Martha's Vineyard: Birthplace of American Deaf culture


12 Responses to “Martha's Vineyard: Birthplace of American Deaf culture”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The “Pretty much everyone…” link is broken. Bummer! I’m interested.

  2. Tony Giles says:

    It’s “The Weald”, not “Weald”. It’s not the name of a village, town or city, but a geographical region of Southeast England. The Weald lies between the North Downs and the South Downs, and encompasses parts of the counties of East Sussex, West Sussex, Surrey, and Kent.

    • Dewi Morgan says:

      Yeah, bit like saying “everyone in Ozarks”.

      I was surprised that a 1-in-155 ratio would make everyone to speak sign, but the linked PDF says 1-in-4 in some places, which makes it more understandable, but still – it’s great they were so integrated.

      I’ve lived in several communities where at least 1-in-155 didn’t speak English, but most of the other 144 didn’t bother to learn even basic phrases of their language, let alone become fluent. Come to that, I’ve lived in 1-in-4 communities that were the same: they just self-segregated.

      (So, moving to Austin, I want to learn at least basic Spanish. Last time I was there, I tried to ask a neighbour where the laundry room was… and failed. Yes, they should learn English too, but it’s hard with little money and a fulltime job, especially if you can “get by” in your own tongue. I’ve been there, I know.)

      I should learn ASL, too. And Ruby.

      So many languages, so little time :(

  3. Andrew says:

    There’s an ‘e’ in ‘Vineyard.’

  4. apoxia says:

    I read about this in Oliver Sacks book “Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf”. An older person on the island was asked about a specific person they used to know and couldn’t remember whether he was deaf or not. Sign language was so normal an occurrence that people didn’t seem to pay attention to whether someone was actually deaf, they just all used sign language every day.

    Another interesting book is “From Hand to Mouth: The Gestural Origins of Language” from psychologist Michael Corballis (recently Professor of Psychology at the University of Auckland, NZ) who makes a very convincing case for the development of complex sign language (not just gestural signs) in ancestors of humans before voice boxes evolved to produce speech – e.g. in Neanderthals (if you believe we are related)

    Perhaps there’s sign language in all of our histories.

  5. ZenMonkey says:

    Thank you for posting this! It’s nice — and unusual — to see a (relatively) mainstream blog covering an aspect of Deaf culture that isn’t related to the argument over cochlear implants and other technology. The history of Deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard is indeed fascinating, and a very important part of American history that almost nobody knows about anymore. (Except of course in the deaf community!) Also that is an excellent succinct summary of ASL’s beginnings.

  6. Andrea James says:

    I was at a screening of a friend’s documentary, and we were in the lobby discussing the film playing next door with some of the people involved. It was about deaf entertainers, many of whom are kind of like ghetto superstars: famous in their own community, not so well-known outside. I learned that there are also deaf film festivals. For those interested, it’s called See What I’m Saying:

  7. mpb says:

    One way to examine the population dynamics and ancestry of deafness was to map 6-toed cats on the Vineyard. See Nora Groce’s work including Everyone here spoke sign language: Hereditary deafness on Martha’s Vineyard 1985

  8. Caroline says:

    That is utterly fascinating. I’d love to read more about this history.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hello, I am a Deaf Interpretive Services Major at Tri-C in Cleveland, Ohio. I just wanted to say that, that was a great post! You got the main points of American Deaf Culture History down into a condensed well written version! I was astonished at the accuracy in your writings. May I ask where you found this information?

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