Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Take a Chance: Seeing Voices


Seeing Voices: a Journey into the World of the Deaf, by Oliver Sacks

5: Blurb Book: Find a book that has a blurb on it from another author. Read a book by the author that wrote the blurb.

The last book I read for this challenge was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which had a blurb from Oliver Sacks on it, so I figured I would find an Oliver Sacks book for the next book in the challenge. I always enjoy his books, so I had to find one I've never read!

Seeing Voices is a short chronicle of deafness and how sign languages have come to be understood as languages in their own right. The book was published in 1989, just as deaf people were really getting going as a group; the book culminates at Gallaudet University (a deaf college) in Washington DC, where thousands of students protest in favor of a deaf university president, and achieve their goal.

Sacks talks a lot about the newest neuroscience research into deafness and sign language, and it's fascinating. But the book is over 20 years old! When Sacks was writing, serious modern research had been going on for less than 20 years, so there must have been quite a lot of progress since, and I'd like to learn about that.

It turns out that for a long time, people assumed that sign language could only be primitive and crude, and tried to force sign language to be just like spoken language done with signs. But a real sign language (like ASL) is a true language, just as expressive and subtle as a spoken one, with its own grammar and everything.

So: very interesting book, lots of good stuff in it. But 20 years out of date!

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