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For more than a quarter of a century, Ildefonso, a Mexican Indian, lived in total isolation, set apart from the rest of the world. He wasn't a political prisoner or a social recluse, he was simply born deaf and had never been taught even the most basic language. Susan Schaller, then a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, encountered him in a class for the deaf where she had been sent as an interpreter and where he sat isolated, since he knew no sign language. She found him obviously intelligent and sharply observant but unable to communicate, and she felt compelled to bring him to a comprehension of words. The book vividly conveys the challenge, the frustrations, and the exhilaration of opening the mind of a congenitally deaf person to the concept of language. This second edition includes a new chapter and afterword.
Foreword by Oliver Sacks
Chapter 18: Ildefonso's Chapter
Susan Schaller is a teacher of American Sign Language affiliated with the World Federation of the Deaf and the founder of In the Name of Deaf Adults (NaDA).
Oliver Sacks is a physician, best-selling author and professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. He has written ten books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.
Praise for the previous edition:
"A meditation on the wonders of language. . . . Susan Schaller's book is a tantalizing glimpse into unexplored territory. . . . Virtually nothing has been written about adults without language, but Ms. Schaller makes it clear that their numbers are greater than we think."
Lou Ann Walker, New York Times Book Review
"This poignant, astonishing, exciting case history touches on many linguistic, philosophic, and educational matters and raises questions not only about teaching the deaf but about the ways people learn."
"Her passionate, powerful book is both eloquent and elegant."
Andrea Barrett, Washington Post Book World
"At the level of sheer pleasure in reading, /i/A Man without Words//i/ is as gripping as a novel, eliciting great sympathy for both protagonist and author. . . . The question that drives it—what is it like to be without language?—should be of interest to any reflective person, and it is one of the great scientific questions of all time."
Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct