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Book Review: A Man Without Words by Susan Schaller

A Man Without WordsA Man Without Words by Susan Schaller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Man Without Words. A man without language. Not just the lack of language, but the lack of a concept of language. No common means of communication, no idea that everything around us in the world, and a whole invisible world of non-tangibles (emotions, actions, tenses) has been given a name. Think for a moment what that would be like, to reach adulthood and be in an incomprehensible and lonely world. A world governed by seemingly arbitrary rules.

While working as a sign language translator Susan Schaller encountered such a man: Idefonso. A Man Without Words is the story of how she worked with him and taught him his first language. This personal account is a pleasure to read and through the course of the book you will find yourself deeply moved by the lonliness of Indefonso’s world and the sheer tenacity and intelligence of this man who simply would not rest until he had learned how to communicate.

Aside from the story of Susan and Ildefonso, there is also a wider impact in terms of the Deaf culture. Throughout the book Susan Schaller shows a real understanding and respect for Deaf culture which most hearing persons lack, even those who do speak sign language of some sort. Reading this book has given me a better understanding of Deaf culture, and the fierce pride that exists there.

This book is also interesting from a developmental psychology point of view. Although it lacks the detail of a full psychological case study, there are insights here that shine new light on the language vs thought debate and the revelation that languageless individuals are not nearly as rare as many professionals seem to think.

All in all a great book that tells a fascinating and moving story. Definately one I am proud to have on my shelf!

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