.

BALDWIN: Please join me in giving her a warm welcome, to President-Elect Jane Fernandes...


BALDWIN: ... [unintelligible] to the stage.

Upon reaching the the area near the front, Ryan Commerson manages to make a very brief announcement, saying that all those people who disagreed with the decision should leave the auditorium. Only about 5 or 6 people rise to give a standing ovation, per Jordan's hand-wave signal to his supporters. Others rise to prepare to walk out. Several students are shown walking out, apparently in disgust.

Just as Ryan Commerson arrived in place in front of the podium, Irving King Jordan, Jr was seen signaling campus police officer Patrick Rader who was in the back of the auditorium. Jordan walks calmly down the steps of of the stage toward Ryan Commerson, while Patrick Rader rushes down the aisle and apprehends Ryan Commerson, manhandles him, and forces him out to the lobby.

[End Tommy Korn video]

THIS VIDEO uploaded to by Elisa Abenchuchan on May 1, 2006 shows Gallaudet alumna and former Student Body President Tawny Holmes making the first speech of the then-unnamed protest. By this time, at approximately 3:00 to 3:15 pm, Tawny Holmes motivated the crowd by chanting in sign: "Better president now! Better president now! Better president now!...."

THIS POST by Elisa Abenchuchan gives a dramatic account of how the events of the day unfolded...

THIS POST by Elisa was written and posted later that evening.

THIS POST by Elisa was posted in the morning of May 2, 2006.

THIS POST by Elisa was posted in the mid-afternoon of May 2, 2006.


For the convenience of media personnel wanting a printout to take out to the field, please CLICK HERE to download and printout a PDF version of this press release, including the four historic posts from Elisa's Xanga blog. ( does not offer a print feature.)

[Small edits: Sept. 21, 2018]

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Wash Post graph proves IKJ, JK and PK failed

The following graph which was published in the Washington Post proves that former Gallaudet President Irving K. Jordan, former Provost Jane K. Fernandes, and Vice President Paul Kelly totally failed in their administration of the university.

The graph shows that the enrollment of Gallaudet in 1994 was 1,602 students. Fernandes was hired as Vice President of Pre-College programs (later re-named the "Clerc Center") exactly at this time, in August before the beginning of the 1995-96 academic school year. The graph shows how enrollment at Gallaudet plummeted downwards from 1,602 to 1,206 in the time period that coincided with Fernandes' presence on campus.

All throughout his 18 years as President, Jordan was ignoring the institutional health of the residential schools, which have traditionally acted as feeder schools for Gallaudet.

The Deaf President Now campaign in 1988 was a result of the Deaf Renaissance occurring as the result of William Stokoe convincing the world of academia that ASL was a bona fide language. Deaf people all over the country affirmed their strong connection to Deaf culture, and the validity of Deaf culture and ASL became universally recognized.

Jordan saw that the whole country, including the academic world, granted recognition to ASL and Deaf culture, so he had no choice and had to at least pay lip service in fake support. Actually however, Jordan began acting passive aggressively against both the concept of Deaf culture and the concept of ASL as a birthright of Deaf children.

Finally, by the time Jordan published his anti-Deaf culture and anti-ASL propaganda piece in the Washington Post in January 2007, he revealed his true self. He attempted to use the term "absolutist" in a distorted and devious way, as a loaded term, to create a false political frame that would destroy the entire Deaf culture movement and put the future success of Gallaudet University in jeopardy.

Irving King Jordan is no friend of Gallaudet. He spent the entire 18 years of his administration attempting to steer Gallaudet away from its historic mission of serving ASL deaf students. He spent the entire 18 years of his administration in a state of passive-aggressive opposition to the existence of the residential schools for the deaf.

If he had succeeded in placing Fernandes as his successor, Fernandes would have continued Jordan's plan to reverse Gallaudet's historic mission. She herself revealed her intentions openly when she declared that she wanted to create a "new order of deaf people," which is just the same kind of loaded language and false political framing that Jordan used.

Fernandes' term "new order" implies that Deaf culture is invalid and undesirable. This is completely false. The truth is that Deaf culture itself has been the social mechanism over the last two hundred-plus years whereby deaf people have joined together in productive and creative efforts to enhance their lives. This includes fostering and encouraging the use of ASL.

