Monday, October 27, 2008

a silent language

I can speak a little French. I can also get by in Spanish, Greek, Italian, Thai, German, Hindi and Patious – if I need a beer that is!

Generally speaking the British, and probably Americans too are a bit unwilling to learn another language. We tend to assume that everywhere we go in the world we’ll find the natives happy to jabber away in English to us.

But there is one language that I really wish I could use. It’s not a spoken language, but it is a language none the less. I refer of course to signing – the language of the deaf. Fascinating to watch - it uses not just the fingers and hands, but the arms, body and face.

I was thinking about this earlier today when I had to attempt a conversation with a deaf person. We got through, but I so wished I could sign him my message.

As you know a few years back I ran a pub, the Brewers Arms, with my daughter Penny. One of my most regular customers was William, then in his late forties, who was profoundly deaf. He was always the centre of attention and the life and soul of the party. He had been born deaf, but as a small child his parents and his school failed to recognise his disability and treated him simply as a backward child with learning difficulties.

We did our best to include him in everything that went on in the pub, but it was always frustrating for him and us especially when we struggled to explain a joke or share some local gossip.

Well, Penny decided to do something about it and in no time at all she could sign at breakneck speed ; in fact William had to ask her to slow down on more than one occasion! Since then she has found it a very useful both socially and in business.

Slowly but surely, schools are teaching it to  all of their younger pupils and I for one applaud it.

I’ve not seen William for a year or so, but wherever he is now I’m sure he’s laughing his head off, even if he doesn’t know what he’s laughing at!

This is a poem I wrote about William last year

He speaks with his hands
and hears with his eyes

He feels the music

His laugh is the loudest
his words just sounds

but we understand

He's a joker, a clown
the ultimate entertainer

spreads joy all around

He feels special, unique
Says it's a gift!

We all love William


  1. signing us amazing isn't it?? my daughter,, who i have not seen since she was 4 is works at a school for the deaf in maryland... i would love to know her,, and what brought her to that decision... well i guess as long as i am breathing it is never too late.......

    what a loving tribute to william.....

  2. To be able to order beer in several languages is a goal I can relate to. It is something to brag about.

    I was an educator in my working life and I like you always loved the ideal that I might be able to speak without a voice. It is so beautiful.

    Thank you for the comment on my blog. I do appreciate you it when you drop in.


  3. there used to be a deaf biker in our crowd. he had a hearing aid (which allowed him to ride...) but after talking to him (he lip reads) he said he prefers the silent world, and switches the aid off. and he get's by with lip reading and signing. i was so scared to talk to him in the beginning, god knows why, but i'm glad i eventually did. mmmm, memories.

  4. How proud you must have been! Wonderful tribute to a man well loved!

    Hugs Giggles

  5. Hey there Keith,

    A little bit of information for you that perhaps you didn't know about your princess here. I have a certificate in sign language. It has come in very useful and I too applaud the schools for teaching it. It is a great language to learn and to use. Good luck to you if you decide to learn it.

  6. My niece had a deaf classmate and taught herself sign language. She is so proficient that she interprets for church services and other things. I can do the alphabet but I'm so slow that it would quicker to just write it down.

  7. I often watch television using closed captions and low volume. This is because my hearing is not what it used to be and I don't want to disturb my neighbors with the TV blaring and because I hate to miss a word of dialog. I always get a kick out of the caption that shows some musical notes and says something like "jazz music". I am not sure what enjoyment the deaf are meant to derive from that ambiguous description. There are many types of Jazz music, with different tempos, instruments, and syncopations. I guess the reader is just supposed to imagine one.



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