Currents: An E-Journal Technologies of Language and the Embodied History of the Deaf (*) 
by Leland McCleary (**) 
University of São Paulo  

Currents in Electronic Literacy Spring 2001 (4), <>  

    Looking back, it appears that linguistics was made possible by the invention of writing.  Looking ahead, it appears that a science of language and communication, both optic and acoustic, will be enabled … not by refinements in notational systems, but by increasing sophistication in techniques of recording, analyzing, and manipulating visible and auditory events electronically. 
    (Armstrong, Stokoe and Wilcox, 1995: 13-14)
  1. Much of the history of the deaf has been written by hearing people, and the history which exists is, in large part, a history of the institutions and concepts created by hearing people for and about the deaf.  (1)  This situation is not unlike that of other minorities who have been kept at the margin of history and whose stories have been told by others and from the point of view of others.  Anthropologists and oral historians have made efforts to correct this distortion through the recording of the stories of marginalized groups who traditionally have not had access to socially prestigious forms of expression, nor to their supporting technologies of production, dissemination and preservation.  Efforts have also been made to teach groups without writing a script for writing their language and the computer technologies necessary to physically produce and circulate their own stories. (2) 
  2. The deaf, however, differ from other groups because of their unique experience of language acquisition.  The linguistic situation of the deaf has two major consequences which make the telling of their stories a particular challenge for oral historians.  The first is the intrinsic linguistic diversity of the deaf and the second is the specific nature of the language which, for many deaf people, is their identifying achievement:  sign language.
  3. Because of the nature of deafness and because of the variety of circumstances which may impinge on the language development of a deaf person, many linguistic outcomes are possible, from exclusive use of the spoken language of the larger community to the exclusive use of the sign language of the deaf community; and– in still far too many cases – to minimal language use, in which no language becomes fully developed.  Only a very few of those individuals who are born deaf or who become deaf at an early age achieve fluency in the spoken language of their community, and only then with great effort.  For the deaf, the only route to full language mastery is through a sign language; but access to sign language is not always guaranteed, since the majority of those born deaf are born into hearing families.  On the other hand, the possibility of achieving fluency and expressiveness in sign language (but not oral language) is what, above all else, motivates the formation of deaf communities.  Within these communities, deaf individuals develop a sense of self as a whole person, different from the image they confront in the hearing world, and even within their own families, where they are commonly seen, with rare exceptions, as “deficient” (Padden, 1989). (3)
  4. For the oral historian, it is significant that the sign languages of deaf communities have no historically developed writing system.  This means that signed languages represent a form of “primary orality," in the terminology of Ong (1982: 16), that is, an orality little influenced by writing.  In addition, the fact that the orality of the deaf is signed, and not oral, complicates its relation to a possible written form, and presents a challenge to the usual techniques and practices of recording, documentation and elaboration of oral history.
  5. In this paper I intend, first, to discuss briefly the linguistic situation of the deaf; I will then discuss the shift in linguistic ideology from graphocentrism to orocentrism, which forms the scenario in which the deaf are struggling to legitimize their natural form of expression, sign language; I will then question both graphocentrism and orocentrism and propose neutral terms and a neutral perspective from which “orality” and “oral history” can be viewed as the embodiment of language and of experience.  Finally, I will discuss some of the challenges raised by the prospect of recording the embodied history of the deaf both in writing and through other technologies now available.
  6. Deafness and Language Acquisition

  7. Still today it is common for people to react incredulously to the affirmation that the native language of a deaf person is not the language of the country in which they are born.  A frequent comment is “but a deaf person isn’t blind; they can read, so what keeps them from learning the national language?”  This commonplace idea ignores the complex nature of language acquisition and the relation between orality and literacy.  Hearing children begin to learn reading and writing at about school age, when their oral language is already almost fully developed; and the written language they learn has a high measure of correspondence with the oral language they speak.  Even so, proficiency in reading and writing is not guaranteed.  Less so is it for a deaf child who arrives at school often without mastery of any natural language at all.  In these cases, it is the first priority of the school to guarantee that the child acquire fluency in a natural language (and the only reasonable candidate is a sign language) as a foundation for any other learning they do, including the learning of the written form of another language.
