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Post by Mailleweaver on Sat Apr 09, 2016 4:24 am

A few days ago I learned something from an acquaintance that changed how I think about a lot of people. I should have been able to figure this out on my own but never bothered to think about it. Now that my eyes have been opened to it, I think it should be shared with as many people as possible.

Think about what goes through your brain when you read something. You look at a word, your brain compares that to words that it's seen and knows, then matches it with whatever is the best fit in that word database, and finally accesses that word's meaning. It's just pattern recognition, and works quite well even if a lot of the letters are mixed up or illegible. Sometimes we run into words that we don't know, though, and we have to read the actual letters. Here's where things get interesting. Letters represent sounds. When we're young, we're taught A makes an "aaa" sound, B makes a "buh" sound, etc. An alphabet is basically a list of sounds that we can string together to make words that we've attached meaning to. If we see a letter combination we don't recognize, we can sound out the letters until we've said the word to find out what that letter combination is and then add that to our internal database of word patterns. This is the great strength of alphabets and why I've always been glad I can use an alphabet instead of pictographs, but it's also a great weakness in a way that I've never known.

Now, here's what caused a shift in my thoughts. What if you'd never been able to hear? How do you teach the alphabet to a deaf person? How can it have any meaning to them if it's just a list of sounds which they have no way to conceptualize? They have to memorize the shapes and shape combinations without the aid of attaching sounds to them. Language, to a person born deaf, is not sound. Even without an official sign language, language to them is gestures and body language. An alphabet just cannot express body language, so it's insanely difficult for a deaf person to learn how to read. I've never thought about this before. I just thought, "it stinks that they're deaf, but they can still see, so reading and writing to communicate shouldn't be a big deal. If something is in writing, like movie captions, then it's accessible enough to anyone who can't hear." That's just not the case. Since they don't know sound, learning to read is like trying to build a vocabulary of telephone numbers. The average person uses around 5000 words in everyday speech. Do you think you could memorize several thousand phone numbers?

I've come up with a simple way to simulate this for us privileged hearing people. Just use the number keys on a standard QWERTY keyboard to assign a new symbol for each letter, include the ` - and = keys so there are thirteen for the first thirteen letters, and then use the shift key with those same keys for the last thirteen letters. (Or just use a text editor with the wingdings font, which this forum doesn't have.) This gives you symbols to look at that you have no sounds attached to.

Write something simple with this new alphabet and imagine how hard it would be to try to learn to read that. Imagine trying to read movie captions like this "7!&%^!~, (4 7`*4 ` @$!1-4=." ("Houston, we have a problem.") This gibberish is scattered all over the world, and you're expected to know what it means because it's so simple. You have to memorize these random symbol combinations for every single word in existence because there's no way to figure it out on the fly (by converting it into the sounds that you might recognize) if you run across one you don't know. You have to do homework like this in school, decipher menus in restaurants, try to keep friends by talking to them constantly with this gibberish, work with this code constantly in any job that's not manual labor. And if you aren't good at it, you're just stupid. 6-year-olds can learn to read, so it can't be that hard. And God help you if someone else misspells or abbreviates something. How can (`--` be the same word as *!8-` when the only similarities between them are the last two letters? (walla vs voila) The ubiquity of writing and everyone's unthinking assumption that it's entirely visual puts deaf people at a major disadvantage beyond what almost any of us ever imagines.

And on top of this, deaf people have been excluded by Christianity for centuries simply because of poor interpretation of a single little part of our Bible.
Romans 10:13-17 wrote:for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?... Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
People believed that the deaf were cursed by God because they could not physically hear the message, and so they denied the deaf access to Christian life and told them that even God didn't want them. Hearing this nearly made me cry; how could I have never before heard of such a huge misunderstanding? I can tell you with complete certainty that God speaks all languages--even the unspoken ones--and his love is expressed through more than just sound.

So the next time you find yourself with a deaf person, give them a hug and find some way to encourage them in their daily struggles through the world's misunderstanding. And if you carry the Word in your heart, share it with them in the language of their heart: the language that God gave them.

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Post by Althing on Tue Jul 05, 2016 10:25 pm

Wow.. I've never heard of a denomination that casts aside the deaf like that, I'd be upset to encounter people like that too.

It is tempting to learn sign language for that purpose.. During camp meetings I've seen some cool examples of signers translating hymns for deaf members, but emoting as they did so.

Oh and take this with a grain of salt because I haven't verified it 100% but it's still interesting: I've seen references that not only as you say they have to memorize our written words without being able to reinforce the words aurally, but despite reading and writing English, their sign language has a different grammatical structure. So a sign language translator can't translator one to one what being said or what was written. I suppose this helps speed up signing, because ultimately we can speak faster than we can accurately whip our hands around (I don't mean just for translating purposes, but day to day use). So yeah the deaf should have a harder time learning to read, plus they are learning to 'speak' a second language that's merely related to the English they are writing.

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