[PL] Throwing Darts In The Dark

Carol Erting carol.erting at gallaudet.edu
Mon Feb 7 17:44:32 UTC 2000

I took the liberty of forwarding this posting to William C. Stokoe who first
described American Sign Language as a linguistic system in 1960.  His response

Geary opens up a whole can of worms. Sure, the external stimuli are
sorted into various separate categories, but once the sensory system has
begun to work on them, they are all integrated--as they should be if the
total human system is to function and survive. I'm sure Mike's niece has
a number of deaf friends, but by and large, one meets 999 hearing people
to every one that is deaf. The English language itself has never been in
any doubt that language is something heard, and so deaf as well as
hearing persons are conditioned to think of incoming language as being

I'm not sure what Chomsky has to do with it. He is onto language
structure; Geary is onto the psychological consequences of
communicating. For my money Chomsky gets the cart before the horse.
Seems to me I remember a term called synechdoche--the way some people
associate a particular color with a certain sound or vice versa. Once
the information gets inside the head there's no telling what may happen
to it. Besides the niece is right. When she is with hearing people, it
makes sense to use the language the way they do. Otherwise there is
likely to be no meeting of the minds.

Carol Erting
Gallaudet University

John McCreery wrote:

> Dear Friends,
> This message is cross-posted from another list with the enthusiastic
> agreement of the author, who hopes that some of the experts here may have an
> expert opinion to offer.
> > X-Accept-Language: en
> > MIME-Version: 1.0
> > Date:         Sat, 5 Feb 2000 22:30:51 -0800
> > Reply-To: Philosophy and Literature <PHIL-LIT at LISTSERV.TAMU.EDU>
> > Sender: Philosophy and Literature <PHIL-LIT at LISTSERV.TAMU.EDU>
> > From: Mike Geary <mikeg at GALAXY-7.NET>
> > Organization: @Home Network
> > Subject:      [PL] Throwing Darts In The Dark
> >
> > This post is a query as opposed to my usual, personally gratifying,
> > smart-ass comments.  Please bear with me if I seem clumsy in the
> > attempt.  I'm not accustomed to asking what other people think.
> >
> > I have a niece who has been profoundly deaf since she was 6 months old
> > -- from meningitis.  Audiologists say that she cannot hear any sound at
> > all.  Not even a jet plane with her ear against the engine.  She
> > is now in her senior year of college.  She signs Amslam like a bat out
> > of hell, of course, and she reads lips and she can also vocalize a dozen
> > words or so -- like 'hello', 'thank you', 'goodbye'; but, of course, the
> > vocalizations are very poor approximations -- without feedback, speaking
> > is like throwing darts in the dark.
> >
> > Three years ago, purely out of curiosity, I asked her if when she was
> > dreaming of non-signing
> > people, did they sign?  Expecting a yes answer, I was greatly surprised
> > when she said that she never
> > dreamed of anyone signing, that she "heard" in her dreams.  Not only did
> > she hear speech but she also heard music in her dreams.  Music?!!!  I
> > was so
> > astonished by this that none of the thousand questions I now want to ask
> > her came immediately to mind.
> >
> > I know next to nothing about the science of hearing.  But I have a
> > layman's acquaintance with the physical-physiological requirements and
> > some idea of the psychological events that attend hearing.  There must
> > be physical sound waves impinging on the eardrum thereby exciting nerve
> > transmission to the brain neurons specific to "hearing" for "hearing" to
> > be possible.  But "hearing" as we think of it is not mere neuronal
> > excitation, it is the psychological experience of sound with the
> > concomitant decoding of sounds into signs that have meaning to us.  So
> > there must be the psychological event wherein one recognizes the
> > patterns of neuronal excitation as a specific sound and interprets that
> > specific sound according to learned sound-signs.  Is this good layman's
> > audiology and language theory or not?  I think it is and on that basis I
> > posit the following exception: "hearing" is not limited to sound waves
> > and auditory nerves.
> >
> > When my niece signs and reads signs she does not "see" language, as I
> > assumed, she hears it the same as we "hear" what we read and write.  I
> > say "we," I don't know about you, but when I read, I hear an inner voice
> > saying words, and the same is true when I write.  I don't mouth the
> > words but they are sounded in my head in both contexts.  For some reason
> > I always assumed that she "saw" language.  I think Chomsky is more right
> > than he ever dreamed of, not only is the aptitude for the deep structure
> > of language hardwired, but that language is inherently an auditory
> > experience such that every experience of language is "heard" even if
> > there has never been an auditory model to base the hearing upon.  In
> > other words, my niece not only speaks/hears a unique language, the
> > language she speaks/hears is an ur-sound language. Is there such a
> > thing?  I would not have believed it before talking with my niece.  What
> > puzzles me is the music.  Does she hear Beethoven watching Nine Inch
> > Nails?  I would like to believe so.
> >
> > Do the blind "see" what they feel?  Are "visual" images of the world in
> > their minds or geographies of touch?
> > I want to know.  I want to know if any deaf members of PHIL-LIT could
> > substantiate or contradict my hypothesis that we "hear" signs.  I want
> > to know if any blind members can give me any insight into what I call,
> > for lack of knowledge, transference of stimuli.
> >
> > Mike Geary
> > uncomfortably serious
> > in Seattle
> >
> John McCreery
> The Word Works, Ltd.
> Tel +81-45-314-9324
> Fax +81-45-316-4409
> email mccreery at gol.com
> "Making Symbols is Our Business"

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