  8. However, in individual cases, the circumstances of deafness, the beliefs of the people involved, and the treatments available may vary independently, and an almost infinite number of relations among oral language, written language and sign language may result.  A person who loses hearing after having acquired spoken language may, with constant practice, retain it and use it socially.  Further, depending on the type and degree of deafness, the effectiveness of auxiliary hearing devices, the intensity of training and the affective environment in which it takes place, in specific cases some few pre-linguistic deaf people are able to learn to use the oral language adequately for communication.  Still, even in these cases, rarely does the deaf person become completely “fluent” in the oral language, completely at ease and expressive.  According to Botelho (1999: 49), “oralized deaf people . . . only partially master the oral language.  In verbal interaction, very often the formal aspect of speech becomes a motive for apprehension. . . .  Their stories reveal an association between learning to speak and fear.”  Those born deaf are prevented by the absence of spoken language input  from acquiring the oral language naturally, by the same means that hearing children acquire it, in meaningful interaction with other speakers.  When deaf children learn an oral language, they must do it by means of a process of arduous training, and their language ends up bearing the scars of this process.
  9. On the other hand, children – both deaf and hearing – who are exposed to a sign language in the first years of life acquire this language with as much fluency and perfection as any hearing child acquires a spoken language.  The ideal scenario for a deaf child is to grow up in a family fluent in sign language, so as not to suffer any delay in language development.  However, this occurs in only the roughly 10% of the cases of children born deaf:  those in which the child is born to deaf parents.  The great majority of children born deaf are born into hearing families.  In the best of scenarios, the hearing parents discover early that their child is deaf, begin immediately to learn sign language in order to be able to communicate with their child, and bring their child into contact with native speakers.  This rarely happens.  Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, parents are uninformed about sign language, or even if they know about it, reject it out of prejudice and for fear of their child being “different” and excluded.  In the worst of hypotheses, the parents reject their child and interact minimally with him or her.  In this condition, many deaf children arrive at school age essentially without any language beyond a few “home signs” developed in interaction with family members.  There is evidence that this delay in initial language development beyond the “critical period” of about five years old may cause linguistic, cognitive and psychological scars. (4)  Too often, then, it happens that deaf children begin to acquire their first language at school age, or even beyond, when they begin to have contact with other deaf people.  Some deaf adults have reported experiencing a “rebirth” upon discovering the deaf world and its totally accessible and expressive language.
  10. Ignorance of the importance of signed languages in the life of the deaf, together with prejudice, has denied generations of deaf people their birthright of a mother tongue.  The 1880 congress of educators of the deaf in Milan declared “the superiority of speech over signs,” and not only recommended the “method of articulation,” but also banned the use of signed languages (and consequently of deaf teachers) in deaf education (Lane, Hoffmeister & Bahan, 1996: 61; Sacks, 1998).
  11. The dominance of “oralism” had the result that generations of deaf individuals, that majority of the deaf who were unable to adequately master the oral language, were prevented from acquiring a natural language at an early age and were denied a formal education.  What they did learn, first and foremost, was that their own way of being in the world, and their own natural form of communication, were incomplete and inadequate and that they themselves, because they had not mastered the oral language, were deficient and incapacitated. (5)
  12. This state of affairs began to change as of 1960, with the publication of the first linguistic studies demonstrating that signed languages are, in fact, complex, fully syntactic natural languages (Stokoe, 1960; Stokoe, 1965; Klima & Bellugi, 1979).  From that time on, a change in outlook began to occur in the universities in relation to signed languages, and the deaf community, encouraged by the legitimizing voice of “science,” began to revalue its own language and lobby for its legal recognition and its use in education.  The deaf began to develop more aggressively a consciousness of their own “signed orality."
