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I picked, The Shared Sign Language of Martha’s Vineyard because I was interested in the history of sign language in America. What I found to be interesting was how some isolated towns all across the world had a similar gene pool to Martha’s Vineyard. The deaf gene is recessive, so you need one from your mother and father in order to carry the trait, which helped explain their higher rates of deafness. Limited gene pool lead to more people carrying the gene, therefore when they had kids more were deaf. But, what I found more interesting was how they treated deaf people like normal people. The rest of America at the time was throwing them in special institutions, but Martha’s Vineyard allowed deaf people to be with the rest of the town. They gave them pretty much the same education as hearing children, just through sign instead. This was possible because most of the town understood and could sign. Which is cool because there aren’t too many cities where the entire population is bilingual in the same languages. This really shows this care and desire to understand those who were different from the rest of the hearing world. They did mention Graham Bell’s approach to deaf people and how he wished to integrate them into society, which I honestly don’t believe was a bad idea. But, the way he executed it was poor because he didn’t allow them to continue to use the language which was more natural to them. Reading lips and learning to speak was especially useful at the time due to the lack of internet.
Fortunately, we do have video calling which helps deaf people connect to those on the other side of the world, in a lot better fashion that the teletype writers. Nearing the end they did mention how Martha’s Vineyard sign language is dead, which is unfortunate, but it helped kickstart other forms of sign language to archive their language. That’s promising because with advancements in technology, less people may be born deaf (gene editing), or just not learn it at all (cochlear implants). The future of sign language is blurry, but the history is quite interesting.
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