The desirability and the validity of ASL represents the collective wisdom of generations of deaf people. It is the social means that allows deaf people to unite and fight for self-determination and positive change.

Academics is the core of Deaf culture and it is dishonest in the extreme for Jordan and Fernandes attempt to make a false separation between the two. There is no such thing as focusing on education "instead" of Deaf culture. That's impossible. For deaf people who use ASL, the two cannot be separated.

When we focus on Deaf culture at Gallaudet, we are focusing on education, too. When we focus on education at Gallaudet, we are focusing on Deaf culture. The two concepts are joined together.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Interview shows Jordan is in deep denial

Disgraced former Gallaudet President Irving Jordan showed himself to be in deep, deep denial, in an interview conducted last Thursday, which was published Sunday on the official 150 Years on Kendall Green conference blogsite.

The interview of Irving Jordan shows a man who is in deep, deep denial. Jordan is continuing to speak as if his presidency at Gallaudet was a success, when in actuality, the MSA letter of January 13, 2007, proves that Jordan's presidency was a total failure, revealing that Jordan had misled the MSA and had also failed to do the proper things to maintain Gallaudet's good accreditation standing in actions going back years.

Jordan also deliberately attempts to distort the clear meaning of the MSA letter when he talks about an engineering school, med school, vet school, saying that Gallaudet cannot "be all things to all people" by creating those schools as part of the university. In actuality, Jordan is attempting to divert our attention from MSA's crystal clear message that his (and Fernandes') type of "inclusive university" plan was very wrong for Gallaudet.

Jordan and Fernandes' "inclusive university" plan was wrong, because Gallaudet has always had the historic mission of serving ASL deaf students. This is what made Gallaudet successful and is Gallaudet's niche. Every successful agency needs to find its proper niche, otherwise the agency would become mediocre if it tried to spread itself too thin, or if it attempted to accomplish goals that clash with one another.

Gallaudet cannot be a place where professors lecture simultaneously in ASL and English, because that's impossible. It has to be one or the other. Gallaudet is the place for ASL students. All other types of deaf people have always been welcome to attend, as long as they learn ASL. Gallaudet has always been inclusive in that way (in its admissions policy), but not in Jordan and Fernandes' way.

Jordan and Fernandes' way would have destroyed Gallaudet, and the MSA understood this.

