SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 22

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. extensive; the deaf as a group have never undergone the normal experiences of socialization during the formative years. ‘The deaf may be defined therefore as a group composed of those persons who cannot hear human speech under any circumstances and consequently must find substitutes (in speechreading, language of signs, etc.) for normal interpersonal communication. The definition as applied to the group discussed in this paper is to be understood to include only those persons who become deaf at a relatively early age in life (or are born deaf) and who, for the most part, undergo the special institutional experiences analyzed below. As far as can be determined from available data, this group numbers around 100,000 persons, although some estimates of a more loosely defined deaf population go as high as 180,000 persons. Censuses of the deaf were taken from 1830 to 1930 and were discontinued for reasons of inconsistency and under-enumeration. In 1930, 57,084 persons who had become deaf before eight years of age were enumerated (15th Census of the U.S. 1930, “The Blind and Deaf- Mutes of the United States 1930”, Washington, D.C., Bureau of the Census, 1931). Estimates based on the U.S. Public Health Survey of 1935–36 indicated a total deaf population of 170,000 in 1950. Of these it is estimated that approximately 100,000 could be classed as not having used hearing for speech (Bachman, 1952). ‘The deaf person is often taken as an individual adrift in a hearing society; while this may occasionally be the case, for the most part the deaf person is a member of a well-integrated group, especially in urban areas. How he becomes cast as a member of such a group may be investigated by means of a hypothetical life-cycle, as illustrated on page 23. ‘It may first be noted that sociological research could throw considerable light upon the etiology of deafness. There appears to be a prevalence of deafness among lower income families, reflective of inadequate medical care and services in infancy and childhood. Beasley (1940) observed a direct relationship between family income and incidence of impaired hearing in the Public Health Survey of 1935-36. ‘The deaf child begins his life separated from the normal associations with the hearing world to a degree not yet investigated. According to various observers, sound and hearing are extremely important for orientation from the first moment of life. The hearing child spends considerable time during the first four weeks of life ‘‘responding’’ to sound; at the end of 16 weeks the child seems to identify sounds (Gesell & Ilg, 1953). By 28 weeks he is at Esper’s stage of sound imitation, vocalizing vowels and consonants, which will soon take on the status of words (Esper, 1935; Klineberg, 1940). ‘Toward the end of the first year the stage of verbal understanding begins; by 2-1/2 years the use of spoken language is understood. By 3 years the hearing child begins the development of logical expression in words and sentence structuring, and through the expression of ideas, becomes aware of “self”. At 4 years he asks “Why” questions, is become oriented and plays conversationally with his group. At 5 years the hearing child begins to discuss more remote and difficult problems such as war and crime in common with friends, and attacks the problems of sex, time, space, death and God (Gesell & Ilg, 1947). By the time he enters school the hearing child is equipped not only with a background of information but with the ability to express himself in language. ‘The deaf child is cut off from these experiences; he lacks the orientation provided by the hearing association with his family and playgroups. As most studies of personality have been made of the deaf child in the school situation that is after the age of five or six there exists no available information on the first years of deafness. We do not know exactly how the deaf child learns, SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 22