Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Which is first? EAR-CLOSE sign or EAR-MOUTH sign for DEAF?

It is like asking which comes out first, the chicken or the egg? Barb DiGi provides her analysis of the deaf sign origin in her short and sweet vlog. You can click on Jared's blog to see the clip of George Veditz's production of the sign, DEAF, that occured in 1913. So which DEAF sign do you think is the oldest? Is it right to call those who use the sign CLOSE-DEAF a racist? Or an audist for that matter?


Toby Welch said...

Good vlog! Thank you for sharing with us. Wait and see what other has to say. Keep vlogging!

Cy said...

Ah. VALIDATION is here! That was what I was asking for! Carl did not offer any real validation. You delivered! THANK YOU! BINGO.

Deaf community THANKs YOU, Barb!

asldeb said...

I understand Carl's perspective. Actually gallaudet students started first, not Carl. Audist or audism workshops were everywhere at Gallaudet before JKF was chosen to be 9th president. Deaf study at Gallaudet about deaf history is awesome and very interesting. I think Milan Congress caused deaf people to be confused, tried to destroy ASL, and destroyed their career and identity. Glad, ASL is still there forever no matter where we D/deaf and hard of hearing people come from like deaf and hearing people did at Martha Vineyard years ago.

IamMine said...

I'd like to know if that's a fact, though.

How do we know for sure that it was the oralists who came up with this sign?

There are some signs for one word, like different locations.

I now understand but to automatically calling a person racist or audist for using that sign FOR YEARS and feeling proud of it.

I'm sure that if they understood the history (if that is for sure, that is), then they would drop it.

However, I still stand that calling a person audist or racist because they do not agree with an idea is out of line.

I don't care if you want to call yourself alien or purple DeafMute person, I'll respect you as much as the next person who does not wish to be called that, but just a Deaf person.

It's okay to discuss that as long as it's not attacking a person personally.

I'd love to know for sure the origin of Deaf+Close sign.

John F.Egbert said...

Thanks for your information about the EAR-MOUTH sign.

I learned sign language when I entered Gallaudet and picked up signs from deaf students from all over the country at one place, Gallaudet. Some of my signs have some S.E.E. flavor but it is a habit that I need to improve.

That sign, EAR-MOUTH sign, and Ella's Vlog about Deaf Mute got me to realize now. So the sign, EAR-MOUTH, I actually have been saying Deaf Mute all along.

John F. Egbert

Anonymous said...

I undy about few different DEAF sign language and from ear to mouth is usually to sign language but from ear to outside of mouth look like old fashion and also you think it may call mute but heariung invented it for all mute but we don't need it anyway just saiud DEAF from ear to mouth simple it mean cant hear or cant speak IT sound wonderful ASl

IamMine said...

Point taken, Barb.

Barb DiGi said...

So far I do not have any facts how did the sign EAR-CLOSE initiated and by whom. But we must understand that EAR-CLOSE sign actually shifted away from EAR-MOUTH sign after George Veditz's filming but who was responsible for creating that sign remained a question. That's why we cannot pinpoint those who use that sign are audists/racists. I know certain deaf individuals who use that sign come with pride or as a formal way to present that sign, not intentionally because they are bigots.

My point, IamMine, is that the sign EAR-MOUTH means ear nada and speak nada so when translating to English it would become the word deaf-mute.

Jessica said...

I have been switching between reading DeafRead and doing my homework online.

I had to really smile when I saw your vlog! That is what I was trying to say about the impact from the Milan Resolution in the 50 or so years between 1880 to 1930 and expand on what Carl was trying to say. You said it perfectly-just because any of us use the ear-close sign, doesn't mean the person herself is audist.

I have to admit at first I was puzzled when Carl said that it was racist but then he explained again in response to Cy, it was like AH, I have to look at it in a different way.

Still a ways to go for more information.


Anonymous said...

You look so lovely. HOT BABE Rules Internet

michele said...

