In this extraordinary study, Dr Sacks gives the general reader a penetrating insight into the world of the deaf. He permits us entry into the silent, at times strange, though culturally rich world of the congenitally and pre-lingually deaf. As someone who has had no previous experience or knowledge in this area, for me this text opened a whole new area of culture and history that is continually growing and developing. Sacks' explores the nature of language, touching upon Noam Chomsky's paradigm-shifting studies, "Syntactic Structures", "Cartesian Linguistics" and Language of Mind", where he proposes his theory that language is innate, lying dormant until it is made active through human interaction and culture. Sacks connects these theories to the pre-lingual deaf and its implications and manifestations. We are also given a history lesson on the language of SIGN, how it has developed, why it was jettisoned, out of ignorant prejudice, in the late nineteenth century, and its miraculous come back in the twentieth century. Through Sacks' concise and straightforward prose, he connects us to the foreign world of another language not depended on speech, its intricacies and its wonder, and how those of us who have the ability to hear and to verbalize, all too often take language for granted. He also makes clear the sophistication of Sign as a form of legitimate communication, its grammatical foundations and its many nuances, and how, in some ways, it is a superior form of active exchange between people. In chapter three, Sacks tells us about the cultural breakthrough at Gallaudet University in March 1988, where after massive student protest, the school literally closed down, the first ever deaf president of the university was appointed. Sacks witnessed this social changing event first hand, which in the end affected him more than he realized,
"I had to see this all for myself before I could be moved from my previous "medical" view of deafness (as a condition, a deficit, that had to be "treated") to a "cultural" view of the deaf as forming a community with a complete language and culture of its own."
Indeed this entire text has changed my view that deafness is not simply a condition or human deficit, but another way of being in the world. In fact, the deaf, with their shared language are forming a world community and culture crossing all barriers. And as Dr Sacks points out, in this way, "...the deaf have something to teach us."