CLICK HERE to read previous posts of the Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues blog.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Reasons why Deaf people are not disabled This speech given by Harlan Lane in 1998 raises some extremely serious issues, including whether or not the US Government is violating international law by funding a eugenics program to eliminate the minority culture of the Deaf, and other serious issues, such as how Deaf people are forced to accept the label of being disabled in order to receive equal treatment by the government in regard to education and other matters. Lane argues that the concept of disability refers to a situational state of affairs in particular societies at particular times in history, and is not fundamentally an issue of humans' interaction with the environment. For another perspective on this point, see THIS COMMENTARY, which argues that the sense of hearing, or lack or it, was only an issue for survival in prehistoric times when non-human animals dominated the planet, but that in modern times the sense of hearing is only a "extra" or "bonus" capability that is not required for prosperity or survival. [Speech:] Do Deaf People Have a Disability? Harlan Lane RECENTLY I asked a colleague, a university professor I'll call Archibald, whether he thought that Deaf people have a disability. "Of course they do," he answered, "it's common sense." I believe that most hearing people and some Deaf people, too, would say the same thing. When my colleague called the conclusion common sense, he implied that the meanings of the words themselves answered my question. A disability is a limitation of function because of an impairment. Deaf people are limited in some functions because of an impairment of hearing. Therefore, Deaf people have a disability. That nicely closes the issue for my colleague, but it closes it too soon for us. To travel this issue with the common sense meanings of the words is to travel with too much a priori baggage. In particular, these meanings take deaf and disability to be physical attributes of individuals, like their blood pressure or eye color. A great deal follows from this biological understanding of deaf and disability, including much that Deaf people find hurtful and inimical to their interests. I propose, therefore, to suspend common sense on this issue long enough to explore the concepts of deaf and disability so we can see what was buried in both the question and the answer. How did the concept of disability arise and what purposes does it serve in our societies? In several of his works, the French philosopher [End Page 356] Michel Foucault (1980) showed how "bodies are the battlefield"—that is, how political and economic forces in the history of the Western world have fought for control of the human body and its functions. By the eighteenth century, the Western tradition of esteeming the poor was replaced by a political analysis of idleness that continues to the present. To make productive citizens out of idle burdens on the state, it was necessary to distinguish those who could not work (the sick and disabled) from those who would not work (beggars, vagabonds, and thieves). In 1994 presidential aspirant Phil Gramm, a senator from Texas, confirmed this policy objective of separating the infirm from the indolent: "[We want able-bodied] people riding in the [welfare] wagon," he said, "to get out ... and help the rest of us pull." The incoming Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, agreed (Welfare Helps Kids 1994). Likewise, the British government has stated that the products of special education "should be productive if possible and not a burden on the state" (Department of Education and Science 1978). A 1993 Japanese law similarly aims to make people with disabilities independent and thus employable (Nagase 1995). To reduce the numbers of those who could not work and must be given a free ride, the state, starting in the eighteenth century, assumed great responsibility for ensuring the health of the population and could even penetrate the tightly knit family unit and prescribe what should happen to the child's body: hygiene, inoculation, treatments for disease, and compulsory education (Foucault 1980). These practices are generally quite desirable, and they thus formed a continuing basis for the state's claim on the control of bodies. During this era of the rise of modern medicine and the growing intervention of the state in the health of the family, the first national schools for Deaf people were founded. In order to ensure that those who could work would do so, a central purpose of those schools was to teach the Deaf pupils a trade, removing them from their families where they were poor dependents and converting them into productive members of society. The Deaf schools in Europe contained shops to teach trades such as printing, carpentry, masonry, gardening, tailoring, and so on. When schools for Deaf people were founded in the United States, they followed this model (Lane 1984). [End Page 357] With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, much larger numbers of people were marginalized; machinery, buildings, and transportation were designed for the normative worker. To separate the able-bodied who could work in these settings from those with disabilities who could not and to regulate the health of children and adults, it was necessary to measure, evaluate, create hierarchies, and examine distributions about the norm. For example, "mental defectives" were considered able to work at simple repetitive tasks, provided their impairment was not too severe. Moderate hearing loss (or unilateral loss) was not an obstacle to most employment, but severe bilateral loss was. Hence the state exercised a more subtle "technology of power" that replaced the brazen power of the king and nobles in feudal society. The technology that has been developed to aid in regulating and rehabilitating includes disciplines such as medicine and surgery, paramedical fields such as optometry and audiology, population studies and applied genetics, psychological measurement, physical anthropology, and rehabilitation and special education. In order to classify people as mentally handicapped, mentally ill, blind, deaf, lame, and so on and hence unable to work in varying degrees, the state requires techniques of measurement and specialists organized into agencies for making those measurements. The more elaborate these special services and benefits are, the greater the need for complex measurements (Gregory and Hartley 1991). To read the rest of Harlan Lane's speech, choose one of the following: CLICK HERE to download the PDF version of this article. Or: CLICK HERE to read a text version. ADDITIONAL LINK: CLICK HERE to read the 1993 New York Times article where the chairman of a U.S. National Institutes of Health planning group said: "I am dedicated to curing deafness. That puts me on a collision course with those who are culturally Deaf. That is interpreted as genocide of the Deaf." CLICK HERE to see the original newspaper clipping from 1993 (with photo and illustration). CLICK HERE to read previous posts of the Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues blog.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Jordan refuses to apologize for obvious wrong perpetrated against deaf community

Disgraced former Gallaudet President Irving King Jordan, Jr, yesterday refused to apologize for his labeling Unity for Gallaudet protesters as being "absolutists." In characteristic obfuscatory form, he commented: "I didn’t intend that word to label all those who participated."

Here is a transcript of the confrontation which occurred Thursday morning at the Gallaudet University Kellogg Conference Center, after Jordan had delivered a speech (a speech which he had invited himself to present, because the conference was organized last year under his administration):


PATTI DURR: I have a invitation for you. I’m sure you heard about the recent controversy surrounding Don Imus and his public apology. There are some issues that people have with you, for example, your calling the people here ”absolutists,” and I’m wondering if you could offer an apology for that statement in working towards peace and healing.

IRVING JORDAN: I used that word about some who I believe are absolutists. Is everyone an absolutist who participated in the protests? No, there were absolutists who participated in the protest, but no, it’s not true all were absolutists. If the impression is that I meant everyone, that’s wrong.