Yeah, how about if we could ask old deaf timers to see what they know about this sign, if they know who invented this sign and all that, I think they are due to some credit for us to find out more about this sign. I'm sure there are deafies out there that are possibly in their 90s or even 100 years old, if you know them, pleas e do us a favor to ask them about this sign and see what kind of response they give out and then share it with us. I'm still waiting for Carl to submit his proof as to why he thinks this sign is racist and where he got the information.

michele said...

Regarding to my comment above, also we could ask them who invented this sign. We may be surprised at the answer they may give out. I will try to see if I can locate some of them and ask them myself.

mishkazena said...

I also interpret the current deaf sign to indicate no hear, no talk, but never really gave it a thought until the heated discussion over the sign ear closed, If so, it's ironic some of us recoil at the word deaf-mute but yet for decades, we have been using the ear/mouth sign without realizing it actually stands for deaf-mute.

Barb, thanks for catching that ear/mouth sign used by Vedtiz in the 1913 clip. Isn't technology amazing as we are still discussing Vedtiz's signs ninety-four years later.

We still don't know when the sign ear-closed started.

brenster said...

it's good that you discussed on this topic. i already understood what carl tried to present in his vlog. while i don't speak for him, i don't feel that we, the users, who use EAR-CLOSE sign are audists but that sign is a product of audism. i really am glad that carl presented this point (EAR-CLOSE sign), because it made us analyze both signs (Ella's DEAF-MUTE and EAR-CLOSE) further back to old times. ever since ella's discussion on DEAF-MUTE, i have wondered about the origins of this sign and why the word "deaf-mute" was discontinued, but we still sign DEAF-MUTE. i applaud both ella and carl for their strength to provoke our thoughts even though they knew that would make some people upset. i suggest everyone to listen each other with open-mindness. i am in progress to start vlogging and i know i will present some issues that might make some people upset - but that does not mean we have to be "nice-nice" all the time. we need to put everything out in open in order to get things move forward into better understanding of ourselves regardless of our diverse backgrounds. anyway, great vlogs between you, cy and carl on this issue.

Carl Schroeder said...


You're a gem!

I could vividly remember when I first saw this EAR-CLOSE sign. It was at Gallaudet where I went to watch a well claimed presentation by the Gallaudet Modern Dance Company. I was still in high school that time. The dancers were performing a song (I thought it was a poem), "They Told Me I Am Deaf." At first I found it somewhat strange that the EAR-CLOSE sign was used in the dance. After the presentation, I spoke with different people and they told me they disapproved the sign because they could hear some. Deaf people do have residual hearing, they pointed out.
Upon my return to my school, I brought up the EAR-CLOSE controversy to my Deaf teacher, Mark Wait (bless his soul), and he explained that the EAR-MOUTH sign means a Deaf mute. It was he who explained that Gallaudet began as the National Deaf Mute College, which was to my shock. Mark Wait went on to tell us that in 1800s Deaf people were proud of their accomplishments. He accused the invention of telephone (Alexander Graham Bell, of course) for destroying Deaf people's identity. In order to be successful, he advised us, we were to learn to speak. It was how he did, too, and he thought teaching is the greatest gift he could offer to us. I remembered asking him about those who couldn't talk. He replied they were stuck because hearing people wanted to hear them.
It was no wonder that the Gallaudet Modern Dance Company was very successful, because they performed the EAR-CLOSE sign very well. I will try to explain it in words here: The dancers reach their arm out to the left to signify "THEY" and then they step one leg backward and sign "TELL-ME." Slowly, they turn themselves to the audience, moving their index finger to their ear and then spread their arms as if they are eagle soaring in the sky. Slowly they kneel on the floor, closing their hands and bowing their heads down. How exciting?

jwomick said...

honest with u "deaf" really meaning which is can't hear or talk or both as in dictonary said it so we dont' have to used "deaf-mute" it's more old fashion word anyone know what deaf meaning so. that's my opinion we don't have use deaf-mute becuase deaf is same word meaning. but if people who is can't talk called them mute that's what i noticed on movie, tv, many people talk about can't talk as called them mute. is that make sense?