  13. Shifting linguistic ideologies: the fortunes of orality and the legitimizing of sign language

  14. It is ironic that linguistics has had a crucial role in establishing a new deaf consciousness, since it was linguistics itself, with its origins in the study of the written texts of ancient languages, and more recently in the preferential study of oral languages, dominated by the ideology of normative linguistic systems, that helped to create the climate in which signed languages were not properly conceived of as worthy of the status of human languages. (6)
  15. The history of linguistics up to the “discovery” of signed languages is an example of how science, with the help of technology, can create a “common sense” that replaces a previous “common sense."  The new “common sense” may later be destabilized by more science and by new technologies, resulting in a return to the prior lost understanding.  (7)
  16. This has happened in linguistics:  the technology of writing produced stable texts which then became the object of study and resulted in grammars of classical languages, dictionaries of living languages, and a whole theoretical tradition based on established languages standardized in a written literature.  (8) Throughout this process, in which the written forms of languages were valued, oral forms gained or lost in prestige to the extent that they reflected the written standard.  The varieties more distant from this standard became stigmatized.  With the contact of anthropologists with the non-written languages of almost extinct North-American indigenous groups at the beginning of the twentieth century, a process of revaluation of oral language was initiated.  The argument that oral language is ontogenetically and filogenetically primary was used to establish the primacy of oral language within linguistics, as well as to establish the dogma of linguistic equality among spoken languages.  This dogma, in turn, contributed to overshadowing two realities known to “common sense."  One is that natural language is variable to an extent quite inconvenient for those engaged in describing it systematically.  The other is that languages are not equal, if not linguistically, then at least politically and socially.  Some languages are infinitely more powerful than others.
  17. As for the first uncomfortable reality – that languages are not as well-behaved as their descriptions – it was the presence of the technology of recording which restored within linguistics an appreciation for the infinite variability within and among languages.  Sociolinguistics began to explore the ways in which speakers of a language unconsciously vary their speech in accord with the most subtle shifts in situation:  interlocutor, topic, place, occasion.  It became apparent that spoken language could no longer be adequately described in terms of local, accidental and idiosyncratic departures from a standard.  It became clear that so-called departures were also meaningful and rule-governed.  The awareness also grew that when people use language, they are not simply producing words, phrases, sentences, in sequence, but are producing genres, that is, textural forms of the most varied types, and that each type has its specific social significance and formal rules.   Everything that is produced in language is produced within a text which, in turn, is produced within, and contributes to the production of, a context.
  18. The implications of this shift in focus are enormous.  Just to give an example close to the practices of oral history, the concept of speech genres and their symbiotic relation with the speech situation changes fundamentally the way in which the relationship between “conversation,” “interview," “oral narrative," “transcription," and “written narrative” is to be understood.  Each of these genres implies distinct linguistic behavior.  Neither “conversation” nor “interview” can be considered a “neutral” occasion in which a language shared by the interlocutors is “used” to transfer knowledge (such as a personal life history, for example). (10)  A conversation event is radically different from an interview event, and this difference is marked by the language produced.  Both events are occasions of fine-tuned negotiation of identities and relations of power, and the presuppositions of the two events are incompatible.  An oral narrative within a conversation cannot be considered interchangeable with the “same” oral narrative produced in an interview.