DURR: The impression was given to the general public that this statement was coming from the university’s former president as though that label extended to everyone that was really just engaging in civil disobedience. You have a powerful position and high name recognition but I personally feel you owe the community an apology because of that statement and the perceptions now created in the community [audience applauds in agreement]. For you to say that is very hurtful, and it would be nice if you apologize because it’s not helping the healing.

JORDAN: I didn’t intend that word to label all those who participated. I also believe in civil disobedience and the right to protest.

Thank you.


Jordan is referring to his editorial which appeared as an op-ed in the Washington Post on January 22, 2007 wherein he resorted to the smear tactic of attempting to bring discredit to the Unity for Gallaudet protesters and the vast majority of members of the deaf community who supported the protest by creating an imaginary group of people he calls "absolutists" (i.e. people who do not actually exist at all.)

Jordan resorts to the obvious smear technique of attempting to bring discredit to the large majority of Gallaudet's constituents by attempting to claim that the concept of Deaf culture does not include the concept of academics, when in fact, academics is the core of Deaf culture (due to Deaf culture's origins in the famous school for the Deaf in Paris and due to the manner in which Deaf culture is transmitted from generation to generation in the US residential schools for the deaf, and also at Gallaudet University.)

Deaf culture has already been inclusive for over 200 years, accepting all types of deaf people, whether they use technology to take advantage of their residual hearing, or whether or not they have cochlear implants.

Not only did Jordan slander the entire deaf community by using the term "absolutists," but his propaganda amounts to smearing the reputation of the US Federal Government also, since the Federal Government has a long history of being involved with Deaf culture since the time of Gallaudet's origins in 1864.

When Jordan said in his editorial: "If we give in to the absolutists, Gallaudet’s future will be severely, and adversely, affected"--That was actually code language for Jordan's true intentions. What he really means is that he disagrees that Deaf culture is a bona fide culture.

It would be the same as if Jordan went to France and pointed to a few French people who made comments about the purity of the French language and then called them "absolutists" who should not be allowed to control French universities. Jordan (in this analogy) would then smear the validity of French culture and claim that French people need to be "more inclusive" and should attempt to speak French and other languages simultaneously in order to accommodate anyone in the world who wants to attend a university in France.

He would neglect to mention (in this analogy) that it is the responsibility of people wishing to attend French universities to immerse themselves in the culture and learn to speak the French language, and that if they refuse to learn French, then that has nothing to do with the imaginary claim that French universities are not "inclusive."

For more discussion on Jordan's smear technique, check the GPLI Commentary titled: "Jordan's Long Legacy of Lies, Distortion and Deception", which is a multi-part exposé of the lies of the Jordan Era at Gallaudet.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jordan's Long Legacy of Lies, Distortion and Deception

On Tuesday, March 7, 1989, Gallaudet University's Eighth President, Irving King Jordan, Jr., appeared before a United States Congress, House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee along with three officials of the US Dept of Education. Silvio O. Conte, a representative from the state of Massachusetts, and Jordan, spoke the following:


CONTE: In your state of the University speech last week, you spoke of [Gallaudet] University as a bilingual and bicultural center. Would you expand on that?

JORDAN: In the 1950's, hearing and deaf researchers at Gallaudet began to realize that deaf people in America constituted a unique community that had its own language, American Sign Language (ASL), and its own customs and traditions, different from those of the hearing majority. It has also been recognized that Gallaudet has been the center and the leader of this community since its founding in 1864...


In this brief exchange, we find encapsulated what would be the theme and underlying motives of Jordan's entire upcoming, eighteen-and-a-half-year presidency at Gallaudet. Jordan starts out by identifying what is obviously true, and what has been understood and accepted without controversy for quite a long time. He recognizes the legitimacy of Deaf culture and the legitimacy of Gallaudet University as being the center of the American Deaf culture movement. Jordan's continuing statement, however, hints strongly of the inside-out direction in which his educational policy is soon to head:


JORDAN: ...In addition, as a national university in the United States, it also has the role of educating its students to face the challenges of contemporary American life. This means that our students have to be proficient in English, mathematics, the sciences and the history and culture of their country. Thus, Gallaudet has always served a dual role, both as a center for the perpetuation and enrichment of the culture of the deaf community and as a uniquely designed educational program to provide for the enculturation of deaf students into larger society...


