and the Birth of the Deaf Movement in France
In general language usage, it often happens that the two terms ‘oral education’ and ‘oralism’ become confused. This inappropriate union combines a teaching method and goal (the acquisition of spoken language) with an ideology and policy that have certain historical and social consequences.
Oralism is, in fact, a tendency which denies the value and even the existence of sign language, and which seeks to force upon the Deaf a way of expression and a life style that is patterned after that of the hearing. This tendency, which can be seen in every period and at every opportunity in the history of the Deaf, is very closely bound to the question of deafness, and is just as old as this question. Only its intensity and the areas with which it has been concerned have varied.
If sign language is the nightmare of the oralist, it is because it represented and continues to represent a main social and cultural means for self-expression in the everyday lives of deaf people. The history of sign language, in and of itself, is certainly not the only aspect of the history of the Deaf, but it surely represents an important element in understanding that history. The events that took place between 1822 and 1838 in the French Deaf community and which were connected with the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets1 prove that the opposition between those who favored the rejection of Deaf identity and those who favored its recognition has determined the direction of the history of the Deaf.
Why have I chosen the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets in Paris? This institution exhibited interesting characteristics for the above mentioned time period. As the first public school for the Deaf in France, it enjoyed a prominent place in the capital city, and its diplomas could open doors for the Deaf to numerous careers. Further, its size, the multiple functions that it performed, and the various groups that it accepted provide a vantage point for observing the social life of the Deaf. Since its foundation in 1791, the institution on St. Jacques Street has lived through various, sporadically appearing, oralist trends. In order to change these trends into a real offensive, special conditions were necessary. These conditions arose simultaneously in 1830. The events described here which had never before occurred in such proportion, had considerable and unforeseen consequences, because they led to nothing less than the origin of the Deaf movement. It is also legitimate to assume that these events represent the first prelude to the general offensive of the oralists at the congress of Milan in 1880, which was played out on a much larger stage than in the school on St. Jacques Street. The effects of this latter offensive, which were catastrophic for the teaching of the Deaf, were to have completely different scope and duration. What exactly were these crucial events?
The abbé Sicard died in 1822. He was 80 years old, weakened but maybe not as feeble as is generally thought, and his last years as director of the Paris school saw several violent conflicts, centered around two principal themes: on the one hand, the organization of the curriculum (specifically, the role of sign language in teaching), and on the other hand, the question of Sicard’s successor at the helm of an establishment so impregnated with his personality. Now just a word about the Deaf characters in the story. At the time, Jean Massieu, Sicard’s favorite student, was still a teacher’s aide. That is, he was not considered a full professor in spite of the essential role he had always played in assisting his master and the Deaf people in the school. Massieu had, after all, greatly contributed to the education of numerous Deaf students, not the least of whom was Laurent Clerc, 13 years younger than Massieu. Rather than cross the Atlantic with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, as Clerc did, Massieu preferred to stay in Paris and continue working with Sicard. Besides Clerc, other students of Massieu were also destined for celebrity: Alphonse Lenoir, born in 1804; Ferdinand Berthier, who was born in 1803 and arrived at the institution in 1811; and Claudius Forestier, who was born in 1810 and was only 12 years old at the time of Sicard’s death. In the 1820s, these students’ futures were before them. Laurent Clerc himself was only 31 when he emigrated to the United States, and, though he had thoroughly mastered French Sign Language, Berthier later related that his teaching in class was embarassingly like the so-called ‘methodical signs’ of the abbé de L’Épée, Sicard’s predecessor2.
In Sicard’s last years, one man undertook the reform of the school’s teaching methods and tried to restore natural sign language to its proper place: Roch-Ambroise Auguste Bébian. He was born in Guadaloupe on August 4, 1789 (the same day that the privileges of the nobility were revoked in France), and as Sicard’s godson, he was given the same name, Roch-Ambroise. Bébian moved to Paris, near his godfather Sicard, around 1807. He frequently visited classes at the St. Jacques school, and he made friends with Clerc, from whom he learned French Sign Language (LSF). Between 1810 and 1817, Bébian began a series of serious linguistic studies of LSF. Living as closely as he did with the Deaf students and teachers, he saw the linguistic and cultural oppression they endured, and it was then that he began to understand that hearing people, even those with the best of intentions, were simply not willing to give up their privileged positions in order to grant Deaf people the power that they deserved in the field of Deaf education. Unfortunately, Bébian’s stay at the school was all too short. The rivalry that developed between Bébian and the other teachers was too strong. They were jealous of his nomination to the post of pedagogical director (assistant principal), jealous of his excellent relations with the students, and jealous of his unparal-lelled teaching abilities. By nature an impetuous man, Bébian once struck another professor, Louis Paulmier, in the presence of Sicard. Paulmier had been trying to position himself as the successor to the old abbé. The act of striking another teacher constituted the official reason, and, of course, the pretext for the firing of Bébian in January 1821. Bébian had served as pedagogical director for less than two years. He never again held an official position in the St. Jacques school, in spite of his competence that even his worst enemies had to admit.
