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.
I just had an interesting group email exchange with members of my family. We were agreeing that the mother, who denied her daughter treatment for diabetes, is a despicable criminal. But when I asked “WTF is wrong with her?” I remembered another conversation I had, long ago, with an author of a book about the Texas Tower Sniper and he made a really interesting comment (one that more people should heed), he said that attempts to quantify the sniper’s “issues” were misguided. Maybe he did what he did because he was simply “mean.” That comment changed my schema regarding criminal behavior. Many people commit crimes or do unspeakable acts, like this mother, simply because they are mean (or any other adjective). They do it because they want to and don’t care.
Now I am not saying that there are criminogenic risk factors for certain types of crimes and behaviors but we may be wasting a lot of time trying to explain why when we should just deal with what. Call me names, disagree with me; I don’t care, just be respectful of my right to express an opinion.
We can discuss risk factors (theories of which have great validity) but I guess, first, you have to read my blog.
Thanks to Katherine Waff Morris for the title of my post.
As I have said before, academia is not for the faint hearted. And, I suppose I am a faint hearted woman. What I am in for is research. I’ve recently had the pleasure of seeing one of my doctoral dissertation hypotheses supported by recent literature. Two articles, by Deaf researchers, have said-much more eloquently than I-that early language acquisition is crucial to early socialization. That was what I was looking for and what is propelling my present research; to learn if and how the acquisition of language impedes social development.
So, the academic crashed and burned but the researcher never did. That is why sometimes being trained in the scientific method resulting in a shiny Ph.D. is both a blessing and a curse; the blessing creates the thirst for knowledge and the training to try to obtain that knowledge and the curse is that it succeeds. I don’t want to be at the gateway to the afterlife and be like Oscar Schindler saying “If only….” See, curse.
Sometimes, we researchers, do not get empirical validation and, indeed, we were taught that as long as we follow the scientific method, it is fine. But the training makes us want to continue and, urrggghh, it’s a calling you can not ignore.
My daughter Melissa. She’s a brilliant young scientist and works at University of Rochester. She’s also really beautiful; it’s ok, I am her mother. She has her M.S. in some type of biology and did some work with human cadaver feet (don’t even ask, as I don’t even want to know). Thankfully she has no desire to go into academia, but into policy. As an undergrad, she minored in American Sign Language. She is the real deal and I am so proud of her.