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American Sign Language:  Laurent Clerc:

Sprenger, Ben M.


Laurent Clerc was born in Paris, France in 1785. At the age of one, he fell out of a chair and suffered the loss of his sense of hearing. Hitting his head on the floor, left him with a scar on his face that became sort of a name for him when he would slide his fingers down his face. Despite the scar, he always had the belief that he was born deaf, also without a sense of smell (R. