B. St J. (Benjamin St John) Ackers.

Vocal speech for the dumb : a paper on the education of the deaf and dumb, German system, read April 25, 1877, before the Society of Arts (Volume Talbot collection of British pamphlets.) online

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Online LibraryB. St J. (Benjamin St John) AckersVocal speech for the dumb : a paper on the education of the deaf and dumb, German system, read April 25, 1877, before the Society of Arts (Volume Talbot collection of British pamphlets.) → online text (page 1 of 3)
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Read April 25, 1877


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Why am I standing before you to-night ? Why am I
reading this paper on the ' deaf and dumb ' before your
honourable Society P Not as a schoohnaster wishino- to
bring before your notice some special method of teaching
that he himself invented ; not as a medical man wishing
to advocate some special treatment of ear diseases ; not
because, in fact, I have any claim to speak in my own
person as a professional practitioner, either scholastic or
medical, but solely because that has happened to me which
might happen to anyone here present ; illness came upon
my only child — its life was spared, but its hearing lost.

Great, indeed, w^ere the difficulties we experienced in
deciding on the best way of educating our child, meagre,
indeed, the help we could obtain in our o^vn country. I
am desirous that others should have the benefit' of our
experience, so that no one need go through the terrible
uncertainty and anxiety we had to endure. Our child
was three months old when a severe attack of fever took
away her hearing. For a year or two we kept hoping on.
I even refused to enter the child in the census as ' deaf
and dumb.' I w^ould not ' brand ' it as long as there was
any doubt ; such was my foolish pride, such is the foolish



pride, alas ! of very many ; and it is mentioned here in
order to show that this, amongst other causes, makes the
census returns of the ' deaf and dumb ' below the real
number. As soon as our child's loss of hearing was
beyond question, we brought her here to London for the
best medical, surgical, and educational advice. We hoped,
indeed we never doubted, that we should have received
the best advice about the education of our child from
those of the medical profession whom we consulted. But
such was not the case. Sad and disappointed, we turned
to those Avlio had devoted their lives to the education of
the deaf. Here at least we expected to be assured beyond
doubt of the best method on which to instruct her ; but
again we were doomed to utter disappointment. We
found different systems at work, and the advocates of each
said very hard and bitter things of one another. Here it
will be well to explain the technical terms that will be
used in this paper. For want of this it is sometimes
difficult to understand the meaning of much that is written
and spoken on this subject, as different terms are used
by various waiters and speakers to express the same
things, and the same terms to express different things.

' Deaf and Dumb.' Those wholly uneducated, or
who cannot hear or speak, though educated or partially so.

' Deaf.' Those who cannot liear or speak before they
have been educated ; or who, having been educated, are
still without hearing, but can speak.

'German' Sj'stem. That which is based on articula-
tion and li[)-reading.

' French ' System. That which is based on a system
of signs.


' Signs.' All, except

' Natural Signs.' Which I deline as such as hearing-
persons use and can understand ; e.g.^ 'come,' beckoning
with the hand ; ' go,' motioning away with the hand ;
which are really actions, not signs.

You may wonder why we did not test for ourselves
the results obtained by the various methods in this coun-
try. We would willingly have done so, but the ' German '
system had not been long enough at work to prove the
value of its teaching to pupils in general after leaving
school, and we were assured by the ' French ' system
teachers — the ' old ' system, as it is so often erroneously
called by Englishmen, simply because in this country it
has been the longer established — that, however good the
' German ' might appear in school, the speech and hp-
readinci; there learnt were of no value ui after life.


We could not disprove this assertion. Nay, we were
inclined to believe it, for, we said to ourselves, as so many
do now, ' If it be the better method, surely it would have
been adopted by such a practical nation as our own long
ago.' Of this I must speak hereafter.

It w^ill be seen that, to persons considering this sub-
ject for the first time, as we were, it Avas impossible to
arrive at a satisfactory conclusion — one that would leave
no doubt on their minds — without going into the world
to find out the truth. So, without loss of time, in August,
1872, our child being three years old, we left her with
my wife's family, and commenced investigation for our-
selves. We visited some of the princijDal schools in each
of the following countries, in the order named : — England,
United States, Canada, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium,


Germany, Saxony, Bohemia, Austria, Bavaria, Switzerland,
Savoy and France.

The subject before you naturally divides itself into
three heads — Medical, Historical and Educational.

Time will not allow me to-night to enter upon the
medical and liistorical aspects of the case, interesting as
they are, even more so, probably, to the general public,
than the educational view of the subject. This paper,
however, must be confined to this latter portion of the
question, viz., education.

Education. — Chiefly as bearing on the results of the
different methods of education on the pupils in after life.

Let it be clearly understood that the term ' deaf
and dumb,' as used in this and all countries where the
' French ' system is adopted, includes the toto-congenital
— those born wholly deaf; the semi-deaf — those with par-
tial hearing ; and the semi-mute — those who have spoken
before loss of hearing. This term ' deaf and dumb,' used
for such degrees and classes of affliction is very confusing ;
the different conditions are often misunderstood, and much
evil arises therefrom.

There are three systems of teaching the deaf — ' Ger-
man '; ' French ' ; ' Combined.'

The ' German ' system teaches by articulation and lip-
reading. The 'French,' by signs, dactylology (i.e. tlie
manual al[)habet), and pantomime.

Writing and pictures are, of course, common to each
system. It is true that in 'German' sj'stem scliools, na-
tural signs arc used at frrst, but ihcy are dropped as soon
as tlie pu[)ils have learned to express their meaning in
words ; and, on the other hand, in ' French ' system


schools, some few pupils are taught articulation. The
' German ' system teaches the pupils from the first to think
in the order of the language of their country, whereas the
' French ' system teaclies tlie pupils to think in the order
of the language of signs, which is an inverted order, as
far as English and all otlicr European languages go, e.g.
' cart draw horse.' It also ignores particles, and other
things necessary to ordinary English.

The ' Combined ' method is so called because it tries
to combine parts of each of the two great opposing sys-
tems. The teaching, however, being based on signs, is
far nearer the ' French ' than the ' German ' system, though
some articulation is attempted at first with each pupil, —
a system which has brought, and always w^ill bring, arti-
culation into disrepute, for it is useless to think of teach-
ino- articulation successfully unless it be, as in the ' German '
system, the basis of instruction ; so that the pupil may
always think and express ideas in the order of the lan-
ouai^e of his country. This is next to impossible for him
to do, when taught upon any system which is based on
sifms. Simis are also much easier than articulation to the
deaf. The two have nothing in common. The easier
will always supersede the harder in the affection and
practice of the pupil.

Now, it would be well, before going any further, to
get rid of the idea so common amongst hearing people,
that children ' deaf and dumb ' are quite different from
others. For instance, it is often imagined that they must
be of weak intellect. This is a great mistake. True,
some have not full mental development, which is not to
be wondered at, when the causes of congenital and acci-


deiitiil dcafiicss are rcineml^ered — often it is a fever that
takes away liearing and leaves mind and body in an
enfeebled condition. Snch, however, is just as often the
case with hearing children after suffering like maladies.
The brain is uninjured in the vast majority of the deaf,
and is exactly the same as that of hearing cliildren.

Another very common fallacy is that the child does
not speak — is dumb — on account of some malformation
of the vocal organs. Xow, this is so rare a case, if indeed
it exist at all, that it cannot be classed as one of the
causes of dumbness. Indeed, there are but two causes,
so far as I know, of absolute duml^ness, viz., want of
brain power, and deafness. As the latter causes dumb-
ness only on account of want of proper education, the
former is the only true cause. The term 'deaf and dumb '
is really an unnatural and artificial one, expressing not
the action of nature under favom'able circumstances, but
the result of neglect.