It is a fact that until the death of Sicard, Deaf people never held full teaching positions at the school: they served only as teacher’s aides. Both oral training and teaching in sign language were practiced in the curriculum, depending on who was teaching any particular class, but the serious linguistic and pedagogical reflections on the role of sign language in education undertaken by Bébian had already begun to have an influence on the up-and-coming Deaf generation.
With the death of Sicard a long period of drifting and uncertainty began. From 1822 to 1832, a succession of directors were not able to establish enough authority to stimulate any real debate or encourage any progress in pedagogical practices at the school.The least that can be said is that these directors, all with religious backgrounds and with some understanding of education in general, were not scintillating masters in the adaptation of pedagogical methods for special students.
Nevertheless, little by little, some important changes began to appear during this period of uncertainty. The board of directors was enlarged, and the number of personnel grew as more students were admitted (120 or 130 students by the year 1830). It should be noted, however, that the growth of the staff was almost a family affair: in 1830, the administrator, the Baron de Gerando, counted his own nephew among the professors, and his niece among the teachers for the younger children; one of the professors had a brother who was a student teacher; a surveillant, or monitor (in the French system, a sort of extra-curricular disciplinarian), had a son who was a student teacher; another monitor had a daughter who was one of the writing teachers; the bursar had a sister who was a teacher; and the director, abbé Borel, invited a young friend and countryman to train for the post of chaplain. In other words, institutional conflicts and family affairs were most probably discussed indiscriminately both at the dinner table and in the conference room.
In addition, the school established an advisory board charged with reflecting upon and reorganizing the curriculum. But, while Bébian continued his combat outside the walls of the school by publishing linguistic essays, pedagogical manuals, newspaper and magazine articles, and anti-oralist pamphlets, the administrators of the St. Jacques school did nothing to stimulate the advisory board, and it made very little progress. The hearing teachers at the school grew older, but not wiser; classes were disorganized, and teaching methods changed frequently. But the event of the period which eventually had the greatest impact was, of course, the entrance of Deaf teachers onto the scene.
In 1829, there were two Deaf professors, Ferdinand Berthier and Alphonse Lenoir, among the six professors for the boys; no Deaf woman was among the four professors for the girls. Among the teacher’s aides, there was one Deaf man for the boys, and two Deaf women for the girls. There were no Deaf people on the board of directors, none on the advisory board, none among the monitors, and none who taught vocational training. Although there were relatively few Deaf educators, there were more than there had ever been before in the establishment on St Jacques Street. Berthier, Lenoir and Forestier were already sharply aware of their situation. They did however, sometimes get the support of those of their hearing colleagues who shared their views.
It is in this context of widespread uncertainty coupled with the rising generation of Deaf professors that the grand offensive of the oralists would be mounted. Evidence of this offensive surfaced gradually in the famous ‘circulars’ published by the administrators of the Paris school. These circulars, four in number, date from 1827 to 1836 (Circulaires 1827-1836). The goals established by the administrators are outlined in the first, which is really nothing more than a publicity brochure of six pages filled with good intentions. The goals are:
– to collect as much information as possible about the education of Deaf people, nationally and internationally;
– to compare the advantages, disadvantages, and results of the different teaching methods surveyed;
– to draft practical teaching manuals;
– and finally, to ameliorate both vocational and auditory training.
Only two points concern teaching lip-reading and the age at which teaching of speech can begin in a group setting. In the first circular, then, no polemics: only good intentions.
Unfortunately, however, behind the scenes, the administrators were preparing a much more serious threat: the inauguration of the so-called ‘rotation system’. Under this new system, each class of students would be taught by one and only one professor from the time the students entered school until their graduation. Since speech and lip-reading had become a mandatory part of the curriculum, Deaf professors who were not able to teach orally would necessarily be downgraded to teachers’ aids working under the hearing professors. By pure chance, Berthier discovered the plot and intervened. His vehement protests to the administrators, themselves divided on the issue, caused the project of rotation to be abandoned for the time being. In fact, it was only postponed.
