TOUCH TRANSMISSION BY ELECTRICITY.
The matter now to consider, and the one of greater interest to the teacher of deaf children, is, Of what utility can the device be in the instruction of deaf-mutes? What advantage is there, not found in the prevailing methods of communication with the deaf, i.e., by gestures, dactylology, speech and speech-reading, and writing?
I. The language of gestures, first systematized and applied to the conveying of ideas to the deaf by the Abbe de l'Epee during the latter part of the last century, has been, in America, so developed and improved upon by Gallaudet, Peet, and their successors, as to leave but little else to be desired for the purpose for which it was intended. The rapidity and ease with which ideas can be expressed and understood by this "language" will never cease to be interesting and wonderful, and its value to the deaf can never fail of being appreciated by those familiar with it. But the genius of the language of signs is such as to be in itself of very little, if any, direct assistance in the acquisition of syntactical language, owing to the diversity in the order of construction existing between the English language and the language of signs. Sundry attempts have been made to enforce upon the sign-language conformity to the English order, but they have, in all cases known to the writer, been attended with failure. The sign-language is as immovable as the English order, and in this instance certainly Mahomet and the mountain will never know what it is to be in each other's embrace.
School exercises in language composition are given with great success upon the basis of the sign-language. But in all such exercises there must be a translation from one language to the other. The desideratum still exists of an increased percentage of pupils leaving our schools for the deaf, possessing a facility of expression in English vernacular. This want has been long felt, and endeavoring to find a reason for the confessedly low percentage, the sign-language has been too often unjustly accused. It is only when the sign-language is abused that its merit as a means of instruction degenerates. The most ardent admirers of a proper use of signs are free to admit that any excessive use by the pupils, which takes away all opportunities to express themselves in English, is detrimental to rapid progress in English expression.
II. To the general public, dactylology or finger spelling is the sign-language, or the basis of that language, but to the profession there is no relation between the two methods of communication. Dactylology has the advantage of putting language before the eye in conformity with English syntax, and it has always held its place as one of the elements of the American or eclectic method. This advantage, however, is not of so great importance as to outweigh the disadvantages when, as has honestly been attempted, it asserts its independence of other methods. Very few persons indeed, even after long practice, become sufficiently skillful in spelling on the fingers to approximate the rapidity of speech. But were it possible for all to become rapid spellers, another very important requisite is necessary before the system could be a perfect one, that is, the ability to read rapid spelling. The number of persons capable of reading the fingers beyond a moderate degree of rapidity is still less than the number able to spell rapidly. While it is physically possible to follow rapid spelling for twenty or thirty minutes, it can scarcely be followed longer than that.
So long as this is true, dactylology can hardly claim to be more than one of the elements of a system of instruction for the deaf.
III. Articulate speech is another of the elements of the eclectic method, employed with success inversely commensurate with the degree of deficiency arising from deafness. Where the English order is already fixed in his mind, and he has at an early period of life habitually used it, there is comparatively little difficulty in instructing the deaf child by speech, especially if he have a quick eye and bright intellect. But the number so favored is a small percentage of the great body of deaf-mutes whom we are called upon to educate. When it is used as a sole means of educating the deaf as a class its inability to stand alone is as painfully evident as that of any of the other component parts of the system. It would seem even less practicable than a sole reliance upon dactylology would be, for there can be no doubt as to what a word is if spelled slowly enough, and if its meaning has been learned. This cannot be said of speech. Between many words there is not, when uttered, the slightest visible distinction. Between a greater number of others the distinction is so slight as to cause an exceedingly nervous hesitation before a guess can be given.
Too great an imposition is put upon the eye to expect it to follow unaided the extremely circumscribed gestures of the organs of speech visible in ordinary speaking. The ear is perfection as an interpreter of speech to the brain. It cannot correctly be said that it is more than perfection. It is known that the ear, in the interpretation of vocal sounds, is capable of distinguishing as many as thirty-five sounds per second (and oftentimes more), and to follow a speaker speaking at the rate of more than two hundred words per minute. If this be perfection, can we expect the eye of ordinary mortal to reach it? Is there wonder that the task is a discouraging one for the deaf child?
But it has been asserted that while a large percentage (practically all) of the deaf can, by a great amount of painstaking and practice, become speech readers in some small degree, a relative degree of facility in articulation is not nearly so attainable. As to the accuracy of this view, the writer cannot venture an opinion. Judging from the average congenital deaf-mute who has had special instruction in speech, it can safely be asserted that their speech is laborious, and far, very far, from being accurate enough for practical use beyond a limited number of common expressions. This being the case, it is not surprising that as an unaided means of instruction it cannot be a success, for English neither understood when spoken, nor spoken by the pupil, cannot but remain a foreign language, requiring to pass through some other form of translation before it becomes intelligible.