It is not uncommon to meet with dumb persons who
have their hearing perfect ; their dumbness arises from
defect of brain. But what I have never met with, is
dumbness from deafness, except through disuse of voice.
There is no such thing as a child born dumb because
deaf. The born deaf are at fu'st exactly the same as
hearing children ; they cry, sneeze, cough, crow, laugh,
aye, and talk too, like hearing children. This may seem
very starthng ; but startling though it be, it is true. The
born deaf do talk, in their own baby language, just like
hearing children of the same age, only we do not under-
stand them. Wliat mother understands all her hearing
baby says at first ? ])ut, it will be said, ' Even if this be


SO, hearing cliildren can understand all that is said to
them, and that is what deaf ones never can.' Eeally !
Can hearing children understand all that is said to them ?
Then why do mothers and nurses say the same thing,
over and over again, a hundred times ? And when the
hearing child can imitate what is said to it, does it there-
fore know the meaning ? Does it know what ' papa ' or
' mamma ' mean because it can say the words ? Of
course not.

The objects must be shown with the words spoken,
and shown over and over again, too, before the hearing
child can connect the object with the spoken word ; and
so — exactly so — is it with the deaf child ; you do not let
it go on talking its own language ; but just as with the
hearing, you educate it to repeat certain sounds after you,
and to connect those sounds (spoken words) with certain
objects — only with the deaf you cannot teach through the
ear and so must through the eye. It is all by imitation,
as with the hearing child ; it does not ' come natural,' as
unthinking people so often say, either to the hearing or
to the deaf.

Now, let us contrast the effect of these systems on the
after life of those educated thereon. We will take the
' French ' system first, as that best known in this country.
I have said over and over again, and here repeat, that if
the object of the education of the deaf Avere to fit them to
live in large asylums and comfortable institutions, they
should by all means be educated on the ' French ' system.
It is the easiest and pleasantest to the pupils, so long as they
are together or with their teachers. But we know well
that institution life can bo but tlie lot of verv few. Almost


all have, before long, to leave what has to them become
a happy home, ^vhere everyone understands and uses the
language of signs, and to take their place in the -world,
and earn their daily bread. Here they scarcely ever meet
with anyone able to use the language of signs, and very,
very few who know the finger alphabet. ]3ut it may be
said, ' They have wTiting.' Yes, but what does tliis
amount to ?

However much knowledge or education may be justly
claimed for the deaf-mute instructed upon the ' Frencli '
system of signs, still such knowledge is to hearing persons
in a great measure a sealed book, by reason of the want
of a proper communication between the two classes ; the
deaf-mute, in consequence of the peculiar nature of his
instruction, which gives him language in an inverted
order, has a difficulty in making himself understood by
writing, and in comprehending the writing of ordinary
hearing pei'sons. His own knowledge of language is
very imperfect, and few of those with whom he daily
associates arc sufficiently educated to read or write with
comfort, and many, we know, cannot do so at all.

Now let us i)ass to the ' Combined ' method. This is
the system that Gallaudet, the first teacher of the deaf in
America, found in this country, and erroneously supposed
to be the ' German ' method. He took this for granted,
because articulation was taught. He failed to appreciate,
as so many do now, the cardinal diflerence of these sys-
tems. It is lliis, that under the ' Combined ' method, a
system of signs is the basis of instruction, articulation
being only an accomplishment, just as modern languages
were taught in our old public schools, with the result we


all knoAv ; the tlnDg was looked upon by tlic boys as a
' bore,' and the knowledge (or rather want of knowledge)
of these languages so gained, and the little u-e they were
in after life, have passed into a byword.

Those thus taught never feel at home in speakins^,
find great difficulty in making themselves understood,
and so soon cease to continue the attempt. So it is witli
those tauo-ht on the ' Combined ' method. Articulation is
to them a ' bore,' they find people outside their schools
unable to understand them, and so they, too, soon cease
to make the attempt.

Thus articulation is brought into discredit, not by its
being in any way unsuited to the deaf, but because it has
been treated as an accomplisliment.