  19. It is usual to think of language as a “code” in which our messages are transmitted. (11) In fact, there is no way to separate form from content;  both are constructed together, always in specific speech situations.  If the interlocutors in, say, an interview situation, are an informant/collaborator and the researcher, both exercise a role in the co-construction of forms/contents during the occasion of the interview, each one creating the immediate context which inevitably shapes the contribution of the other.  The researcher is guided (if not by a pre-established script), by his or her ongoing interpretation of the forms which the interlocutor is producing.  Later, when listening to the recording, in another place, at another time, no longer engaged by the presence of the other, the researcher will experience the forms in a new light and will be led to a reinterpretation.  At the time of transcription, the researcher experiences a new situation, a different relation to the recording and a new level of attention to those same, but now decontextualized, forms of speech, giving rise to a new interpretation.  Reading the transcript is again a new speech situation, with different expectations and rules of interpretation influenced by the written form of the transcript, even though the “voice” of the speaker may be present in the researcher’s “ear.”  These shifts in ways of “reading” the message of the other are automatic, unconscious and specific to the varied and adaptable nature of language.  So what is it that guarantees the integrity of the “message” throughout these formal transformations?  Nothing.  Not even the determined awareness of the researcher.  In the use of language, there are no guarantees, there is only dialogue.  In a conversation, the dialogue is immediate and the negotiation of contents and interpretations of the forms is done in real time.  With recordings, transcriptions and textualizations, this dialogue is slowed down, stretched out, interrupted and – inevitably – transformed into other dialogues, with other voices.
  20. Such reflections illustrate the growing consciousness of variability within language and its capacity to confound descriptions designed to capture a stable internal structure.  This is not meant to say that such descriptions do not represent some linguistic truth, but only that they cannot represent the totality.  Language is perhaps best viewed as a complex system containing subsystems at various levels, from phonological processing to sociodiscursive processes, only some of which have submitted to formal description. (12)
  21. It is at this level, the sociodiscursive, that we find the other reality which has been obscured by the ideology of linguistic equality:  that is, the sociopolitical inequality of languages, the fact that powerful discourses exist which validate some languages and invalidate others, which give the speakers of some languages rights denied to the speakers of others.
  22. As a result of these discourses, and principally during the last hundred years, the deaf have suffered the negation of their language as a natural human language.  Now that this prejudice has begun to be challenged, others appear which must be met:  that sign languages are not standardized;  that sign languages have no written form;  that sign languages have no literature.  In the struggles for legitimization in each of these areas it is nevertheless inescapable that what is being applied are the standards of other languages:  oral languages; written languages. (13)
  23. Overcoming orocentrism

  24. To use the term “orality” to refer to the living, spontaneous, interactive, face-to-face use of natural language in the constitution of society and its members is itself charged with prejudice.  Ong, in his effort to re-conceive an orality prior to and independent of writing-based and print-based thought, was nevertheless incapable of conceiving of the function of orality independent of the medium of oral speech.  In his only reference to signed language, he says (wrongly), “elaborated sign languages are substitutes for speech and dependent on oral speech systems” (Ong, 1982: 7).  We know now that signed languages are fully autonomous languages that perform for their users the same social functions that oral languages perform for theirs; but to refer to signing as “visual orality” (14)  or, as I have been doing here, “signed orality,” is to perpetuate the bias of an oralist view of language.
  25. Emboldened by Armstrong, Stokoe and Wilcox’s account of the gestural nature of all language (1995), I propose that our thinking about language can be enriched by replacing the term “orality” by “corporality,” to remind us of the essentially embodied nature of the interaction through which we construct our worlds.  The central insight I am trying to capture is that both oral and gestural modalities of language are mediated through the body.  They are both inescapably muscular.  All of the characteristics associated typically with “orality,” such as Ong’s “additive, aggregative, redundant, close to the human lifeworld, agonistically toned, empathic and participatory, situational,” etc. (1982: 36-57); Och’s “unplanned” (1979); or Chafe’s “involvement” (1979) all follow from corporal reality and its biological and physical constraints.
  26. “Orality” came to share with “language” an aura of abstraction and lost its connection with physical reality.  “Corporality” helps to correct this bias.  It reminds us that language is rooted in the body.  (15)
  27. Evidence for the corporality of language, even oral language, can be found in the practices of children during the process of learning to read:  touching the book, tracing letters or lines of print with their fingers, touching a reader’s lips, accompanying a word with a gesture, pronouncing a word out loud.  Naturally these bodily supports are gradually suppressed as the child gains invisible, silent control over the mediation of the written language, but they are always available to fall back on, even by adults, when particularly difficult words or passages are encountered.  It is as if the language is stored, not only in the mind, but just as surely – perhaps more surely – in the body.
