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Deaf people have always been unique among communities because they not only have a sensory impairment, but they also constitute a linguistic minority. Throughout the years, they’ve created communities to allow them to stay together. Most of these communities were built in geographic locations where they could access schools for the deaf. Whenever there are many people with hearing impairments in a community, they’ll form relationships with deaf people and hearing people who use sign language. 

The island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the Massachusetts coast in the United States, is one such community. The community dates back in the 17th century on the island, and they have coexisted with hearing communities until the mid-20th century. Here, almost everyone could use the sign language, and deafness was broadly accepted. Supporting communities are rare throughout history, and even nowadays. 

 

In the 16th and 17th centuries, there were few communities of deaf people in Europe. Some religious orders tried to educate deaf rich children, but even if children managed to acquire some knowledge, their community still rejected them. Pedro Ponce de Leon was the most prominent teacher who worked with deaf children. Records state that in the 1540s he taught over 12 deaf children at his monastery. Even if other schools replicated his work, the European states sponsored deaf education, starting with the 18th century.  

What should we know about the development of sign language?

For deaf people and people who lose their hearing, sign language proves very helpful because it offers them the opportunity to communicate. References to a form of communication using gestures date back to the 5th century BC. But in the 17th century people recorded the sign language for the first time. The sign language is a system that implies using mimic, conventional gestures, fingerspelling, hand gestures, and the use of hand positions to represent the letters in the alphabet. 

Who invented the sign language? Some people think Juan Pablo de Bonet created the sign language because in 1620 he wrote a book that included the first known manual alphabet system. The system contains different handshapes that represent sounds. Bonet created the first manual alphabet system, but not the first manual alphabet. 

Some historians think that the deaf people living on Martha’s Vineyard island invented sign language. But considering that Bonet created the book in 1620, Martha’s Vineyard community couldn’t develop the sign language. The area is famous for hereditary deafness, so the extensive usage of the manual alphabetic system had a high impact on schools. 

Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee is a more common answer to the question of who invented the sign language because he educated deaf people using his system. But we should mention that he educated children from around the country, children who already acquired some knowledge at home. He put together all the signs children learned at home and created a standard sign language based on the information he received. We can say that L’Epee created a system, but not the first language. 

Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet established the first American school for deaf individuals in 1817. Some name them the inventors of the American sign language. Laurent Clerc was from Europe, so he taught French sign language. The school educated children from around the USA, so their signs combined with the French ones and created the American sign language. 

But if it were to try to answer the question, who was the first man to invent the sign language, we should probably name the early man. People experienced deafness since the oldest times, and they needed a system to communicate, so they possibly come up with a system, small communities knew. Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee introduced the French sing language and Laurent Clerc, and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet introduced the American one. Still, both of them included elements local communities came up with. 

Even nowadays, there are different sign languages people use worldwide. They have different elements because they serve diverse communities. 

Hearing aids

Often, when people lose their hearing, they don’t become deaf, they only have a limited ability to perceive sounds. So, they correct this impairment with different hearing aids. The recorded history of hearing loss dates back hundreds of years ago, so we can find examples of hearing aids throughout history. The good news is that nowadays people can pair hearing aids with speech and language therapy to improve their condition. 

Now, people are using small hearing aids you cannot even notice in their ears. But at first, in the 1600s and 1700s, people used some aids called trumpets. They were wide at one end to catch sounds, and narrow at the other to amplify them into the ear. Doctors made them from glass, seashells, animal horns, or metals. The customer decided on the shape and style of the hearing aid. Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the most famous users of trumpets. 

In the 1700s, scientists discovered the bone conduction, a process that transmits the sound vibrations through the skull to the brain. These devices looked similar to fans, and they collected wave vibrations and directed them through the small bones behind the patient’s ears. 

During the 1800s, scientists put more effort into creating hearing aids. At the start, they were both medical and decorative accessories because people integrated them into their headwear, collars, and clothing items. People tried to hide them in their hair and beards. 

Monarchs asked their doctors to integrate the hearing aids into their thrones, so no one to notice them. When creating thrones, they integrated special tubes into the arms to collect the sound and amplify it for the royals. When someone kneeled before the throne, the arms captured the sound and expanded it into an opening located close to the monarch’s head so they can hear clearly what they say. 

In the 1900s, doctors also used ear tubes to help people manage their impairment. 

All these aids helped at the creation of modern devices.