By Nora Ellen Groce

From the 17th century to the early years of the 20 th, the inhabitants of Martha's winery manifested a really excessive fee of profound hereditary deafness. In stark distinction to the event of such a lot deaf humans in our personal society, the Vineyarders who have been born deaf have been so completely built-in into the way of life of the neighborhood that they weren't seen--and didn't see themselves--as handicapped or as a bunch aside. Deaf humans have been incorporated in all elements of existence, corresponding to city politics, jobs, church affairs, and social lifestyles. How was once this attainable?

On the winery, listening to and deaf islanders alike grew up talking signal language. This exact sociolinguistic model intended that the standard limitations to verbal exchange among the listening to and the deaf, which so isolate many deaf buyers, didn't exist.

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Extra info for Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard

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Until the early twentieth century, when the Cape Cod canal made it unnecessary to travel around Cape Cod by way of Nantucket Sound, this body of water was second only to the English Channel in the number of vessels that annually sailed through it. 6 But the sea took a heavy toll on Islanders. As Huntington (1969) pointed out, many of the headstones in Vineyard cemeteries are only markers, remembrances of men lost at sea. The journals of the Edgartown parsons Kingsbury and Thaxter often recorded three or four deaths when a ship, which may have been away for a year or two, came home.

This date falls at the very outer edge of current oral history, so most of the anecdotes in the following chapters concern deaf people up-Island rather than in Edgartown. ) Tisbury and Chilmark were predominantly Kentish towns from the outset, and from the first generation on, continuing inbreeding led to a rapid growth in the number of deaf individuals. While the average number of deaf people in the Island population as a whole was 1: 155, in Tisbury it was 1:49. In 1704 the first known deaf individual, Beulah Lambert, was born in Tisbury; the last one died in 1937.

Even the regional dialect is markedly different from that on the surrounding mainland; Islanders distinctly pronounce the final and the preconsonantal Irl, although the adjacent areas of Massachusetts and Rhode Island are Ir/-less, and they retain the New England short 101, long gone on most of the nearby mainland (Labov 1972). A number of lexical survivals, now absent from most of the rest of New England, are also still current in the Vineyard vocabulary, such as "spider" for frying pan, "tinker" for a device used to take a hot pan off the stove, "bannock" for a fried cornmeal cake, and "buttery" for pantry (Kurath 1970:23).

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