  28. A growing literature reveals that an analogous process accompanies the deaf child learning to read:  the invention and use of gestures to link graphemes of the written language with sign-language features in order to connect bodily reality (and muscular memory) to the visual stimulus of print (Wilcox, 1994: 121-124; Chamberlain & Mayberry, 200: 249-256).  Surprisingly, even hearing children, when taught sign language, can use it to leverage their acquisition of spoken-language vocabulary (Daniels, 1994), adding credence to the idea that the body is a powerful mediator of language.
  29. By this same shift of perspective, “oral history” can be seen as a special case of a more general enterprise: “embodied history.”  Oral historians distinguish themselves from archival historians by the nature of their sources:  oral accounts.  By calling those sources “embodied,” we avoid the tendency to think of the oral accounts as somehow disembodied abstractly from their telling.  We are reminded that there is a history that is literally embodied in the people who have lived it, and that they can express through their corporality.  This concept, undoubtedly, will be welcome to a small contingent of “oral historians” who do not work exclusively with verbal accounts, but also with photographic images or with descriptions of work practices.  Some people’s stories are cut into their faces and read in their movements.
  30. If we are to record these embodied histories, that is, mediate them through technologies, why should the technology of writing receive priority, except for our cultural graphocentric bias?  There are currently available other technologies that can record and mediate embodied histories in ways that are more faithful to the multiple ways in which lives have been lived and in which the body has adapted to expressing those lives in their being lived.  In the next section I will deal specifically with the challenges faced by an embodied history of the deaf, considering first the technology of writing and then alternative technologies.
  31. Challenges for an embodied history of the deaf

  32. Producing an embodied history of a deaf community necessarily means working with the corporality of signed languages.  This corporality, as mentioned above, is in the active process of consolidation within the deaf community as their legitimate means of expression.  Due to the fact that the process has only recently met with political good-will both from outside and from within the deaf community and has likewise only recently received the attention of the academic community, it is not surprising that it is still not well understood.  Normally, when embodied history must deal with a new situation, it can turn for guidance to experience with other languages, other communities, other projects (Meihy, 2000).  In the case of an embodied history of the deaf, there is little precedent.
  33. Recording the interview

  34. Since sign languages are gestural/visual, the recording and treatment of interviews in a project of signed history will have to find novel solutions.  Obviously, audio recording, the basic technological support of oral history, will be of little use.  The interviews will necessarily have to be recorded in video.  But how, exactly?  Facial expression is an integral part of signed languages.  So it will be important to tape the interviewed subject from the front.  But what about the interviewer or the sign language interpreter?  As integral parts of the discourse event, they would also have to be recorded.  Also face-on, with a second camera?  Surely they would have to be recorded in such a way as to reveal the gestural timing and coordination between the interlocutors, as well as accompanying facial expressions.
  35. We have seen how discourse events are sensitive to the details of the situation, and it is a commonplace for oral historians (and anthropologists and others who work with recording equipment) that the mere presence of the technology and the knowledge that the conversation is being recorded has an important effect on the interaction.  If this is true of unobtrusive hand-held tape-recorders, how much more true of video cameras.