In the second circular, published in 1829, the administrators’ principal theme was that, though it must be admitted ’that sign language is the only way to enter into communication with the deaf mute’ (que le langage des signes est le seul moyen d’entrer en communication avec le sourd-muet), one should begin to eliminate the use of signing, ’albeit progressively, after it has accomplished the eminent service that one expects from it’ (that is, the acquisition and continual use of the French language; pour ainsi dire progressivement, après avoir rendu le service éminent qu’on attend d’elle). As the Deaf student grew older, the use of gestural language would, according to the circular, constitute an obstacle to the acquisition of French. This basic theme, of course, was expounded with many more details and circumlocutions than I can go into here. Nevertheless, this pseudo-recognition of sign language, this affectation of assigning sign language an eminent service but of limited use in deaf education, fooled almost no one.
In any case, it did not fool the Deaf professors and students of the Paris school. By the end of 1830, a formidable Deaf movement shook the foundations of the institution. The administrators were astounded to learn that Ferdinand Berthier had the nerve to send a petition to King Louis Philippe himself. Berthier, in fact, was acting as head of a delegation of Deaf people recruited from both inside and outside the school3. He was even invited, with Lenoir, to a dinner with the King, who immediately asked news of Clerc and Massieu. In the petition, read to the King by his aide-de-camp, there was only one resolution, one demand: the return of Bébian to the institution. For the Deaf community, Bébian had become their beacon, their symbol, their spokesperson. In his petition Berthier evoked
“the writings of Bébian, which have become classics and serve as the guides for teachers in France and even abroad (… ). It is thanks to his teaching that we owe the power to express what we feel to Your Majesty (. . . ). It is his method that we use to instruct our brothers in misfortune”. (Adresse 1830)*
Over the years, Bébian had become the nemesis of the St. Jacques school administrators. In 1826, weary of trying to secure a post in the Paris school, Bébian established a private school in Paris on the Boulevard Montparnasse. Shortly thereafter, furious at this news, the administrators formally forbade anyone, professors or students, to have any contact with Bébian inside or even outside (!) of the school. Until 1826, Bébian was considered a nuisance: the school paid lip-service to the value of his theories and his manuals, since there were no others, but he was treated as immoral and it was considered advisable to keep a safe distance from him. With the second circular of 1829, the rupture between the administrators and Bébian became complete, and war was declared on Bébian’s position on sign language. In this context, Berthier’s demand that Bébian be rehired was not at all surprising. Bébian’s name itself implied all identity, the rejection of paternalistic attitudes towards Deaf people, and a profound understanding of the key role that sign language played in their lives.
Berthier’s demand was vigorously denounced by the administrators, who were exasperated by the news. The students began to give the Deaf professors their full support. Insulting notes and caricatured drawings of the most despised hearing professors were seized. The ugly mood became widespread, and in a matter of days the cry: We want Bébian!! echoed in the corridors of the school. A delegation of sixty students wrote twice to the minister of the interior to describe the situation at the school:
“(The teachers) do not teach in class for days at a time: one hasn’t even taught in the past two years — he gives his smartest student the responsibility of making the other students practice their lessons (… ). He treats us like dogs ( …). We have often complained to the director and the administration. They don’t believe us. While they prefer to believe the professors, it is we who are telling the truth (… ). Our monitors are too old to learn our sign language, they don’t understand us.” (Les élèves 1830)**
The Deaf professors also reported on the school’s problems to the minister:
“Publicly, it is known only that Bébian’s talents are exceptional, but we have preserved the memory of his sincere affection for deaf mutes, his constant attention to bringing out our human dignity. When he came to our institution, the unfortunate deaf mutes, victims of a prejudice that was shared by even the abbé Sicard himself, were treated as only half human and were exposed to crude treatment and vulgarities from the monitors and even from servants and staff. Mr. Bébian made all the employees feel that they were there for the students and not the other way around, a truism so obvious that one is still today tempted to overlook it. That, Mr. Minister, is what has ensured Bébian the eternal gratitude of deaf mutes.” (Berthier et al. 1830)***
The administrators then initiated systematic written interrogations. They wanted to find the leaders of the protest and especially wanted to know if students were associated with the professors in the delegation that met the King. Cleverly, they spared the professors, but expelled three students as an example to the others. One of those expelled was Imbert, who would later play an important role in the Deaf community4. The revolt was finally check-mated by punishments, suppression of privileges, and expulsions.
