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Mass Deafness in History
At dawn on April 18th, 1945, near Kustrin in Germany, there arose a sound unlike any heard before. It heralded the Soviet drive on Berlin in WW2. It was the thundering of an incredible mass of 18,000 heavy guns with the screams of wave after wave of rockets. The wave of explosions across the horizon advanced yard by yard for five miles.
Whole vilages, farms, forests, and every standing or living thing in its path disappered in fire and thunder. Thirty minutes later the stupifying cresendo stopped. Gunners with blood streaming out of their ears could not hear each other talk, nor hear the loud ringing of field telephones. Despite the cotton jammed into their ears, most were temporarily deafened, and thousands permanently with eardums an inner ears destroyed by the shock waves.
The military campaigns of the 16th Century sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, ranged from Austria through the Balkans to Persia and Arabia. It was the custom of his troops, after breaching a city, to march in by the massed thousands -----pounding madly on kettle drums, blowing horns, and clanging bells and cymbals. It was a hysterical exultation of victory, and was also to terrify the city's inhabitants.
Surviving citizens left behind descriptions of the noise as capable of driving people insane. There are records of mass deafness among the marchers due to the non-stop crescendo ---the Janissarie elite troops, the irregulars, and the rabble that followed the armies.
It was said in the British press during the first World War, that the defenders of the giant Belgian fortresses of Liege and Namur, were "all stone-deaf" from the noise of the guns. And according to the Warrant Officer's Journal of the Royal Navy at the time, "Quite 50% of the men in the navy are more or less deaf though the action of our modern guns". This was said of the the British navy when was it the world's largest.
Deaf Women ----Violence and Abuse
"Men are always the aggressors". Voltaire (if you don't already know it).
We came across an acquaintance who was abused by her husband----both Deaf---- after a short marriage. It left her with a limp that will take some
time to heal. But the damage to her self-esteem may not. She endured the abuse, because in her tight Deaf Community her husband was a "catch" and her marriage a major accomplishment ---well above the common “shack up”. She desparately wanted to preserve it, to avoid a stigma of failure.
That was the third abused Deaf woman we know of, and inspired us to pursue the subject. The most concise and complete thing we found, is Violence and Abuse; Problems Deaf Women Face. The unnamed author is to be congratulated. http://dawwwn.homestead.com/files/dv.html
The Deaf Queen of England and Empress of India
This majestic deaf lady was the most beautiful, elegant, and benevolent queen of England. She is Alexandra, Caroline, Marie, Charlotte, Louise, Julia ------
------originally Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and later by her marriage, the Princess of Wales. Then, from 1901 to 1910 she was (as in this painting):
Her Royal Highness Queen Alexandra, the Queen of England.......
The Queen-Empress of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions....
The Empress of India....
The Queen-Consort of the King-Emperor Louis VII.
She was also the sister of the kings of Greece and of Denmark, and of the
Empress of Russia.
She inherited progressive deafness from a growing-deaf mother (who later became the Queen of Denmark).
Alexandra was functionally deaf by her teens, and profoundly deaf in her 20's (and blind when elderly). Prior to Alexandra's marriage to the King (then the Prince of Wales), and at her first meeting with his mother, Queen Victoria, the Queen said of her:
"Alas, Princess Alexandra is deaf and everyone observes it, and that is a sad misfortune".
However, she became a perpetual favorite of the queen, and was said to have taught Victoria to finger-spell.
An impressive captioned video from the UK related to Alexandra, can be seen through this link:
This beauty, born deaf, was Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie, The Princess of Battenberg (d. 1969). In this painting at about age 37, she is Her Royal Highness, Princess "Andrew" of Greece and Denmark (she acquired her husband's first name by custom). She communicated mostly by lipreading.
She was the mother of Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, and the grandmother of Prince Charles. Her convoluted life is most interesting and can be read about here:
Lady Mary O'Brien (d.1791), English, was the Third Countess of Orkney. She was born deaf and remained mute. Her marriage ceremony was conducted in the sign language of the time.
"The Mute King", Kathirava Narassoraja the 2nd (d. 1714) for ten years ruled the Indian state of Mysore, at that time a kingdom in the south of India. He was born deaf, remained mute, and was well educated.