Indeed, the case of those thus educated practically
differs but little from those under the ' French ' system,
but that little is not in favour of the ' Combined' method.
In examining the pupils taught on tliis system, Ave found
them the least educated, and the reason was not far to
seek ; for the pupils so taught were taken away from the
rest to learn articulation, it may be half-an-hour a day,
more or less. What were the constant remarks of the
teachers ? Why, that ' the articulation pupils were be-
hind the others.' And no wonder, for Avhatever takes
the pupil away from his companions regidarly for never
so short a time, be it articulation, drawing, Latin, or any
other thing foreign to the ordinary work of his class,
must liave the effect of making him show to disadvantao;e
with his class-mates, whose attention and time have not
been disturbed. But, it may be argued, ' Could not more
time be given to articulation ? ' It would be of no avail,

10 DE.\r, NOT DUMB.

I reply, so long as signs constitute the basis of education,
for so long will the pupils think in them rather than in
articulation. In that case no good result is to be gained,
because articulation will be but a foreign language, in
which ease enough to be pleasant or useful will rarely be
gained, an annoyance very often — a task, and will ever
lead to disappointment.

A ' foreign ' language ! Is it not startling to hear
English spoken of thus, in the case of English childi'en ?
Yet such is English to those taught on the ' French ' or
' Combined ' methods. It is a foreign language to them,
as we are constantly reminded by the teachers of those
systems. Let us see whether such is the case with those
taught on the ' German ' system.

Here, to begin with, there is no inverted order ; and,
as those taught thereon iiave no other medium for thought
than the English language, there is certainly no reason,
theoretically, why their language should not bo as pure
as that of hearing children. This is scarcely the case at
first, yet such a result is reached before leaving school,
and is not lost afterwards.

I fancy I hear someone say, ' This may be so with
the semi-mute and the semi-deaf, but can it be possible
with the toto-congenital, who have never heard ? Are they
tiljle 1o make speech the means of comnumication witli
tlie world in general ? ' Wait a minute, and I think,
when you have heard a few examples of the very many
cases tliat have come under our notice, and wliich we
tested for ourselves, that you will acknowledge that articu-
lation under the ' German ' method is no mere accom-
plishment ; but is the practical moans by wliich lliose so


taught communicate, not with tlieir fellow-pupils and
teachers only, but with their hearing fello'w- creatures

Eemembering the three classes called. ' deaf and dumb '
in this country, let us take a few examples, all of which,
came under our personal notice, unless mentioned to the
contrary. In these cases names and dates will not be
specified, but they are at the service of any person who
chooses to ask for them for the purpose of proving the
accuracy of the statements contained in this paper.

I will not weary you with cases of the semi-deaf
speaking, because it must be evident to all, that this
class — having hearing, although not sufficient to enable
them to be educated with hearing children — have ear
enouo-h to understand to a certain extent the modula-
tions of sound. We will pass on, therefore, to the next
class, the semi-mute.

The first case we will take is that of one of the
dauorhters of a sentleman who, throu2;h his kindness to
us, has become a great personal friend of my own. As
soon as he heard the object of our journey, and that our
child was deaf, he spared neither pains, time, nor per-
sonal exertion to help us in this matter.

His child had lost hearing, from fever, between four
and five years of age. At that time there were no schools
in his country on this admirable ' German. ' system ; but
the parents, convinced of the advantage of this method,
made themselves acquainted with the details of instruc-
tion, which were successfully carried out in the person of
their own child, as you will acknowledge when I tell you
that she was able to go into shops in Germany and get


things that lier father wanted, he being unable to speak the
language ; and that she came to stay with us in our house
in the country, and was conversed with by our friends,
both at garden parties and privately, to the surprise of
all who saw her.

Take another case. A lady of great weallli liad four
children ; fever came and struck down three ; two died,
the other lived, but her hearing was totally lost. She
was then four years of age. The poor mother, as might
be expected, was overwhelmed with grief, and, for twelve
months was herself ill, and unable to attend to the educa-
tion of her poor little deaf child. It was not until the
latter was between five and six years of age, twelve
months after losing hearing, that the mother attempted
to educate her at all. Her speech was almost gone ;
indeed, to such an extent was this the case, that she had
but one word left, a word natural to a child, ' cake.'
The mother was an energetic, clever woman, no doubt,
but she had a large household, and kept much company,
living in the most fashionable society of a wealthy neigh-
bourhood ; yet she found time to educate her child, not-
withstanding that a large younger familj'- (she had eight
living children when I saw her), added to her other cares,
must have left her little time for such teacliinf?. She
made a practice of giving her deaf child two hours every
morning, and with this instruction her daughter became
a highly educated and agreeable woman in society. We
spent the day at her father's house, and a most accom-
plished woman we found her. She talked to my wife of
pictures, poetry, and all manner of subjects conuuon to
ladies, such as needlework, &c. To me she talked of