  36. Another concern of many oral historians is the nature of the relationship between interviewer and interviewed, which typically should be one of trust and which may require some time to develop (Meihy, 2000).  For this reason, the presence of others during the interview is often considered problematic, yet unavoidable if the interviewer is not fluent in the language being spoken.  In the particular case of signed languages, perhaps even more than among oral languages in general, native speakers are accustomed to modify their signing to match the signing level of their interlocutor, and even to switch to contact forms or signed versions of the oral language, depending on the proficiency of their interlocutor.  Some deaf individuals may even unconsciously sign differently to an accomplished sign language interpreter as a function of knowing that he or she is not deaf.  While these realities are not, in kind, different from what happens in other cross-linguistic or cross-cultural exchanges, they are perhaps more accentuated in the case of signed languages given the relative lack of a conscious language standard.  Of course, the importance of these style shifts is that they do not represent only modifications of form, but also modifications of content:  some topics come naturally in one register and not at all in another, and this is not entirely under the control of the speaker. (16)
  37. Transcription

  38. Perhaps the greatest challenge for the historian working with deaf embodied history, however, is the process of transforming the recorded, visual document into a written text.  This process, with its accompanying difficulties, begins with transcription.  Even when dealing with oral languages, transcription is far from a transparent operation of transforming the oral into written form, and in oral history, as in linguistics, alternative techniques of transcription and their relative merits have been the focus of debate (Brito, 2000).  Depending on the objectives of the transcription, a written version more or less “faithful” to the original may be desired.  At whatever level of purported fidelity, however, the value ascribed to a transcription is inescapably bound up with prevailing notions of standards of written language and imagined – often stereotyped – notions of spoken language forms.  Short of phonetic transcriptions, readable only by trained specialists, any attempt to capture the pronunciation and flavor of a spoken account will depend on conventionalized orthographies which carry with them stigma, humorous effect, pathos, or other affect established through a history of literary genres from sermons to novels to comic strips.  A transcript becomes readable (and consequently believable) to the extent that it departs from its oral source to assume the generic conventions of written dialogue.  Readers have only a limited tolerance for the false starts, repetitions, agrammatical concatenations and the like which are endemic to spoken language.  Still, we may expect a certain number of token markings of orality in order to attribute to a transcription a required degree of verisimilitude.  In any case, it is clear that whatever effect may be achieved in a transcription, either of polished narrative or of spontaneous unedited speech, it is only possible because the formal choices which are made resonate with an infinitely complex history of previous texts.
  39. The above discussion of the transcription of spoken languages is meant as a background for understanding the challenge of transcribing embodied histories in signed languages.  In light of what has been said, one of the obvious difficulties is the absence of any established writing system for signed languages, and consequently of any accumulated literature.  That means that there is no arsenal of previously worked out solutions for representing signed corporality;  there are no previously worked out conventions conveying – in writing – particular shades of social and affective meaning.
  40. In many respects, signed languages are similar to oral languages without writing.  In one important respect, however, they are different:  the gestural nature of signed languages and the fact that meaning is distributed, not linearly but spatially among hands, arms, body and head position and facial expression make capturing the distributed meanings within a single line of text particularly difficult.
  41. Until recently, there has been no easily adaptable and widely used script available for signed languages, although a number have been proposed.  One solution for transcription, therefore, has been to represent signs by their oral-language gloss written in all caps.  (17) As gloss, this system does not represent the sign directly, but produces a text intermediate between transcription and translation which is ungrammatical in both languages.  Because the gloss does not reveal directly the underlying sign, the system is unable to display richness or subtlety of diction, or may, alternatively, gloss the same sign differently depending on the context.  Information contained in facial expression may be indicated by punctuation or other special marks.  Because of its hybrid nature, the overall effect is that it does not count as either sign language or oral language, and cannot be read fluently in either.  For the purposes of embodied history, it might perhaps be a first step in a process of transcription/translation of an interview, but it would be a poor candidate to consider as the basic document.  The following example of a transcribed dialogue is taken from a Brazilian Sign Language instruction manual that accompanies a video tape (FENEIS, s.d.: 34).
  42. A: PODER ENTRAR!  
  43. A promising candidate for a sign language script which could become widely used in Brazil, as well as in other parts of the world, is SignWriting. Begun originally as a gestural notation for dance and later adopted to the writing of signed languages, SignWriting has spread in popularity in part because of its intuitive, stylized system of grapheme-chereme (19) representations, and in part because graphic computer interfaces have simplified its use. (20) 
  44. Such a writing system is potentially important for the deaf community for a number of reasons – as a tool for the initial literacy of the deaf; as a tool for language standardization; as a support for teaching sign language to hearing people – but primarily as an alternative means of expression for the verbal artistry of the deaf.  Without a sign language script, deaf authors must either create their texts in an oral language or record them in video.  With a sign language script, deaf authors will be able to begin the long and cumulative process of fashioning written genres in their native language.  Perhaps equally important is the increased status that a writing system inevitably brings to a language (Wilcox, 1994: 131-134).
