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Deaf History Middle Ages. Tutorial Social Aspects of Deaf Culture Sign Language Interpreter Training Program Kirkwood Community College. Objectives Identify important events and people and ideologies in the development of Oral education for the deaf given information contained in the tutorial.

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deaf history middle ages

Deaf HistoryMiddle Ages

TutorialSocial Aspects of Deaf CultureSign Language Interpreter Training ProgramKirkwood Community College



  • Identify important events and people and ideologies in the development of Oral education for the deaf given information contained in the tutorial.
  • Identify important events and people and ideologies in the development of manual education for the Deaf given information contained in the tutorial.


    • Manualism - education of the deaf using sign language, and the manual alphabet
    • 2. Oralism- education of the deaf using speech and lip-reading

Deaf - a cultural and linguistic identity acquired by many deaf person which is viewed as a desirable and valued state-of-being.

  • 4. deaf –a term used to describe the inability to hear normal speech patterns and general sounds within the environment.

5. Residential Institution - state school for the deaf, state funded schools serving a regional or statewide population of Deaf and hard-of-hearing children. 6. Language - a systematic form of communication which enables its users to talk about anything, anywhere, according to a system of grammatical rules which are learned and internalized.  


American Sign Language - a natural, visual-gestural language  which is indigenous to North America with specific grammatical and linguistic properties.

  • Congenital Deafness - deafness which is present at birth.

Deaf Community – a community made up of Deaf and non-deaf people who share the goal of furthering the goals and interests of Deaf people and work collaboratively to that end.

  • Hearing – a term used within the Deaf Community to refer to non-deaf people who are basically misinformed or uninformed about the Deaf experience.

Pre-lingual deafness - the significant loss of hearing which occurs after birth, but prior to the time an infant acquires oral/aural language competence.  This is usually considered to be before the age of three.

  • Post-lingual deafness -  the significant loss of hearing which occurs during adolescence, after oral/aural language competence has been acquired.
middle ages 700 1500 a d

Middle Ages 700 - 1500 A.D.

All text is taken from the Encyclopedia of Deafness, Gallaudet Press


Medieval writers often used the classical doctrine of the four humors to explain human physiology and behavior. These ideas were based on Greek philosophy and developed into systems by Islamic writers.

In the late Middle Ages there was increased study of speech defects and possible cures, including some surgery. However, there still existed reverence for ancient authority and interest in emphasizing speech as the special property of the soul.


The Four Humors:

The belief that disease was caused by "isonomia", an imbalance in the four humors consisting of yellow bile, blood, phlegm, and black bile.)


Understanding of human anatomy was gradually increasing, as postmortem examinations were conducted more frequently. A real turning point came in the work of the physician Andreas Vesalius, in the 1500’s, who made possible modern scientific study of the brain. Although he believed in the soul, Vesalius denied that it could be found anatomically. He wrote that congenital deafness was the major source of speechlessness. If a child never heard anything, he lacked the stimuli necessary for the mind to instruct the bodily parts responsible for articulation.


Jerome Cardan (1501-1576) wrote that deaf-mute people could be taught to express themselves, and even invented a Braille-like system to prove his point. He denied that thought was impossible without speech, pointing out that deaf individuals could “hear” by reading, and mute persons could “speak” by writing. He broke down the ancient idea that the speechless person was without language, and so without reason or soul.


And so Aristotle and Hippocrates had been wrong in believing that mutism and deafness inevitably went together. Through dissection, one could understand anatomy, and trace the nerves of the tongue and ears as they entered the brain on their separate routes.

Due to the new thinking of the Renaissance minds and the accomplishments of people like Vesalius and Cardan, no longer was there much dispute about whether or not deaf and mute persons could be taught speech. The question was not if, but how.



  • What new development helped break the hold of the philosophies of Aristotle and Hippocrates?
  • Who had the most influence in making that break?

From philosophers, law givers, and physicians.

  • Prevalent thoughts about deafness were that it was a disability.
  • That deafness meant lack of a soul or a severe defect in the soul.
  • Disability.