Jordan's claim is false. Jordan's statement presupposes a lie, of which he himself would become the biggest perpetrator, the lie that Deaf culture represents an inward-turning, navel-gazing mentality of a somewhat backwards people, whose persistent desire to hang onto a language (which supposedly isolates them from a majority culture) must be counteracted by the supposedly more broadminded social force of educational institutions.

In fact, there is not today, nor has there even been a dichotomy, or duality, which separates Deaf culture from the majority culture. And the members of Deaf culture are in no way, shape, or form inward-looking members of a cultural backwater. In actuality, the central animating force of the Deaf culture movement has always been education itself. The bedrock foundation of Deaf culture itself *is* education, due to its unique origin in the famous school for the Deaf founded in Paris in the 1760's, and due to the method by which Deaf culture is transmitted from one deaf generation to another in the residential boarding schools.

English as a lingua franca, mathematics, and the sciences, represent universal pursuits and universal values that belong to those who pursue them, and therefore belong to members of the American Deaf culture, too. Such pursuits are Deaf-culture values and cultural byproducts as much as they are values and byproducts of the majority culture. If this were not the case, then, since academia has its roots in ancient Greek culture, all western educational institutions would be "dual role" institutions which inculcate Greek values into foreign cultures. But there is no such dichotomy or duality in any such culture. The ancient Greek academic values have become universal values and are therefore not foreign values to the cultures that adopt them.

Such a mistaken view of Deaf culture may stem from Jordan's personal projection of his own personal history, having grown up in a small town without any particular ambition, content to drift through high school, taking five years to graduate, and then offering himself up to the United States Navy as a passive human vessel to be molded by an outside force. Then when Jordan decided to give up the purposeless life and cast his eyes outward to the world of purpose and ambition, he experienced university life as a chore instead of as a joyous adventure in personal enrichment, pushing himself to slog away at his studies daily from 5 a.m. onwards.

He was now deaf. We can surmise that he felt isolated and cut off from the larger world, hence his false indictment against Deaf culture. If he's cut off, then "they" must be cut off, too, he must have thought.

Did it ever occur to him that his personal experiences in life may perhaps not be applicable to others? A person cannot feel a sense of loss for something he never possessed. A person born deaf, then, will not necessarily experience the sense of being "cut off" from others, as Jordan suddenly felt when he became deaf at age 21. Likewise, if Jordan experienced personal drift and purposelessness growing up, he shouldn't assume that purposelessness and small-mindedness is the normal state of a person or a group.

Jordan's ability to speak served as an advantage in impressing his superiors, and they promoted him mostly on the basis, as he rose in rank as a Gallaudet professor to department chair, then dean. In the mid-eighties, he had the reputation of being a intellectual lightweight who was more interested in sports and personal training. He could be seen daily in the gym with his close friend and work-out buddy, Paul Kelly.

In August 1987, Jerry C. Lee resigned as President of Gallaudet. A search for a new president was begun and Jordan threw his hat in the ring, probably just "for the heck of it." Jordan had seen how Lee had been maneuvered into the presidency by the Board, without even a proper search being conducted. Then, during the presidential selection process, Jordan also saw how the most qualified person got maneuvered out of the process, in a blatantly unjust way.

During his years as a Gallaudet professor, Jordan had done consulting work with various federal agencies and officials. He's never said much about it publicly since 1987. He also no doubt met members of Congress at various sporting events, be it at the Marine Corps Marathon or elsewhere.

But in March 1988 he bounced his way into the presidency of Gallaudet. Like a volitionless metal ball in a pinball game, Jordan witnessed history happening around him and without him, in what was, up to that point, the culmination of over 200 years of progress in upward advancement for the people of the Deaf culture movement. Jordan, instead of seeing Deaf culture for being the magnificent phenomenon that it is, had for years lamented his condition, considering himself to be a "hearing person who couldn't hear" and who, not long before, had proudly told the author of "Dancing without Music" that he was "not a real member of the deaf community," and that he considered himself to be a "deafened hearing person."

