Notions Of The Deaf And Dumb Before Instruction, Especially In Regard To Religious Subjects -- By: Harvey P. Peet
BSac 12:47 (July 1855) p. 559
Notions Of The Deaf And Dumb Before Instruction, Especially
In Regard To Religious Subjects
There are, we suppose, few reading men who have not met with that curious anecdote, transmitted to us by Herodotus,1 of the plan devised by an ancient king of Egypt (Psammetichus) to ascertain what was the original language of mankind, by causing two infants to be nurtured in such strict seclusion that, no words being uttered in their hearing, they could not learn a language in the usual mode, by imitation, and, it was taken for granted, must return to the original speech of man. The sagacious monarch seems to have contented himself with obtaining a single word of the primitive language. The word bec (or becco), which, after some time, the children uttered when their attendant came in (some moderns have plausibly argued that they expressed hunger by calling for their foster-mother, a she goat, by imitating the bleating of which, a sound like bee may have been produced), this word bec being on inquiry found ,to be good Phrygian for bread, the Egyptians thenceforward, waiving their own previous claim to be the most ancient race of men, admitted the Phrygians to be the oldest of nations; and their language the primitive speech of man.
We can never read this story without believing that it was part of the royal philosopher’s design to ascertain also what was the original religion of mankind, though, on account of the failure
BSac 12:47 (July 1855) p. 560
of any satisfactory result on that point, this part of the experiment was hushed up.
It seems to be some such feeling as that of the old Egyptian king, that children, cut off from intellectual commerce with mankind, must have an instinctive language, and innate ideas of religion, that is at the bottom of the curiosity so generally felt, and the more strongly among the most intellectual and reflecting, to know what ideas the deaf and dumb have before instruction, and in what mode they express their ideas; for in the case of each child who comes into the world without the sense of hearing, and is brought up among persons unaccustomed to communicate by gestures, the experiment of Psammetichus, as every intelligent reader will perceive, both in regard to language and religion, is tried over again. It is to be hoped the greater light we now possess will enable us to draw more careful and rational conclusions than he arrived at.
Many, perhaps most, of the popular notions respecting the intellectual and moral condition of the uneducated deaf and dumb, are as wide of the truth as would be our conjectures respecting the religion, language, and in...
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