Book Review – “Everybody Here Spoke Sign Language”

"Everybody Here Spoke Sign Language" by Nora Ellen Groce

It was a good book, but a little "text-bookish" - a lot of research went into it and the author talked to the last living people who knew some of the deaf people on Martha's Vineyard.

Way back when...when Martha's Vineyard was first settled by people from England, they brought with them a recessive gene for deafness.  At one point, the deaf population (percentage wise) was several times the rate of deafness in the population of the rest of the country.

The deaf on Martha's Vineyard weren't considered "handicapped" - they just...were.  Groce tells several stories of interviewing people and asking about a certain person.  The interviewee would say, "oh!  they owned a boat and they were really good fishermen" and it was only when specifically asked did the person remember, "well, yes.  Come to think of it, they were deaf!"

It seems that nearly every family had at least one child and every learned sign language, both hearing and deaf.   For a couple of centuries, deafness was about as much of a handicap on the island as being left-handed.  It wasn't.

Today, deaf people tend to marry deaf people - that wasn't the way it was on Martha's Vineyard.  It was only when "deaf schools" started to be opened on the mainland and people in general became more mobile, that the deaf population on the island started to dwindle.  As people moved off island and to the island, the gene pool expanded.

It was only in the mid-20th century that the person with this hereditary deafness died - from the 1600's until the 1900's, deafness was a part of every day life - I liked reading that.

What we see as an impairment - wasn't.  Today, deaf people are sometimes treated as though, because they cannot here, they cannot understand.  There...and then, it was the off-islanders who were at a disadvantage, because they didn't understand some of what was being said in sign.

It was the Martha's Vineyard sign language that became the basis for ASL.

If you have an interest in deafness or sign language...or if you just want the encouragement of reading about an "impairment" wasn't, this is a good book to read.

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