Jordan knew that he wasn't the right person to be President of Gallaudet and that he didn't really represent the people who created the political mandate for a deaf president. Later correspondence shows a probable acquaintanceship with Senator Tom Harkin that pre-dates his appointment as the President of Gallaudet in March of 1988. Whether Jordan honestly presented himself, as he was, to the Board, in his interviews in March of 1988 after Zinser resigned, or whether he attempted to take advantage of prior connections to become President, or whether his prior connections were eager to take advantage of him, we can only speculate. From the vantage point of having seen his malevolent actions of 2006, one might be inclined to suspect the worst.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sign language is the "mother" of spoken language

CLICK HERE to read a May 1995 article in Discover Magazine about the exciting research of Stokoe, Armstrong and Wilcox which shows that sign language was the original form of communication used by our first human ancestors, not spoken language.

This is a very important observation, because it shows that signing is completely natural and that it was actually signing that gave birth to speaking, not the other way around.

Spoken language owes its existence to signing! Why? because the evidence shows that humans probably learned concepts of grammar (syntax) by developing and using sign language first, and then used these grammatical skills to develop spoken language later.

Visual communication is the original source of all human communication, therefore visual communication is not a "second choice."

This is more evidence to show why deaf people are not disabled. Deaf people are simply using the original form of communication that was already used a million years before spoken language existed. Sign language is the "mother" of all forms of human communication.

Humans have ears because we inherited them from our pre-human ancestors. Our animal ancestors needed to find other animals to eat and also to avoid being eaten by others.

Therefore, the sense of hearing was something that was important to animals and to primitive man. However, now that we humans have developed civilization and now that we no longer have to worry about the dangers of the animal world, the sense of hearing is no longer crucial to survival. It is an "extra."

It can be a wonderful extra for hearing people that cherish the sense of sound, but an extra is still an extra. It's not a sense that is required to be fully human.

CLICK HERE to download the PDF version of the article.

Here is the text version of the Discover article:

Discover Magazine
May 1, 1995, pp. 38-39
by Carl Zimmer

Early Signifiers

Sunset on the African savanna, a long, long time ago, and a clan of human ancestors are engaged in a little after-dinner chat. They’re celebrating their good fortune; how often do you stumble across a fresh antelope carcass right next to a patch of ripe berries? A child asks how the adults got the meat off the antelope, so they demonstrate the use of stone blades, explaining how it’s all in the wrist. The conversation is animated, but if you could eavesdrop on it, all you’d hear would be occasional grunts and squeals. The hominids aren’t talking; they’re communicating by means of swift, complex hand gestures--that is, in sign language.

To many paleoanthropologists, that scenario would sound far-fetched. Ever since researchers began to wonder how our ancestors evolved language, they have assumed that language equals speech. But in a recently published book, an anthropologist and two linguists whose specialty is the modern sign language of the deaf challenge this assumption. Language, they claim, did not emerge suddenly in modern humans, as many researchers believe, within the past 50,000 years or so. Instead it evolved gradually, beginning with our earliest hominid and even our primate ancestors. And at first it was a language of gestures rather than words.

There is no direct evidence, of course, that early hominids had any language at all. But anthropologist David Armstrong of Gallaudet University--a Washington, D.C., school for the deaf--and his colleagues have one piece of indirect evidence for their speculation. The size of hominid brains increased dramatically long before Homo sapiens emerged, from 24 cubic inches or so 4 million years ago to an average of 60 cubic inches among Homo erectus, the people on that African savanna. (Human brains range in size from around 60 to 100 cubic inches.) The bigger brain was not simply running a bigger body; the brain-to-body ratio exploded as well, in a way that has not been seen in any other animal lineage. "The question is, what were the early hominids doing with those brains?" says Armstrong.

Figuring out how to use tools is one possibility. But chimpanzees today, with brains a third the size of ours, use sticks as tools, and the chipped stones of early hominids weren’t much more complicated. Language is a more sensible explanation for swelling brains, says Armstrong; it would have required far more mental capacity, and it would have offered clear advantages to a troop of hunter-gatherers. Yet early hominid language, if it existed, probably couldn’t have been spoken language--because early hominids probably couldn’t speak. Fossils suggest that their throats were like those of chimps: the pharynx, the chamber just above the vocal cords where sounds can be modulated, was too small to make the complex noises necessary for speech.

