Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Hands of My Father

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Hands of My Father

A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love

by Myron Uhlberg

Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Feb 2009, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Beth Hemke Shapiro

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

Sign Language & Deaf Culture

Hundreds of years of evolution have shaped American Sign Language (ASL), today the main sign language for deaf people in the U.S., parts of Canada and Mexico, and many other countries around the world. Derived in part from the personal hand signal repertoires of many deaf individuals, ASL has grown to become a fully functional language, a medium of higher education, and a central part of Deaf culture.

The deaf have always developed their own means of communicating through signals, long before any attempt was made to standardize these into a formal language. Nearly three hundred years ago, a spate of deaf births on Martha's Vineyard gave rise to a unique sign language on the island. One of the earliest attempts to extend beyond a small community and create a consistent and teachable language is credited to Abbe Charles Michel de l'Epee, who developed Old French Sign Language in the 18th century. In 1817, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet co-founded the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb in the U.S., now known as the American School for the Deaf. It was at this institution that ASL was formally created, influenced by many sign languages used in deaf homes.

Education for the deaf flourished in the U.S. with the founding of the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind in 1857 with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet's son as its first superintendent, and his deaf widow as matron. In 1954 the school was renamed Gallaudet College, and, due to its continued growth it is now an accredited university in which ASL and English are both used as languages of instruction.

As Gallaudet University searches for a new president, the question of whether this leader will be deaf or hearing has been highly controversial, in part because many Deaf culture advocates struggle against the perception of deafness as a disability, and strongly oppose surgical techniques to treat deafness. The same cultural norms place heavy importance on signing, and oppose teaching deaf children orally or through lip-reading without accompanying signs.

Deaf culture's emphasis on sign is understandable, since most linguists view sign language to be as varied and complete as any oral language. One unique feature of sign is its ability to produce meaning from different visual aids simultaneously. Hands, facial expression, and body posture can all communicate together at once, whereas, with the exception of tone, oral language is primarily sequential.

While some countries are deeply influenced by ASL, many have sign languages with unique histories. For example, Nicaraguan sign language was standardized when the country's first school for the deaf opened. Interestingly, while the U.S. and the United Kingdom share the same written English language, their sign languages differ dramatically. Sign languages around the world contain grammar distinct from that of the written languages of their countries. And just like written and spoken languages, ASL and other sign languages evolve and change.

Interesting Links

This article is from the February 19, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...
  • Book Jacket: Havana
    Havana
    by Mark Kurlansky
    History with flavor...culture with spice...language with gusto...it would be hard to find a better ...
  • Book Jacket: Temporary People
    Temporary People
    by Deepak Unnikrishnan
    In this powerful and innovative collection of 28 short stories, Deepak Unnikrishnan presents a ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Manderley Forever
    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    If We Were Villains
    by M. L. Rio

    An intelligent and captivating story of the enduring power and passion of words.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -