The Language of Light


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A History of Silent Voices

Gerald Shea

View Inside Format: Hardcover
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A comprehensive history of deafness, signed languages, and the unresolved struggles of the Deaf to be taught in their unspoken tongue

Partially deaf due to a childhood illness, Gerald Shea is no stranger to the search for communicative grace and clarity. In this eloquent and thoroughly researched book, he uncovers the centuries-long struggle of the Deaf to be taught in sign language—the only language that renders them complete, fully communicative human beings. Shea explores the history of the deeply biased attitudes toward the Deaf in Europe and America, which illogically forced them to be taught in a language they could neither hear nor speak. As even A.G. Bell, a fervent oralist, admitted, sign language is "the quickest method of reaching the mind of a deaf child."
Shea’s research exposes a persistent but misguided determination among hearing educators to teach the Deaf orally, making the very faculty they lacked the principal instrument of their instruction. To forbid their education in sign language—the “language of light”—is to deny the Deaf their human rights, he concludes.

Gerald Shea practiced corporate and international law for many years as a member of the New York and Paris bars. He is author of Song Without Words: Discovering My Deafness Halfway Through Life, a prize-winning memoir of his life with partial deafness. He divides his time between Paris and the North Shore of Massachusetts.

“A gracefully written, tightly reasoned indictment of those who would deprive the Deaf of their language.”—Harlan Lane, author of When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf

“Shea’s scholarship is excellent, and his sourcing of the book and the new material he found in his research is outstanding. It has much to offer, both in its exploration of known history and in its development of new material. It reads well and easily, not a small achievement.”—Tom Humphries, author of Deaf in America and Inside Deaf Culture

“An invaluable social, intellectual and scientific history of the Deaf, and the emerging recognition of the linguistic nature of signed languages. Essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the troubled past of these issues and the history of the family of signed languages that includes ASL.”—Stephen R. Anderson, Yale University

“Thought-provoking . . . a highly recommended and important work that provides a convincing argument advocating change in society’s attitudes toward the Deaf.” —Theresa Muraski, Library Journal

“An eloquent and engaging history.”—Jerome Groopman, New York Review of Books

“In conveying the unique cadence of this silent music [of sign language] — its intricate grammatical structure, its power to express an infinite array of ideas — Shea underscores the tragedy of its suppression. . . .  Not only is ‘The Language of Light’ a thorough history of deaf language and education, it is a keen look at the ways people’s worlds can be circumscribed by powerful others who think they know best. In Shea’s telling, we come to see forced oralism as the figurative foot-binding it really is.”—Elizabeth Svoboda, Undark

Runner- up in the 2018 New England Book Festival, nonfiction category
ISBN: 9780300215434
Publication Date: August 22, 2017
288 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
30 b/w illus.