The notion that hominids didn’t need speech for language--that they used sign language instead--has come up before, but it has never been taken very seriously, in part because sign language itself hasn’t been. Linguists traditionally considered sign language a crude aping of spoken English. That attitude began to change in the 1960s, though, thanks to the efforts of people like linguist William Stokoe, also of Gallaudet, who showed that signing is as linguistically complex as speech. More-recent research has demonstrated that signing draws on many of the same parts of the brain that speech does, and that deaf children learn sign language much as children who can hear learn speech, sign-babbling away. "When I first proposed that signing was a language itself and not just a way of representing spoken English, the idea didn’t go down well," says Stokoe. "But the changes since then have been just astounding."

The time is thus ripe for a new book, Gesture and the Nature of Language, in which Stokoe, Armstrong, and Sherman Wilcox of the University of New Mexico [sic] argue that signing is not only a fully equivalent language but may have been the first language of all. In their scenario, the seeds of sign language were planted in our chimplike ancestors. Primates in general have highly developed vision, and they have specialized bundles of neurons that respond strongly to the sight of moving arms. The primate nervous system may have already been tuned to this sort of stimulus, says Armstrong. In addition, chimpanzees can be taught a crude sort of sign language, suggesting that the brain of our common ancestors was beginning to be capable of language.

But chimps are held back from a full-blown sign language by two limitations: their small brains and their hands. Chimpanzees are knuckle walkers and have relatively long fingers and short thumbs, so the thumb isn’t readily opposable as it is in humans, explains Armstrong. One of the things you notice when you watch films of chimps signing, if you know much about sign language, is that they simply can’t make some of the basic hand shapes. When our ancestors became bipeds, however, their hands quickly took their modern form. That allowed them to wield their primitive tools more skillfully--and it also allowed them to make complex hand gestures. Long before we had a throat fully capable of speech, we had hands fully capable of sign language.

With signing rather than speech as a starting point, one of the central mysteries in the origin of language--the question of how people first came to combine words into sentences--becomes a lot less mysterious. The usual idea is that hominids worked up this tremendous list of words and they finally got so many they had to classify them into categories like nouns and verbs, says Stokoe. Well, who told them how to do that? I don’t know how many vocal signs you’d have to get before the idea would dawn on someone that some of them represented actions and some represented actors and you could put them together.

In sign language, the gap between word and sentence can be bridged naturally in a single sign. The sign for grab in American Sign Language, for example, is one hand closing around an outstretched finger on the other hand. But this gesture can also mean he grabbed it. The moving hand embodies the subject, the movement is the action, and the other hand is the direct object. If an ancient hominid saw a leopard jump on a gazelle, says Stokoe, he might have gone and made a gesture to another hominid that was a motion of the hand like the front paws of the leopard and grabbed his other hand. That doesn’t say leopard, but the leopard jumped on something. You get the relationship of the thing to what it does in one unit. Other aspects of grammar could have emerged in a similarly natural way; facial expressions, for example, are natural adverbs, modifying the actions that are signed.

Once signing had permitted the invention of sentences, though, our ancestors eventually switched to speech. For an animal that uses tools and probably moves around and has to carry things, it’s going to make a lot more sense that the primary communication be vocal, says Armstrong. But perhaps that primordial sign language never really died out. People who have no contact with deaf people use a whole repertoire of manual gestures, and some are identical to the signs in sign language, Armstrong says. We all have some common stock of signs.

While humans may have shifted from signs to speech long ago, Stokoe, Armstrong, and Wilcox (none of whom are deaf) don’t want people to think that they consider modern sign language primitive--just the opposite. One of the motivations of my work, says Stokoe, is to let people know that deaf people are just as bright and able to handle abstract thought as hearing people, given equal education. Prejudice against them because they don’t speak leads to all sorts of bad judgments about deaf people. The fact that we all probably owe a great deal to the era when language began in a gestural state might change some of that.

[End article]


Gesture and the Nature of Language, by David F. Armstrong, William C. Stokoe and Sherman E. Wilcox

Language in Hand, by William C. Stokoe. See also: THIS LINK.

The Gestural Origin of Language, by David F. Armstrong and Sherman E. Wilcox

The Gestural Origin of Language: Evidence from Six "Unrelated" Languages, by Alexander Jóhannesson

Seeing Language in Sign, the Work of William C. Stokoe, by Jane Maher

Original Signs, by David F. Armstrong

From Hand to Mouth, by Michael Corballis

CLICK HERE to read previous posts of the Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues blog.