Tuesday 26 March 2019

Deaf Aid

Dau.I the Librarian was down for Féile Pádraig. It was good to catch up with her radical tweetiness and be put back in my box on rural driving home from the pub after a pint of two. My case was that on the balance of harms it might be worth weighing the risk of a damaging RTA against social exclusion, depression and suicide among batchelor farmers whose only available social outlet is The Pub. I was imagining a farmer drinking like myself at, say, The Wexford Science Café, where I am not the only one ordering a bottle of alcohol-free Erdinger. Dau.I and her SO advised that abstemiousness of that calibre is quite unlikely - not least because alcohol free beer is a new thing and Old Boys are the last in any society to embrace The New. Another part of her argument was limit creep: whereby if 2 units of alcohol was allowed by licence for those who 'need' to visit a pub to stay sane, then that becomes the new normal and the actual driver average is nearer 4 units on board.

When you're young, you are expected to be righting the world in some way. As part of her work-related CPD [continuous personal development] Dau.I has started formal classes in ISL [Irish Sign Language]. It is obviously good for the Dublin Library Service to have at least some of their counter-staff up to speed with deaf-comms. Perhaps particularly important to have such Capables installed in the Cabra branch which is just down the road from Ireland's Deaf Village - DVI. Accofdingly, once a week, Dau.I gets round a table with other employees of The Corpo and chats in English and ISL with a tutor/facilitator. You have to be considerate and make sure that you look at the person you're addressing and don't mumble. Lip-reading requires clear enunciation just like I find increasingly lacking in my students. Of course, the student body has not become more mumbly but rather my aural acuity is diminishing with age - I R deaf.

The Deaf V includes the Holy Family School for the Deaf: a recent [2016] merger between St. Mary’s School for Deaf Girls and St. Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys. These latter were founded in Cabra in the 1840s when all education was under the control of one or other church. The girls school came first and two Dominican nuns set off for l'école des sourds du Bon Sauveur de Caen to learn best practice from their french counterparts. That's the fundamental, historical inertia, reason why ISL follows the french model rather than the British. Another oddity of historical contingency is that Ireland followed/follows a wide-spread practice of educating boys and girls separately. Ireland is peculiarly hung up about sin and sex like the swinging 60s were focussed on sun and sex. It is hard to imagine how the nuns and brothers imagined that their charges would develop normal respectful loving relationships between the sexes if they never had intercourse [no! ya dink, not that intercourse] with each other.

But hey, here's another oddity: because they developed in isolation, the ISL used by deaf girls departed from that used by the boys on the other side of the wall. That's why we have a Babble of 6,000 langauges across this our blue planet: if you impose barriers between groups of people they develop their own distinctive peculiarities of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. For a while, as in the Balkans, they are mutually intelligible but eventually they require dictionaries and interpreters - or indeed signing - to interact. The intriguing idea that women and men in essentially the same community could be speaking different dialects tinkled a distant bell for me. There is one such Nüshu documented in China. This language was used exclusively by women for several centuries, was 'discovered' in the 1980s being used by a diminishing number of elderly ladies, the last of whom died out 20 years later. A brief up-blip on the graph of cultural extinction.

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