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by Susan Schaller

For more than a quarter of a century, Ildefonso, a Mexican Indian, lived in total isolation, set apart from the rest of the world. He wasn't a political prisoner or a social recluse, he was simply born deaf and had never been taught even the most basic language. Susan Schaller, then a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, encountered him in a class for the deaf where she had been sent as an interpreter and where he sat isolated, since he knew no sign language. She found him obviously intelligent and sharply observant but unable to communicate, and she felt compelled to bring him to a comprehension of words.A Man without Words vividly conveys the challenge, the frustrations, and the exhilaration of opening the mind of a congenitally deaf person to the concept of language.
Download A Man Without Words epub
ISBN: 0520202651
ISBN13: 978-0520202658
Category: Reference
Subcategory: Words Language & Grammar
Author: Susan Schaller
Language: English
Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (August 29, 1995)
Pages: 210 pages
ePUB size: 1256 kb
FB2 size: 1915 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 216
Other Formats: lit doc mobi lrf

I've read many of the previous case studies of languagelessness in children. We studied Genie and the Wild Boy of Aveyron in an education class on language and it's place in education. This was my introduction to this particular group of disenfranchised, neglected, and abused people...except I thought it was all children usually discovered in late childhood (around age 13). From my neuroscience classes I remember being taught that the brain continues neuronal growth (to targeted synapses in the brain) until about age ten, then begins to cut back. This was supposedly an explanation for why language learning is so difficult later in life. So coming across this book, with its story concerning adults with no obvious psychiatric problems (just a physical difference in lacking hearing) who had managed to survive to adulthood with no language, came as a complete surprise.
This book got put aside as I had to read other books for school and work, but I picked it up again and finished it. Schaller basically is providing a qualitative study, a case study, to draw attention to this apparent problem. This method of educational research is used more and more in writing dissertations, and I actually didn't recognize what it was until I took a qualitative research class myself. The writing and book tend at first to repeat itself. I am not sure what Schaller was doing in writing this way. Perhaps the book had to be a certain length or she felt readers might not pay attention to the seriousness of this problem for Ildefonso and other adults without language. This repetition caused the first half of the book to drag a bit.
After I picked the book up again, I finished it in two days. The addition of the search for other adults with no primary language, Schaller's introduction to other adults like Ildefonso, and then her search for Ildefonso really added to the pace of the case study.
This book throws a bit of a wrench in much of the things I have been taught in both neuroscience and education. There are a few things the book illustrates better than any other book I've read on this topic. First, given the amount of adults who were deaf and had no language that Schaller found in Southern California really illustrates this has to be a major problem internationally. If we are finding such a large group in our nation which pushes education and literacy, what about in countries such as China where there are many deaf (due to overuse of gentamycin) and there are many people with no access to education. Second, again, we obviously don't know everything there is to know about the pliability of the brain. Third, I am very concerned about discrimination against this group, and the possibilities that there are many of these people in psychiatric wards or prisons or other institutions, merely because they have no way to assert their rights. This possibility would be criminal.
I'd like to see more books by Schaller on this topic, and hope to learn more about this in the future. For the most part, this is a great book, and it definitely is a great story which needed to be told.
Karen Sadler
Science Education
University of Pittsburgh
Everyone including teachers and specialists could benefit from reading this book and learning more about a diverse population such as deafness. It shared how in poor countries when a deaf person can not access the proper education and help for his/her issue, the person grows up with the facilities to communicate with anyone. Very sad existence. With her perseverance as a teacher, she changed the man's life and opened up new opportunities/
I had heard about this book on Radio Lab and it was a topic that intrigued me so I had to pick it up. It revealed a deeper understanding of the cultural world of the deaf community. There is rarely a week I don't think about this story. Though I often wanted to know more then the author provided I was always hungry for more as I read. My family was also intrigued by the story and often kept them up to date on the progress. With one reader it truly effected an entire family. Definitely recommended!
Like a lot of university educated folks, I heard in Psych 101 that once you hit your teens, your capacity to learn languages takes such a nosedive that if you haven't learned by then, you'll never be better than "Me Tarzan, you Jane" no matter how hard you try. I'm not ashamed of accepting this "language expiration date" -- there was no reason not to, and besides, it tracked with my own frustration learning foreign languages. For decades, I accepted this Psych 101 nugget without question.
When I started reading A Man Without Words, I had no idea my old Psych 101 nugget's days were numbered. I heard about the book as something a fan of Oliver Sacks would enjoy, and I associated it with Oliver Sack's book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, about neurological dysfunction, not Sacks's Hearing Voices, about the deaf. I assumed until I started reading that the "man without words" was aphasic -- had brain damage that prevented him from understanding language. Turns out, though, the book's namesake is deaf and poor and had simply, at 27, never been taught any language. No one had ever bothered. Susan Schaller then proceeded to overturn the Psych 101 sacred cow I never knew I had by describing how she taught this young man the beginnings of ASL over the course of a few weeks. Then, so I couldn't think of him as a freak or fraud, Schaller goes on to show that many deaf people receive no language training and can also be taught to sign long after the Psych 101 "language expiration date."
Schaller claims that almost every deaf teacher, and most hearing teachers, of ASL know of adults who have grown up without language. While her book is anecdotal and therefore fundamentally unscientific, she makes a passionate plea for academic study of the acquisition of language by adults, which makes her more plausible than those who would brush science aside where it does not prove their case. A Man Without Words is a powerful request, and a strong basis, for further research in this area.
A Man Without Words is also very well written. Schaller is both artful and precise in her descriptions of sign idioms and grammar, to the point that I, who know little of sign other than what I read here and in Hearing Voices, felt I understood what I needed to and enjoyed learning it. Her narrative case study is better written than many novels, and besides being fascinated by the information Schaller imparts, I also became submerged in the story.
Learning that something I believed for decades may be dead wrong gives me a feeling of loss of equilibrium (I got the feeling a lot when I first started reading about urban legends). No matter how skeptical I try to be, I always seem to be assuming something. A Man Without Words is a convincing argument for skepticism about the "language expiration date," and it raises concerns that the "expiration date" idea may make us give up up too quickly on languageless adults. It is also a fascinating read as a story, which makes the loss of equilibrium easier to take. Now I just hope that since this book was published in the nineties, someone in academia has taken the hint and done some study on linguistic development in adults. I'm off to cruise the Web to find out -- which, I'm sure, is just the kind of reaction Schaller was hoping for.
Incredible book, about a man without language, and the wonderful effort this woman makes to help him get a language. Marvelous!
Excellent read. I heard an interview on NPR years ago and had to find the book. Well worth every scent.
This was fascinating read for me, because I knew the man. The writing could have been presented in a more interesting manner. I learned a great deal about deaf people who have their own language.