11 January 2011

prosecuting a language-less man

According to this article, the court system is having a hard time prosecuting a man who has little or no ability to communicate in any known language.

The comments posted by readers raise some interesting questions. How could he drive from Las Vegas to Philadelphia if he could not read highway signs? And here's a question from myself: Why don't they try drawing cartoons or using computer animated images to communicate with him, instead of insisting that manual sign language is the only option?


Nissa Annakindt said...

If the guy was literally language-less, as in the case of a person who was a feral child and undiscovered until adulthood, I'd imagine he'd have to be found not guilty.

But on the other hand if the guy had limitations on his ability to communicate but knew what was going on perhaps he has little motivation to communicate (and prove his competence to stand trial....)

michael farris said...

You need to look up "A Man without Words" by Susan Schaller (1991) if you haven't seen it already.

Language deaf adults (LDA's) often have some ability to communicate thru gesture and pantomime and are surprisingly resourceful.

I couldn't get your link to work but found another source for the basic facts of the story. As for why they're sticking with signing - the protocals for communicating with LDA's are more worked out.

Trying anything else has them starting from scratch which is going to be even more time consuming and ponderous. It might be worth exploring alternate methods (in non-crisis mode) but until something is worked out you go with what you know has the potential to sort of work.

Interestingly (as described in the reference I mentioned) the critical age hypothesis kind of doesn't apply to sign languages. The author (a hearing interpreter) managed to teach an LDA reasonably fluent ASL (and there are other cases). But it did take a long time and a lot of effort.

Also (while I'm here) there's some anecdotal evidence on the therapeutic value of signing. One example is this guy:


In his own words: "I have both Asperger's and Tourette's syndromes. I love signing as it relieves me from my tics. If there are people on the autistic spectrum, signing at a young age is a wonderful way to help with emotion and communication, and signing will enable them improve these skills in later life, I'd recommend it."

FWIW of those who sign songs on youtube he seems the most .... deaf in ways I can't really articulate.

In my case learning some sign languages (some ASL, more Polish Sign Language) made active reading of people's non-verbal communication about 10 times better. You get to a certain point and you just .... perceive body language and other non-verbal cues with a lot more clarity.