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A Man Without Words [Paperback]

by Susan Schaller
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)


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Book Description

August 29, 1995 0520202651 978-0520202658 New Ed
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.

A Man without Words vividly conveys the challenge, the frustrations, and the exhilaration of opening the mind of a congenitally deaf person to the concept of language.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Teacher Schaller's astonishing case history of a deaf, languageless adult student touches on linguistic, philosophic and educational matters.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-- Schaller was neither a teacher of the deaf nor a linguist, but she had learned American Sign Language (ASL) and enjoyed interpreting for the deaf. Still, nothing had prepared her for Ildefonso, a languageless adult, born deaf and lacking instruction in even the simplest communication. With infinite patience and determination, Schaller taught this intense, lonely, but apparently intelligent man to grasp not just signs, but ideas and words. Their breakthrough to language is most spectacular, reminiscent of Keller's experience with "water." Schaller's frustrations were similar to Ildefonso's as she struggled to bring language to him; they were equals as they achieved the impossible. YAs will relate to this appealing story, full of care, concern, and curiosity as it taps basic emotions regarding "words" that people share, especially while overcoming handicaps. --Mary T. Gerrity, Queen Anne School, Upper Marlboro, MD
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (August 29, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520202651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520202658
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #700,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
(15)
4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative study of a languageless person February 28, 2000
Format:Paperback
If you like the always-probing, thoughtful case studies of Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Seeing Voices), you'll find this encounter between an interpreter for the deaf and a young deaf man with no language to be moving and provocative. The standard cliches about language, thinking, and development (e.g., you can't learn a language after age 5 or 7 or 14; you can't think abstractly without language; and language is what makes us distinctively human) are challenged and exploded by Schaller's account.
The book is also simply and beautifully written. Not a wrong note in it.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A chance meeting brings an adult Mayan Indian who knew no oral nor sign language together with the author, a sign language interpreter.
In a story as remarkable as that of young Helen Keller, Idilfonso breaks out of 28 years of silence into a world of sign language.
Schaller's book raises insightful questions about the nature of human language and the way language shapes our capacity to perceive our world.
A significant book important to all those working with people who use sign language.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Made me question long-accepted beliefs January 27, 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Like a lot of university educated folks, I heard in Psych 101 that once you hit your teens, your capacity to learn languages takes such a nosedive that if you haven't learned by then, you'll never be better than "Me Tarzan, you Jane" no matter how hard you try. I'm not ashamed of accepting this "language expiration date" -- there was no reason not to, and besides, it tracked with my own frustration learning foreign languages. For decades, I accepted this Psych 101 nugget without question.
When I started reading A Man Without Words, I had no idea my old Psych 101 nugget's days were numbered. I heard about the book as something a fan of Oliver Sacks would enjoy, and I associated it with Oliver Sack's book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, about neurological dysfunction, not Sacks's Hearing Voices, about the deaf. I assumed until I started reading that the "man without words" was aphasic -- had brain damage that prevented him from understanding language. Turns out, though, the book's namesake is deaf and poor and had simply, at 27, never been taught any language. No one had ever bothered. Susan Schaller then proceeded to overturn the Psych 101 sacred cow I never knew I had by describing how she taught this young man the beginnings of ASL over the course of a few weeks. Then, so I couldn't think of him as a freak or fraud, Schaller goes on to show that many deaf people receive no language training and can also be taught to sign long after the Psych 101 "language expiration date."
Schaller claims that almost every deaf teacher, and most hearing teachers, of ASL know of adults who have grown up without language.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing case study with enormous implications... March 3, 2002
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've read many of the previous case studies of languagelessness in children. We studied Genie and the Wild Boy of Aveyron in an education class on language and it's place in education. This was my introduction to this particular group of disenfranchised, neglected, and abused people...except I thought it was all children usually discovered in late childhood (around age 13). From my neuroscience classes I remember being taught that the brain continues neuronal growth (to targeted synapses in the brain) until about age ten, then begins to cut back. This was supposedly an explanation for why language learning is so difficult later in life. So coming across this book, with its story concerning adults with no obvious psychiatric problems (just a physical difference in lacking hearing) who had managed to survive to adulthood with no language, came as a complete surprise.
This book got put aside as I had to read other books for school and work, but I picked it up again and finished it. Schaller basically is providing a qualitative study, a case study, to draw attention to this apparent problem. This method of educational research is used more and more in writing dissertations, and I actually didn't recognize what it was until I took a qualitative research class myself. The writing and book tend at first to repeat itself. I am not sure what Schaller was doing in writing this way. Perhaps the book had to be a certain length or she felt readers might not pay attention to the seriousness of this problem for Ildefonso and other adults without language. This repetition caused the first half of the book to drag a bit.
After I picked the book up again, I finished it in two days.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An incredibly compelling story -- WOW!!! January 1, 2005
Format:Paperback
Wow! A must-read for parents of deaf children, linguists, and SLP's. The author expertly describes the isolating effects life without a shared language. She tells the story of a deaf man who grew up in a poor town in Mexico. The man was never provided any education and was never taught how to communicate. At the start of the story, the man uses only gestures and miming to express himself. He lacks the concept of "language" --a system of symbols (spoken words, manual signs, or written text) that can be used to express an individual's thoughts & experiences and be understood by a whole community of people. The author recounts her struggle to figure out how to teach language and the man's struggle to learn. In addition, she clearly articulates the need for social change, the need to develop resources & programs for teaching the many languageless deaf adults who exist today. While I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I found that the numerous quotes throughout the book detract from the overall story. In this respect, the book seems somewhat like a hybrid --it is a positive & triumphant story of two people embarking upon a difficult journey with no map to guide them, AND it is an informal dissertation on the needs of an overlooked segment of the deaf population. Either way, it is a great story and is well-worth reading.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars New Perspective
I had heard about this book on Radio Lab and it was a topic that intrigued me so I had to pick it up. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than expected
I was required to read this book for a psychology class and was dreading reading it, like all books I read for school. I was happily surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Cerah
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book
A fascinating description of language acquisition in adults who were raised without standardized language. Read more
Published 10 months ago by tiffany glass
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful.
This book was inspirational, educational and very eye-opening. I highly recommend it to anyone, and I will go beyond that to say that I think everyone should read it.
Published on September 8, 2011 by Emily Rosa
4.0 out of 5 stars It's really a language!
I have heard that sign language is a real language so many times, but this book A Man Without Words really got the message across to me. Read more
Published on March 7, 2011 by Dorothy Joy Lubawy
5.0 out of 5 stars Amaized
I couldn't put this book down. At one point I cried, I felt for the young mans frustration and cheered as he came to understand language. Read more
Published on September 6, 2010 by Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing and Fabulous!
This was an amazing book -- if you have ever had a heart to work with the Deaf population, or to teach minority groups that have been declared "hopeless cases," this book will pull... Read more
Published on February 10, 2010 by Occasional Shopper
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
I bought this to read for a class, but was taken aback by how good this book was. An excellent read for anyone.
Published on July 21, 2007 by Marcia
5.0 out of 5 stars wow!
This book really opened my eyes to the world of adults without a communication system. I just took for granted the fact that everyone had a way of communicating when in fact, this... Read more
Published on October 3, 2001
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