I’m not deaf, I just can’t hear you”
The book and the first video discuss the various applications of linguistics, i.e. anthropological, psycolinguistics, etc. I am interested in the phenomenon of psycholinguistics, the relationship between acquisition of language and cognitive structure; how and why a language can have such impact on the self. How does a deaf person decide how to view him/herself based upon their language?
In my work as a researcher in Criminal Justice and Forensic Psychology, I became interested in the self ideation of identified deaf criminals, wherein I hypothesized that criminogenic risk factors would be linked to the acquisition of language in early childhood and resulting self image and socialization. I began to interview deaf inmates in prisons in an attempt to discover how they acquired language (at home from their family or in school) and what their self image is. The subject line of my post is actually a quote from one deaf inmate-who was medically screened and was, indeed deaf-but was a man who did not have a self image of being deaf and never learned sign language. Needless to say, that statement blew my mind, because in my naivety I foolishly assumed that anyone who could not hear knew they were deaf.
So, my question is how does the choice of language influence one’s self image? Rather, why does a person born without the ability to hear identify as a hearing person? Well after some discussion with him, which involved intense eye contact, I learned that this particular inmate has a hearing family, a family that was abusive and neglectful (as he stated) who did not bother to have his hearing screened and was raised to think he was a “retard” and a “dummy” because he was slow to respond and to learn. in a sensible world, his deafness would be primary but unrecognized and his subsequent self image as a damaged “hearing” person” would be secondary. This man skipped over the primary identification as a deaf person and his self image as a damaged hearing person became primary. That is the answer I came up with. His deafness was never identified and thus, never mediated with the appropriate education in a school for the deaf or in an adjacent public school program for deaf students, so he never developed a “deaf” self image-sadly only that of an extremely damaged, hearing person.
The notion that the acquisition of the appropriate language, one that enriches one’s life and accommodates specific communication needs, became paramount in my studies and continues to be one which I study still.