Princess Joanna Stewart (d.1486), the daughter of King James 1 of Scotland, became by marriage Lady Dalkeith and The Countess of Morton. Known as the "dumb lady" (muta domina), she was born deaf, remained mute, and openly used the sign language of the time.
Her likeness on her monument (or at least what's left of it),
is the oldest sculptural representation of a known deaf person. The monument remained open in the ruin of a church and her features were badly degraded by the elements. We've been unsuccessful in trying to find a clear likeness of her.
Infante James (with 12 middle names) was second in line to become the King of Spain. He became deaf from a botched medical operation in pre-lingual childhood, and remained mute. He was well educated, and could read three languages. At the age of 25 he renounced his and his heirs' claim to the throne because of his deafness, and acquired the title Duke of Segovia. By convoluted links which we are still trying to untangle, he became, in the eyes of some, the Duke of Anjou and legal heir to the inactive throne of France.
Emanuel Philibert of Savoy, Prince of Carignano (d.1709), was born deaf and remained mute, though he did acquire very limited speech. He depended on lipreading. He was reasonably educated and developed a passion for achitecture. He commissioned a famous palace in Turin. He was a soldier in his youth, a colonel in the calvary of Louis XIV, king of France (his cousin), and is mentioned
in that respect on our Page 18.
The "Splendid Deception"
Tens of thousands of photos were shown of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during and before his four terms in office. But only two ever showed him in a wheelchair. After polio much earlier, he could not walk, nor could he stand up under his own power. There are many photos of him as at the right, standing while campaigning, addressing Congress, etc.
There's a famous photo of him standing tall and erect on the deck of a war ship to meet Winston Churchill for the first time. For him, standing-up was possible only with heavy steel leg braces and secret handholds.
There were photos of him driving his car, but that it was fully hand-controlled, was not publicized.
An illusion of him as a powerfully erect figure of the presidency was maintained for many years, with the full cooperation of the press. It was an extensive and emotionally painful effort by the White House to hide the result of his polio at age 39. A physical disability at that time was considered a profound weakness ---especially for running a country and fighting a war. (Hitler privately referred to him as "that cripple").
The full story is in FDR's Splendid Deception by Hugh Gallagher (Dodd, Mead Publ., NY).
Are Deaf Brains Rewired?
In a process called neural reorganization, the human brain can alter its operating paths, or "rewire itself" to some extent.
Deaf people of course employ vision much more than others do, and are known to have greater visual abilities, such as wider peripheral vision. It was commonly thought to come from experience and need, or what’s called “learned behavior”. But now it’s thought to be more than that.
It is suspected that the brain of a born-deaf (or early-deafened) person rewires itself to some extent, in this neural reorganization, called "cross-modal neuroplasticity". Here, the auditory part of the brain, rather than remain fallow, fortifies other senses.
Recently, someone has actually been studying just that, according to the The Journal of Neuroscience, and it seems it will become a proven fact. This is interestingly reported in Scientific American (issue of 09/18/2012) , as Super Powers for the Blind and Deaf.
You can read it through this link:
Scientists at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, are experimenting with using brain re-wiring to improve hearing. They succeeded in this by keeping laboratory mice in total darkness for a long period of time, while creating sounds of interest to the mice. The brains of the mice rewired away from their eyesight to improve their hearing.
It is believed that this procedure may somehow be developed to improve human hearing.
This painting is about how a Deaf person thinks, perceives, visualizes, sees, understands with a Deaf mind, perhaps in a complex way. The signs represent 'mind', 'penetrate', 'visual', and 'understand.' The person in the painting is in deep thought.
The artist is Nancy Rourke, a prolific creator of art related to the Deaf Culture. More of her De'VIA work can be seen here:
Victor Hugo and Ferdinand Berthier
The above quote, translated from French, is an excerpt from a letter by Victor Hugo to Ferdinand Berthier (at right) in 1845. Berthier (d. 1886) was a deaf educator, author, intellectual, and political organizer. His name stands very high in Deaf Culture.
Hugo and Berthier were contemporaries, born and died within a year of each other.
