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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 18,000 heavy guns, and screams of wave after wave of rockets. The line of explosions across the horizon rolled on yard by yard for five miles.
Whole villages, farms, forests ---- every standing or living thing in its path disappeared 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 and 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 was mass deafness among the marchers due to the non-stop crescendo ---the Janissarie elite troops, the irregulars, and the whole rabble that followed the army
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 it was the world's largest.
This group of French soldiers, deafened during the First World War, are attending one of the lipreading classes in the rehabilitation program provided by their government. Of course, many thousands of soldiers from all the participating countries were deafened in that war.
(The instructor's mustache doesn't look helpful for lipreading.)
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
A recent (March, 2016) article reports the Vera Institute's finding that women are 50% more likely to be abused than hearing women, domestically and sexually. You can read about that here:
The Deaf Queen of England and Empress of India
The Coat-of-Arms and the Banner-of-Arms of Empress Alexandra
She was Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia ................
She was the Queen-Empress Consort of Edward VII
She was Queen of England and the British Dominions
She was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
She was The Empress of India
She was personification of the Empire, one quarter of the world's population and over one quarter of the earth's land mass
She was the most elegant and benevolent Queen of England.
She was the sister of the king of Greece 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 partially blind when elderly---- she died in 1925). 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.
There are quite few videos on Alexandra on YouTube. Just Google "YouTube Princess Alexandra".
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, and could lipread several languages.
She was the mother of Prince Philip, (husband of Queen Elizabeth II), and grandmother of Prince Charles. Philip conversed with his mother in sign language.
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 Jaime (with 11 middle names, d.1975) 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 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 with hidden assistance, while campaigning, addressing Congress, etc.
There's a famous photo of him standing tall and erect on the deck of a warship 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 U. of Maryland, are experimenting with brain re-wiring to improve hearing. They succeeded so far by keeping laboratory mice in total darkness for a long time period, while creating sounds of interest to the mice. The mice's brains to some extent rewired away from their eyesight to improve hearing.
It is believed that this procedure may somehow be developed to improve human hearing.
The painting above, right, is by R.R. Miller
The painting above, left, is by Sara Roybal ________________________________________________________
This painting is about how a Deaf person thinks, perceives, visualizes, sees, understands with a Deaf mind, perhaps in a complex, abnormal 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.
Victor Hugo and Ferdinand Berthier
The above quote, translated from French, is an excerpt from an 1845 letter by Victor Hugo to Ferdinand Berthier (at right, by the De'VIA artist Nancy Rourke). 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, published in 1831, Victor Hugo has two deaf people. The hunch-back himself, Quasimodo, becomes deaf from his job of ringing Notre Dame's bells. His step-father lusts after a beautiful Gypsy girl and orders him to kidnap her. He is caught. 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 flogging.
A Few Deaf Persons of Great Interest
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.
The Largest Wind Tunnel in the World.......
.....exists in California. A massive turbine bank of 135,000 HP sends gale-force wind through the 10,000 square foot cross-section of the tunnel. It can test almost any giant aircraft.
The inventor of the wind tunnel was self-educated. He was barred from any schooling because he was deaf.
He was educated at home, and by himself. He spent much of his life in a log cabin.
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (d.1935), Russian, is recognized as one of the great pioneers of rocketry and astronautics, and a visionary of space travel. He submitted hundreds of scientific papers on these subjects.
For his many accomplishments in aeronautics, a crater on the moon is named after him. For his interesting bio, go to:
Guillaume Amontons (d.1705), French, is
another deaf person with a crater on the moon named after him. Like Tsiolkovsky (above) he was self-educated due to deafness since childhood. He never attended a university, yet was elected to the French Academy of Sciences. He contributed to thermodynamics and statics. Of the three Laws of Friction, the first two are named after him.
Annie Jump Cannon (d. 1941) is a prominent name in astronomy. Most of her 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:
The site below gives a number of deaf doctors, dentists, and scientists:
Some Odds & Ends
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?
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 is 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 hobo.
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 captioned phone displays in text, what the other party voices. 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 someone speaking like his pants were on fire. His text display 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 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 duplicating 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're awful brainy and inclined 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"?).
That 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, co-articulents, 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 right).
Those 100 billion neurons in your brain are all used at one time or another, but less than 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.
So far, we can only guess what the late De'VIA artist Chuck Baird had in mind with this creation, titled Left and Right..
The right side hand is alive with color. That side of the brain processes visual imagery, including sign language.
The left side hand looks dead. That side is where hearing and spoken language are processed.
(If you have a better explanation, please send it to us).
Meet the Brain, Maintenance-Free for Over 122 Years
Here is Jeanne Calment as a 20 year old beauty, and at her 117th birthday (count all those candles !). She died fully alert (but deaf in her last years) at 122 years plus 5 months (still a confirmed record).
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