The third circular appeared in 1832. Simultaneously, a new director was selected: Désiré Ordinaire, the first lay director named to the post in the entire history of the institution.
The third circular was even more explicit than the second regarding the priority of teaching speech and lip-reading. Certain teachers, like Henri-Daniel Guyot in Holland, had already protested the bias of the reports of the oralist professors of the Paris school. Comberry, the Deaf director of the school in Lyon, refused entry at his school to Miss Morel, a Paris teacher and the niece of Baron de Gérando, who wished to investigate the methods practiced in Lyon. According to contemporaries, most of the Deaf directors and teachers in France as well as abroad used the Bébian method, and were therefore summarily dismissed or criticized by the Paris administration. Laurent Clerc’s work in the United States was practically ignored. Among the works about deaf education analyzed in the circular, the only ones endorsed were those by oralist authors, particularly the Germans. Bébian’s most recent manual was criticized from beginning to end.
The circular saved the best, however, for last. In the appendix, it outlined the principles of the new organization of education at the Paris school: the rotation system had not only resurfaced, but had become the mandatory norm.
From 1832 to 1836, the unjust rotation system, totally rejected by Deaf students and professors alike, was shamelessly enforced at the school. It took four years of vehement protests by Berthier and his colleagues before the rotation system was abandoned: four years during which the Deaf professors lost their status as professors to serve merely as teacher’s aids; four years of undisguised contempt for the cumulative experience of the Deaf professors, who were rewarded by this ultimate disgrace (not to mention the lower pay they received, in spite of their seniority, in comparison to their hearing colleagues). As an example, Berthier was assigned to a class of failures, students whom the system had failed miserably and from whom nothing was expected. And with Berthier, they didn’t do so badly, either!
The weight of this four-year oralist offensive, sapping the energy of the Paris school, squashed all protest from the inside. It was outside the walls of the institution that the Deaf professors continued their combat. They knew it was too late to count on Bébian’s being rehired at the school; he had already accepted a post as director of the Deaf school in Rouen in 1832. But serious problems forced him to abandon his post after only 14 months. In 1834 Berthier and his friends organized the first banquet honoring the abbé de L’Épée. These banquets became annual events and were used by Deaf people as a forum to publicize their demands. Bébian boarded a ship for Guadaloupe, from where he would never again return to France and where he died five years later.
But, though the labor pains were intense, the Deaf movement was born. This time, it was finally Deaf people themselves who began to take charge of their affairs. The popularity of their annual banquets and the 1836 victory over the rotation system gave them the courage they needed. In 1838 the Société Centrale d’Assistance et d’Éducation des Sourds-Muets (Central Society for the Assistance and the Education of Deaf Mutes) was founded, the first Deaf association in France, and, to my knowledge, in the world. The battle was won, but not the war.
In the decades that followed, there were other battles, with varying results. One example among many: the Deaf professors never had the satisfaction of seeing a Deaf person named pedagogical director. Berthier struggled unceasingly, but without success. I quote Berthier’s letter of 1843 to the minister of the interior:
“The hearing person the most accustomed to live with deaf mutes, will but understand us imperfectly; and if he is honest, he will frankly admit the undeniable superiority of his deaf colleague” (regarding his ability to communicate in signs). (Berthier 1843)5****
For Berthier, there was no doubt: whether he was advising his superiors, his colleagues, or the families of Deaf pupils, the Deaf person alone is able to correctly evaluate what Deaf students need and he alone is capable of proposing solutions to their problems. But, in spite of the efforts of Berthier, the professor with the most seniority, the students at the Paris school would never know the joy felt by Gallaudet University students in 1988…
The position adopted by the Paris school administrators illustrates perfectly that linguistic oppression plays a central role in the ultimate refusal to recognize that Deaf people have a right to be different. Faced with Deaf people who constantly demand their right to an education conducted from beginning to end in sign language, the administrators stubbornly centered their reflections on the teaching of speech and the French language. Sign language was at best for them only a stepping-stone towards integration into the world of the hearing, a temporary means to an end when nothing better can be found. According to this conception of Deaf education, French should ultimately replace sign language, should swallow it.