Here is what was published about him in 1883:
"[Ferdinand Berthier] who is now senior professor in the Paris Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, is described as a man of rare merit, probably superior in literary abilities and acquirements to any other deaf mute from birth, that any other country can produce. He is the author of several works that would do credit to a well-educated man whose knowledge of language had been acquired through the ear. On a recent occasion ..... at the Institute, he was decorated by the President of the Republic with the Cross of the Legion of Honor, the first time [it] had ever been conferred on a deaf and dumb person." (From Anecdotes and Incidents of the Deaf and Dumb. See our p.17, left-hand column).
The context of Victor Hugo's statement is of course not basically original. It paraphases an old French proverb, il n'y a de pire sourd que celui que ne vent entendre. (There are none so deaf as those who will not listen). Yet as wrtten it is a timeless gem, coming from one of the greatest names in Western history, to one of the most prominent names in Deaf Culture.
Clergyman Matthew Henry said a similar thing in the 18th century. There's an Arab proverb, "It's useless to scream into the ears of the deaf". And there are proverbs more or less in the same context all over the world. And again, Jesus in Psalms 115:6: "They have ears, but they hear not....."
BTW --- In 2004, there came the folk song, Two Good Legs by musician Patricia Shih:
".........now there are
Those who never listen to what others have to say
What good is havin' two good ears,
If you're gonna be deaf that way............"
And oh yes, there's the old bromide, "Into one ear and out the other".
And oh, BTW, The battlecry in the 1988 Gallaudet University protests, "Deaf people can do anything but hear !", isn't truly original. In Houghton Mifflin's 1919 book, Public Education in the United States, we find, "Deaf children can be trained for [anything] that does not involve hearing".
In his great work, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo has two deaf people. The hunch-back himself, Quasimodo, becomes deaf from his job of ringing Notre Dame's bells. At his trial, the judge , Florian Barbedienne, is also deaf. They don't understand each other to the great amusement of the onlookers. This enrages the judge and provokes him to sentence Quasimodo to torture.
Some More Odds and Ends
Erastus "Deaf" Smith (d. 1837) had a serious hearing loss since childhood. He was a key figure in the history of Northwest Texas.
He fought in the Texas Revolution and later became an officer in the Army of the Republic of Texas. However, he never set foot in the area named in his honor: Deaf Smith County. Interested? Go here:
His picture appeared on a $5 bill issued by the Republic of Texas.
The famous Flying Tigers of World War 2 owe thanks to deafness. Their founder, Claire Chennault (d. 1958), was discharged from the U.S. Air Force as a Captain in 1937 because of hearing loss. Only as a civilian was he available to the government of China to create and manage that famous air fighter group of Hurricanes, P40s, and American volunteer pilots.
In 1942 the whole group was incorporated into the US armed services, including him as a Major General. He was the USA's first and only half-deaf person to actively serve as an officer.
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (d. 1935) is recognized as one of the great pioneers of rocketry and astronautics, and a visionary of space travel. He learned all his stuff on his own. Barred from school because of deafness, he was educated at home, mostly by himself. He was something of a recluse, and spent much of his life in a log cabin. Yet he submitted hundreds of scientific papers and is the inventor of the wind tunnel, among other things. For a most interesting bio, go to:
Annie Jump Cannon (d. 1941) is a prominent name in astronomy. Most of accomplishments were after total deafness at about age 30. She is the originator of the star classification system used today, and had personally classified over 325,000 stars. Type her name into your browser and you'll get lots to read. She has quite a few "firsts"
John Goodricke (d. 1786) was almost completely deaf since childhood. He was only 19 when he was given the highest award of the Royal Society of London for his work in astronomy. He died from an unknown cause only two years later. The details of his work can be read here:
Gallaudet University proudly claims the football huddle was invented in 1896 by its quarteback, Paul Hubbard, to hide sign language. Baker's Football Facts and Figures confirms its origin to that time, but says nothing about Gallaudet or Hubbard. And a NY Times obituary in 1995 for Lafayette coach Herb McCracken, said he invented the huddle in 1924. Wikipedia's History of Football, says it's Amos Alonzo Stagg's invention. Know any more huddle inventors?
A "deaf date", in Generations X and Y slang, is similar to a "blind date". Prior to your date, you've seen the person (such as at a distance or in a photo), but have not yet approached him or her.
