Varieties of Language
SPEECH, DOUBTLESS, was the first form of language; reading and writing came long afterwards. Deaf-mutes, in all nations, were long regarded as inaccessible to language: that idea was long since exploded. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and the modes of expression are now almost as various as the thoughts to be expressed. There is written language, spoken language, the language of signs, and many others.
To understand fully the importance or value of anything it is only necessary to be without it for a time. Blessings almost invariably “brighten as they take their flight.” The value of language would be unspeakably enhanced in our minds by a temporarily enforced silence—a prohibition of all expression of thought. There could be no books, no newspapers, no telegrams, no conversation. The world would be a vast cemetery; the universe would stand still: for language is its life, and to stop language is to stop all progress, of whatever name or nature. There are forms of language which can be addressed to each of, the five senses—sight, hearing, feeling, taste, and smell. Audible language is that which can be heard, as the human voice, the lowing of cattle, the bark of a dog, etc. Visible language is that addressed to the eye, as writing, print, signs, expressions, motions, etc. Under this head come all the works of Creation. Tangible language appeals to the sense of touch, as the conversation of deaf-mutes in the dark, by feeling the letters of the manual alphabet on each other’s hands. Those who are blind, in addition to being deaf and dumb, are very expert in this mode of communication. Laura Bridgman is a prominent example of this. In connection with this subject, Dr. Thomas H. Gallaudet once asked the following question to an assembled company: Suppose two perfectly dark rooms, with a thick partition between them, having a very small hole in it, and an intelligent deaf-mute in each room: could the two deaf-mutes converse with each other? The conclusion of the company was that, as they could neither hear, see, nor feel, conversation was impossible; but Mr. Gallaudet demonstrated that a conversation might be carried on by means of an alphabet of odors or smells, which might be conveyed through the hole on bits of sponge fastened to small sticks, as, A (ammonia), B (bergamot), C (cinnamon), etc. There was no pretense of making a practical use of the idea, the intention being simply to show that it might be done. So with an alphabet of taste, as, A (apple), B (butter), C (cheese), etc., by which a conversation might be carried on for amusement or experiment. The great and universal law of compensation is well illustrated in all this. There is also an alphabet of expressions of the face—A (admiration), B (boldness), C (curiosity), etc.
The subject is inexhaustible; but the above instances will show how varied are the methods of communication possible, and their practice will serve to while away many a dull evening, furnishing amusement and instruction for young and old.
THE practice of the manual alphabet will greatly advance the education of children, whether hearing or deaf mute.
EVEN for those who hear, it is very convenient, for there are times when they wish to converse silently.