  45. But even if SignWriting were adopted as the preferred technique for the transcription of deaf oral history, there would be serious barriers to its use. First, SignWriting, as a "phonetic" script, (21) is, while highly intuitive, still understandably complex and must be adapted and standardized for each sign language to which it is applied. This process has just begun in Brazil, and although the the Dictionary of Brazilian Sign Language, (22) with its SignWriting representations of headwords, will contribute greatly toward establishing a standard orthography for Brazilian Sign Language, there is still much to be done. Suggested orthographies will have to be tested in use, and signs which are not found in the dictionary will have to have their orthographies worked out by writers, among which there will inevitably appear alternative versions of the same signs, as the use of the script itself becomes standardized and conventionalized. (23) 
  46. The second problem that the use of sign language script faces is the lack of people trained in its use. A project of deaf embodied history which has as one of its goals the development of sign language script would be not only contributing to the dissemination and standardization of Brazilian Sign Language orthography, but would also be a training ground for deaf researchers and sign language interpreters in its use. 
  47. Finally, even with a standardized sign language orthography for individual signs, a robust writing system for a language depends on writers and readers to work out conventionalized forms of expression which are felt to be appropriate to representing speech in written media. The very same kinds of accomodation which Ong and others describe as occurring in both written and spoken forms of oral language as a result of the exercise of writing in a variety of media and throughout a long sequence of emerging genres – this same accomodation and consolidation of written sign-language genres and their conventionalized forms of expression will only begin to emerge as deaf writers begin to adapt a script and experiment with it. If the goals of a deaf embodied history project include the production, not only of history and of life histories, but of texts produced by the deaf "in their own words," and if at least some of this production takes the form of written sign language, that in itself will be a stimulus for deaf authors to write their stories in this medium and to experiment in other genres. 
  48. Devolution of the text – which text?

  49. In addition to the problems of conducting and recording the interviews and of transcribing the results, an embodied history of the deaf is faced with challenges to standard practice in the production of the final text and its devolution to the collaborators whose history it tells (Meihy, 2000). 
  50. In an embodied history concerned that it speak not only to the academic community but also to the wider community and to its community of origin, it may not be enough to consider the end product of the process to be a prose text in the national language. Already the value of such texts to non-literate groups or to groups not proficient in the target language has been questioned as merely symbolic. This will be true, in part, of the deaf community, which includes members only marginally able to read the national oral language. If the goals of a deaf embodied history project include taking seriously the production of documents that will say something to the source community itself, then it will have to consider that at least one of its products must be a signed version of the stories it tells. (24) The only product that will be widely and immediately intelligible to a deaf audience will be some form of video. 
  51. It appears, then, that a historian of the embodied history of the deaf may have to become an editor of video documentaries, capable of transforming hours of interview into a coherent story. Recent technologies of digital video editing may contribute greatly to this process. In fact, a new form of embodied history may evolve in which the end product is understood to be not a prose text, but a multimedia, hypertextual document including edited interview video, transcription in sign language script, textualization in the national language, and related visual, textual and sound documentation, together with a spoken version for blind readers. This document could be navigated depending upon the reader's interest and linguistic resources.  Such a hypertext document would also become, in the case of deaf history, a learning tool not only for the deaf reality but also for both languages involved: sign language and the national language, and their respective written forms. (25) 
  52. Unfortunately, all this not only sounds, but is, hypothetical and visionary. It is a possible solution to the challenges of the novel situation of contemplating an embodied history of the deaf. It appears that the epigraph cited at the beginning of this article may not only be prophetic for a science of language and communication, but for "oral history" as well. 
  53. Works Cited

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