Never whisper to the deaf, nor wink at the blind. Slovenian proverb
Beware: the deaf see, the blind hear. Spanish proverb
You'll find scores of such proverbs (with much annoying repetition) at:
It's remained unchanged for over 400 years, that a favorable match in marriage would be a blind woman to a deaf man. This amusing but sexist statement an old Tutkish proverb (and French, Danish, Rumanian, and British). It is attributed to Michel de Montaigne in the 16th Century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the 19th, Richard Taverner in the 20th, and an assorted bunch of others.
About a third of all Dalmatians are born deaf. Deafness at birth is common among about three dozen purebred breeds due to in-breeding. Too many breeders don't pay much attention to managing the gene pools, or many aren't adept at doing so.
Up to about 1800, a "dummy" was a plain stupid person. Then it signified a deaf mute for most of the 1800s (originally contemptuously, not much so for the rest of its time). Late in that century, it changed to mean a hoboe. In the 1900s it changed again to mean something fake, posing as the real thing. Through all that time, however, it retained some of its original meaning, now used for any person who has done something foolish, or generally acts with poor judgement.
Our Voice-Recognition Phone --and-- a 16-year Old Kid
Our voice-recognition phone displays in text, what the other party is voicing. It was designed for the hard-of-hearing to listen and read at the same time. We use it only to interpret our auto-answered voice messages.
A distant mainframe computer provides voice-recognition for all phones in this system, with an operator listening in to correct errors (if s/he can grab them fast enough).
Our auto-answer announcement begs the speaker to talk slowly and distinctly, and to repeat names and numbers ---for the sake of the imperfect voice recognition software. The results vary from passable to godawful, depending mostly on the speaker. A repeated return-call number sometimes appears a digit or two different from the first one.
We had a long, accented message from a guy speaking like his pants were on fire. The displayed text was all scrambled eggs. A smart 16-year old hearing kid quickly and accurately interpreted that call for us. She also indicated, from the caller's voice, his gender, attitude, ethnicity, comportment, levels of refinement and intelligence, and she also offered a fair idea of his age.
How can this kid do what that mighty mainframe computer couldn’t do? We were told that a computer approaching the capability of the human brain, would be the size of the Empire State Building and require enough electricity to illuminate half the borough of Brooklyn.
A computer can approach, but never equal, the human brain, because it lacks the means to create new methods of doing things, to reason. (The brain does have that power, but not completely-- see Godel's Incompleteness Theorem if you have the inclination to dive into this).
And oh, yes, the human brain can operate efficiently for over 100 years with no outside maintenance, no "Geek Squads", no debugging, no hard drive defragmenting. You may know of that French lady, Jeanne Louise Calment, whose brain functioned well for over 122 years. How long do you think your desk computer will last? (Meet Jeanne at the bottom of this column).
And the brain has an ability to rewire itself to some extent ; that is, to change the route of its operating paths if certain parts are not working properly, or have nothing to do. No computer can do this. This ability is called neural reorganization, and we mention it in the column on the left ("Are Deaf Brains Rewired"?).
The kid’s brain has 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) to store and convey information in a near infinite number of ways, through a quadrillion (1,000 trillion) variable connections (synapses). Plus 16 years of daily exposure to many forms and quirks of English.
A computer has only one processor, going one step at a time along one path, and knows only what was planted into it by humans and by itself. “By itself”, meaning it has some primitive ability to recall, decide, and learn ---using neural network architecture, based on the human brain’s operation.
American colloquial English is incredibly complex ---30,000 commonly used words, plus 150,000 not-so-common, plus a million or so proper nouns ----in a million grammatical combinations with no spacing of words as spoken. Add vernaculars and accents, coarticulants, ambiguities, homonyms, etc.
A computer can convert (for example) spoken English into printed Spanish, though usually not very well. Regardless, it doesn't have a clue about what is being said. The brain of a bilingual (English-Spanish) person can do it perfectly with full understanding of the context. There's a whole universe of difference in that.
If this turns you on, read Incognito: The Secret lives of the Brain by David Eagleman, and/or A Celebration of Neurons, by Robert Sylwester.
Meet one of those neurons (at left).
Those 100 billion neurons in your brain are all used at one time or another, but less that 5% can operate at the same time. 5% of 100,000,000,000 is still a mind-boggling number. The energy required to fire (connect and reset) more than that at the same time, is relatively enormous and not available to any human.
Thus at any one time, 95% of your brain remains unused.
A Brain That Went Maintenance-Free for Over 122 Years
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