riding (she was a great horsewoman), billiards, and other
topics she thought would interest me, explaining the dif-
ference between their game of billiards and ours, giving
me the names of the different woods the cues were made
of, and conversing with me as freely as though she had
been a hearing person ; indeed, several times during the
day, my wife forgot that she was speaking to one deaf, so
accurately did this deaf young lady read everything that
was said to her when she could see the speaker's face ;
but occasionally my wife, forgetting this, turned aw^ay,
and, of course, received no answer. Yet, had she been
sent to a ' French ' system school, all speech would have
been lost. There would have been no attempt made to
keep up, or restore, the speech of a child so young ; and
one more would have been added to the long list of the

The next and last case of a semi-mute — well known,
but which did not come under our own observation — is
that of a man who went through part of the civil war in
the United States as a private soldier. He spoke so well
that for some time the secret of his deafness was undis-
covered. One night, however, he was challenged by a
sentry, and, taking no notice, was wounded. This led to
discovery, and he had to leave the army. His early
history is interesting and instructive, and I will give it
almost in his own w^ords as told to a friend of mine. He
lost hearing through fever at five years of age, but
retained his speech. His friends communicated with him
by writing. One day sitting on the floor he watched his
father and a neighbour talking, and when the neighbour
left, he looked up and said, 'Did not Mr. say so


and so ? ' 'Yes,' said his father, 'How do you know, who
told you ? ' ' Fatlier, I saw his lips move, and I guessed
that was what he said.' ' You had better practise watch-
ino- people's hps,' his father said. The ' German ' system
was then unknown in America ; l^ut the boy did practise,
both with his family, and by studying his own lips before
the glass. The only difficulty being that he soon dis-
covered a difference in his own pronunciation of words
ending in ' tion ' as he called it ' ti-on,' and such like
spelhngs, where the sound and the spelling did not agree.
At twelve years of age he was sent to the American
Asylum at Hartford, and for a whole year he could make
absolutely nothing out of the signs and finger talking
used around him. This made him very wretched. He
continued to say his lessons aloud to the master, who
questioned him on his fingers. One day going to his
master for the meaning and pronunciation of some new
and difficult word, the master in u fit of impatience at his
not pronouncing it rightly wrote the word down, spelling
it phonetically ; tlie boy at once gave it correctly, and his
delight and joy were intense. Here was the key of know-
ledge. From that day he aiwa5's went to others with his
new words, with tlie request 'Spell il wrong; spell it as
it sounds,' and he liad no more difficulty. He married a
deaf and duml) woman, and had several children, all of
whom heard. When these children Avere old enough,
they were sent to school. Very soon a complaint came
to the father from the teacher, his children were so
remarkably impudent and naughty they would write
nonsense on their slates instead of their exercises. They
had been punished, but continued to bring such sentences


as this : ' Man horse black on riding was,' and, if he did
not use his authority to stop this, the children must be
expelled. He at once wrote, explaining that they had
been in the habit of communicating chiefly with their
deaf and dumb mother, who employed signs, and this
inverted language was the consequence. If no notice
were taken, but the children allowed to mix freely with
their schoolfellows, he had no doubt their language would
right itself, and so the event proved.

We now come to the last of the three classes of the
so-called ' deaf and dumb ' — the toto-congenital. How
these educated on the ' German ' system were able, after
leaving school, to get on in the world by articulation and
lip-reading, was, you may remember, the great object of
our inquiries. This point is all the more important now,
as the advocates of the ' French ' system allow, in theory,

1 3

Online LibraryB. St J. (Benjamin St John) AckersVocal speech for the dumb : a paper on the education of the deaf and dumb, German system, read April 25, 1877, before the Society of Arts (Volume Talbot collection of British pamphlets.) → online text (page 1 of 3)