Joshua Womick

drmzz said...

That doesn't prove anything. Anyone can invent a connection to that alt. sign. Kids. It still means very deaf to me. I'm 4th generational deaf and I've seen many STONE DEAF sign that. They have common sense not to adapt to something that indicates oralism or this new invented tag, audism. You just gave Carl a free "get out of jail" card to keep on insulting people reinforced by his narcissism. I need not to be insulted audist or racist by this moron and anyone else anyway. Thanks a lot Barb.

Anonymous said...

Carl, the term EAR-CLOSE still being used by Deaf people in this country. I dont see any history or any evidence about being oppresed by hearing counterparts years ago. Can you show us the actual evident that tells us that it is "whatever-ism" you are implying?

The Coyote

Jean Boutcher said...


Glad you got it. I am living proof.
My deaf mother was educated at Maryland School for the Deaf (1920s-1970s). She moved an index finger from the cheekbone to the cheek. That sign I picked up from her before I entered school. From my lifelong observations, some ASLish people would use a very strong emphasis when asked whether a John Doe is deaf or not. They would balloon the mouth and the cheeks when their index finger moves from the ear to the mouth. Example:


Speaking of "deaf-close", I have observed that those who have lost their hearing late in life would be wont to use a sign, "deafened",
"deaf-shut", or "deaf-close." Davila and Jordan, both late-deafened, mouth, "deaf" when they sign "deaf-close".

If I remember correctly, Veditz used a small and slightly invisible "H" handshape from ear to mouth. I have yet to watch Edward Miner Gallaudet. Has anyone out there seen EMG film?

drmzz said...

"DEAF-MOUTH STRONG SIGN" is just another sign of emphasis. My mother came from Frederick campus too.

BEG said...

I'm sorry, but logically speaking the Veditz clip only demonstrates the age of the DEAF-MUTE sign. It does not prove that DEAF-CLOSE did not exist at that time.

I have no idea of the provenance of either sign. I'm using the signs the people are using around me. In fact, I didn't even think about the DEAF-MUTE sign until after the "reclaim deaf-mute" discussion at which point, I wondered whether or not others would consider it acceptable for me to use DEAF-MUTE to refer to myself. Oh, but now if I look at any other sign that might fit me better, I'm a closet audist?

In the end I think we all need to be a bit more cautious about accusing each other willy nilly of conscious or unconscious audism. It's unnecessary, and it's divisive. We are a small enough community as it is. Why are we pitting ourselves against each other?

ASL said...

I admired old 2 sign language (EAR-MOUTH and EAR-CLOSE) We are glad that we know historic. So both are good sign EAR-MOUTH and EAR-CLOSE because it is exist right now. I would sign EAR-CLOSE that I am DEAF, some of you would sign EAR-MOUTH then it would be you DEAF-MUTE.

EAR-CLOSE is useful right now and it is good for us being DEAF as well as EAR-MOUTH for DEAF-MUTE

Barb DiGi said...

Hi Folks,

I don't intend to label anyone who is an audist or whatever when using the sign EAR-CLOSE. We don't have the facts about how and when this sign started. I am just presenting my theory and I am not taking any sides. Just discussing possible theories. I would appreciate if anyone of you have found the hard facts. It is healthy to discuss and analyze together that we are able to gain more awareness. Please see Cy's website
about her perspective on how the sign EAR-CLOSE started.

Mike, I respect that your family use that sign with pride. I am a 2nd generation deaf and I have seen some of my deaf parents' elder friends using that. I am just questioning whether if this sign has to do with turning away from mute part or like Cy said that the school for the deaf influenced this sign.

Anonymous said...

Hello there Barb,

Yes, that's it. That's what I said in Carl's and Cy's comments that I like the sign for deaf, using an index finger from mouth to ear because we all deaf people can't speak well and hear well just like hearing people, not 100 percent exactly like hearing people.

