Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

‘Deaf by God’ tried in Old Bailey records

06.05.2008
Deaf people on trial were granted the right to an interpreter as early as 1725, according to Old Bailey records examined by UCL (University College London) scientists. The use of family and friends to interpret court proceedings later switched to deaf teachers and eventually written testimony, which may have disadvantaged the less educated ‘deaf and dumb’ at the very time that British Sign Language was emerging.

The study, published in the latest issue of the journal Sign Language Studies, charts the history of signing and interpreting in court proceedings pulled from Old Bailey records online. UCL researchers examined 30 trials in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries where the defendant or a key witness was deaf or dumb.

Although officially the term “sign language interpreter” was coined in the late twentieth century, from the 1700s family, friends, missionaries, teachers, and later social workers undertook this role in court. The first record of a court interpreter appears in 1771 in the case of James Saytuss, otherwise known as “Dumb O Jemmy”, who was tried and convicted of stealing, amongst other things, two silver candlesticks and a pair of women’s shoes. A person whose name is not given, but with whom James had formerly lived as a servant, was sworn interpreter and used signs to explain the proceedings to James.

In the early nineteenth century a shift occurred from the use of people with personal knowledge of the deaf person, to the use of teachers in deaf schools. The first school for deaf children in Britain was established in Edinburgh in 1760. It later moved to Hackney in London, where it became the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb in 1792.

The creation of such schools gave deaf children their first opportunity to come together, enabling them to fully develop a sign language and create their own community.

At the same time deaf people began to present their evidence in written form, presumably a reflection of the setting up of formal education. In parallel with this, court proceedings changed: with no requirement that defendants be able to understand the proceedings or evidence against them, interpreters were no longer sworn in, and they were not described as interpreters. Deaf defendants who were unable to submit written testimony may have been considered not to have full access to a language; those who had not been educated would have communicated through gestures or home signs; thus, their status may have declined paradoxically as opportunities for education increased.

Professor Bencie Woll, Director of the UCL Deafness, Cognition and Language Research (DCAL) Centre says: “With the release of Old Bailey records online, we have been able to explore the treatment of ‘deaf and dumb’ people by the legal system in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many of the issues raised are pertinent today, including finding interpreters for signing deaf people in the courts. In many cases, family and friends were used as well as employers (masters to deaf servants). Later, we see teachers from the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, founded in 1792, being brought in to communicate in the courts.

“The central criminal court appears to have had quite an enlightened view, even though there is little evidence that these people "dumb by the visitation of god" were using a fully fledged sign language. The court usually held no objections to signing, gesturing and motioning, provided that this could be interpreted to the satisfaction of the jury.

This rationale still operates largely today, where people are brought in to interpret for deaf people without necessarily being qualified or registered with a professional body.

“British Sign Language can trace its roots to the creation of formal deaf education, the irony being that as deaf children received greater education and as BSL became a full language, the status of ‘deaf and dumb’ people appears to have declined in the courts, just as their language and community were beginning to develop.”

The earliest British account of signing dates back to a wedding in 1575, where the groom used signs during the ceremony. Samuel Pepys’s account of the great fire of London in 1666 refers to a ‘dumb’ boy who describes the fire using “strange signs”. This ‘home signing’, as it is known, was an ad hoc gesturing system developed by deaf children which would not have been passed down generations or across deaf communities.

Jenny Gimpel | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ucl.ac.uk

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Amazingly flexible: Learning to read in your thirties profoundly transforms the brain
26.05.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften

nachricht Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>