A Man Without Words
At twenty-eight, Ildefonso—an illegal alien from rural Mexico, deaf since birth—sat in a community college classroom in Los Angeles. Arms folded defensively across his chest, he studied the activity around him. His dark eyes expressed fear and confusion, but they also radiated curiosity and longing. This smoldering intelligence captivated Susan Schaller, a young sign language interpreter, and she became determined to introduce Ildefonso to the world of words.
But Ildefonso had no concept of language—signed, spoken, or written. At first he simply mimicked Schaller’s signs, frustrating them both. Eventually, through the naively ingenious teaching strategies that Schaller concocted, Ildefonso came to connect the sign “cat” with his own experience and with the written word. “Ildefonso’s face opened in excitement as he slowly pondered the revelation,” Schaller says. “Slowly at first, then hungrily, he took in everything as though he had never seen anything before.”
This book presents not only Ildefonso’s first glimpse of language but also Schaller’s re-vision. A hearing person enthralled with American Sign Language since she was seventeen, she asks age-old questions—what is language, what is it like to live without language—but in a fresh, stimulating way. Despite references to language scholarship, this is a simple book written from the heart.
After several months, Ildefonso leaves school, and he and...
(The entire section is 340 words.)
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