In the articles of the oralists of the 1830s, sign language, even when it was pushed to the back, was never so completely repressed, never so completely silenced as it was after the Milan congress fifty years later. All in all, it is not difficult (even though the word was never used by the principal actors of the time) to identify the position taken by Deaf people themselves as a policy of true bilingualism facing the strict monolingualism of the hearing oralists.
Should sign language be taught? Should the acquisition of sign language take precedence over the acquisition of the national spoken language? Aren’t Deaf people in the best position to teach sign language?
Deaf teachers and those, like Bébian, who supported them, asserted it without ambiguity. For them, sign language comes directly from nature:
“Our signs do not merely name the things, they paint them, or, to speak philosophically ( ..) they are the veritable representation of ideas”. (Berthier 1839, p. 12)*****
“The experience of 70 years is there to prove the indisputable and undisputed superiority of the system that recognizes that the education of deaf mutes depends on the language that God gave us.” (ibid., p. 41)******
It is unnecessary to try to measure the validity of the arguments advanced here with the yard-stick of a linguistic theory: the true issue is human rights.
The original French quotations:
(footnote 2) En arrivant à l’Institut Royal, Bébian devinait déjà cette langue des sourds-muets dont il ignorait les principes. Son instinct lui faisait découvrir ce que les signes employés avaient de faux, de défectueux, de bizarre, d’arbitraire; et il ne cessait de provoquer une reforme complète, promettant succès et honneur à son ami s’il avait le courage de l’entreprendre. Mais Clerc eût craint d’encourir une accusation d’hérésie, de sacrilège, en essayant seulement de porter une main innocemment hardie sur l’arche sainte; sa vénération pour la tradition des signes méthodiques des abbés de L’Épée et Sicard était si religieuse, si profonde, que Bébian, convaincu de l’impuissance de ses efforts, avait pris le parti de s’en occuper lui-même. (Berthier 1839, p. 7)
* (…) les ouvrages de Bébian, devenus classiques servent de guide aux instituteurs de France et même de l’étranger (…). C’est à ses leçons que nous devons de pouvoir exprimer à Votre Majesté ce que nous sentons (…). C’est sa méthode que nous suivons pour instruire nos frères d’infortune. (Adresse 1830)
(footnote 3) Deux sourds-muets, anciens élèves, maintenant professeurs dans l’Institution Royale des sourds-muets, un troisième sourd-muet ancien élève aspirant et habitant encore l’institution, trois ou quatre sourds-muets anciens élèves aussi de l’institution mais qui l’ont quittée, se sont présentés, dit-on, au Roi. (de Gérando 1830)
** [Les maîtres] ne font pas la classe pendant plusieurs jours, un d’eux ne fait pas la classe depuis deux années et il charge toujours le plus instruit de ses élèves de leur répéter ses leçons (…). Il nous traite comme des chiens (…). Nous nous sommes souvent plaints à monsieur le Directeur et à l’administration. Ils ne veulent pas nous croire, ils croient toujours plutôt nos maîtres que nous qui disons la vérité (…). Nos surveillants sont trop vieux pour apprendre le langage de nos gestes, ils ne nous comprennent pas. (Les élèves 1830)
*** On ne connait de Bébian dans le public que ses talents qui depuis longtemps l’ont mis hors de ligne, mais nous avons conservé le souvenir de son affection sincère pour les sourds-muets, de son attention constante à relever en eux la dignité d’homme. Quand il vint dans notre institution, les malheureux sourds-muets victimes d’un préjugé qui était appuyé de l’opinion de l’abbé Sicard même étaient traités comme des demi-brutes et exposés sans protection aux mauvais traitements et aux grossièretés des surveillants et même des domestiques. M. Bébian fit sentir à tous les employés qu’ils étaient là pour les élèves et non les élèves pour eux; vérité si claire et qu’on est encore aujourd’hui bien disposé à oublier: voilà, Monsieur le Ministre, ce qui lui assure à jamais la reconnaissance éternelle des sourds-muets. (Berthier et al. 1830)
**** Le parlant le mieux initié au langage mimique, le parlant le plus habitué à vivre avec les sourds-muets ne les comprendra jamais qu’imparfaitement et s’il est de bonne foi, il avouera ici franchement la supériorité réelle, incontestable de son collègue sourd-muet. (Berthier 1843)
(footnote 5) La commission m’a chargé de vous dire qu’il n’avait été nullement question de la création ni dans son sein ni au ministère à sa connaissance, et qu’il n’a pu en être parlé que dans des conversations privées. M. de Gombert est comme moi tout porté en votre faveur mais comme moi il a entendu les répugnances insurmontables de MM. Passy et Durieu non pas contre votre personne qu’ils honorent beaucoup, mais contre l’impossibilité de donner la place si elle était créée à un sourd-muet quel que fut d’ailleurs son mérite. Et c’est toujours pour cela que j’ai laissé dormir la chose dans la crainte, en la mettant sur le tapis, de tirer les marrons du feu pour un adversaire. (answer, in Berthier 1843)
***** Nos signes ne nomment pas les choses, ils les peignent ou, pour parler philosophiquement, (…) ils sont la véritable représentation des idées. (Berthier 1839, p. 12)
****** Une expérience de soixante-dix ans est là pour attester la supériorité incontestable et incontestée du système qui fait reposer l’enseignement des sourds-muets sur le langage que Dieu nous a donné. (ibid., p. 41)
Adresse des sourds-muets au Roi (1er novembre 1830). (n.p.); in-8°, 7p.