I can speak fairly well for a deaf person but not SO perfect. I can hear fairly well but not SO perfect and I still call myself DEAF, not hard of hearing.

Let's help to make the sign for deaf, mouth-ear sign or ear-mouth become a nationwide or nternational.

Mike, I think you hold your grudge against Carl. Please let it go. That's why you refuse to open up your mind and try to understand why Carl wants the sign, ear-close to be removed. It is time. Please let go of your hard feeling against Carl. Believe me, you will feel better.

It is time for us to make it one sign language for "deaf". I hope everybody will go for mouth-ear sign or ear-mouth sign. Either way work just fine by me. What about you all?

Deaf Pride!

Jessica said...

Dr. Mzzz..

That is true, we actually don't know all that for a fact anyway. One thing I noticed that Carl said in his vlog was "I think..." So to me, sounds like he is making a guess too. Barb also says that it is a theory.

I guess that led me to wonder myself after watching that 1930 film and the signing style. The sign is just one small part of the whole question I was thinking about. That is why it got me curious to look at different parts of Deaf history and how that makes us who we are today. Like Jay in his vlog talked about history's influence. Again Deaf Read gives me a way to look at something from different angles than just from my own.

I would like to look into it more from a historical and sociological point of view when I get a chance to. Right now I really need to focus on my studies. I have a GRE exam coming up at the end of this month. Wish me luck.

I agree, we do not need to label anyone. I will rather focus on the facts and the questions we have than thinking of labels for other people. Noone should feel wrong for sharing their opinions and feelings. That is why I liked Barb emphasis that noone should be labeled for whichever sign they choose to use. I can't agree with that more. The person can decide what labels they want. Example: "I am a realist", "I am a pragmatic", or whatever rather than "You are a ____ because you said that."

Thanks all for your views and all. You are teaching me something new everyday. :)

Anonymous said...

The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers

Letter from George W. Veditz to Alexander Graham Bell, December 29, 1909

National Association Of the Deaf (there was no Deaf-Mute)

mishkazena said...

Check Patti's blog

She had determined that Veditz had also used 'ear-closed' sign in the videoclip

Deaf Niches said...


Why don't you ask Cliff, the oldest deaf centurian who lives in Rochester, about this? It would be a fascinating project for you or for your class to sit down and have an interview with him about how the sign language evolved since his childhood, hmmm??? Also, Dr. Mowl's mother, Betty... I believe she is in the middle to late 80's now.

They could help share the info with you and us on what they saw the old people signed when they were young, hmmm??? That would be awesome!

Jean Boutcher said...

drmzz said...
"DEAF-MOUTH STRONG SIGN" is just another sign of emphasis. My mother came from Frederick campus too. "

What year did your mother attend? What is her name? Maybe I know her. I was transferred from an oral school (St. Francis Xavier's) to Md. School). My email address is


Jean Boutcher said...

Barb asked "Which is first? EAR-CLOSE sign or EAR-MOUTH".

Simply put, senso comune tells us that EAR-MOUTH may most likely have been the first sign as well as coined by hearing parents of deaf children. Will explain elsewhere here.

EAR-CLOSE was unquestionably coined by proficiently signing deaf people to describe the late-deafened people.

Back to square one about "EAR-MOUTH," the reason for me to theorise that it must have been coined by hearing parents. My grandmother who had never heard of sign language per se literally invented a home sign or a gesture to my mother, "You cannot go out alone because you cannot hear and speak." All children are brainwashed by their parents "That is a 'chair,' that is a table,
'that is a dog,' ad infinitum.

Senso comune tells us that EAR-MOUTH was first coined before EAR-CLOSE. The latter was coined by an experienced signer. That is to say that EAR-MOUTH was the earliest gesture to refer to a person who could not hear and speak. It is not that difficult to imagine when turning the clock back to 2,500 years ago.