Berthier, Ferdinand (1843); [Letter addressed to the director of the Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets in Paris, dated april 17, 1843.] Unpublished manuscript. INJS, Paris.
Berthier, Ferdinand (1839): Notice sur la vie et les ouvrages de Auguste Bébian. Paris.
Berthier, F. /Lenoir, A./ Forestier, C. (1830): [Letter adressed to the minister of the interior, dated december 18, 1830, with the seal of the Ministère de l’Intérieur.] Unpublished manuscript. Private collection.
(Première, deuxième, troisième et quatrième) Circulaire de l’Institut Royal des Sourds-Muets de Paris à toutes les Institutions de Sourds-Muets de l’Europe et de l’Amérique (1827, 1829, 1832, 1836). Paris.
de Gérando, J.-M. (1830): [Letter to the minister of the interior, dated november 16, 1830.] Unpublished manuscript. Private collection.
Les élèves de I’Institution des Sourds-Muets à Paris (1830): [Letter adressed to the minister of the interior, dated dec.12, 1830, with the seal of the Ministère de l’Intérieur.] Unpublished manuscript. Private collection.
1 In the past, the Paris school has had various names: Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets, Institution Royale des Sourds-Muets, and, as it is called today, Institut National de Jeunes Sourds. Having been founded, in 1791, as a national institution, it is in fact the continuation of the abbé de L’Épée’s private school.
2 “Bébian already had an idea of the language of deaf mutes when he arrived at the Royal Institute, although he did not understand the principles of the language. Instinctively he discovered what there was about the signs used at the Institute that was wrong, insufficient, bizarre and arbitrary; he unfailingly attempted a full reform, and promised his friend Laurent Clerc success and honor if only he had the courage to initiate the reform. But Clerc feared the risk of an accusation of heresy and sacrilege if he as much as laid an innocent but daring hand on the holy ark; his veneration of the tradition of the methodical signs of the abbés de L’Épée and Sicard was so religious and profound, that Bébian decided to take things into his own hands, once he realized the futility of his efforts” (to convince Clerc). ( Berthier 1839, p. 7)
3 “Two deaf mutes, who are former pupils and are now teachers at the Institution Royale des Sourds-Muets; a third Deaf Mute who is a former pupil and teacher’s aide, and who still resides at the institute; further, three or four deaf mutes, who are also former pupils of the institute but who have left it have all applied to the King”, complained the Baron de Gérando to the minister of the interior (de Gérando 1830).
4 The other two expelled students were Bézu and Contremoulin.
5 The answer of the members of the advisory board is written at the bottom of this letter: “The commission has charged me with informing you that such appointment is not the concern of either the commission or, as far as is known, of the ministry, and that it can only be discussed in private conversations. Monsieur de Gombert is, as am I, completely on your side, but he has heard, as have I, the insuperable objections of Messieurs Passy and Durieu, which were not directed against you, whom they greatly admire, but rather against the impossibility of giving this position, should it be created, to a deaf person, regardless of how great his other merits may be. For this reason I have let the matter rest, in fear of adding fuel to the opposition’s fire by even bringing it up.”
(Published in Renate Fischer, Harlan Lane (eds.), Looking Back, A Reader on the History of Deaf Communities and their Sign Languages, Hamburg, Signum-Verlag, 1993)
My gratitude to Louis-Jean Calvet, Linguistique et colonialisme, Petit Traité de Glottophagie, Payot, 1974, from whom I borrowed the concept of glottophagia (language eating)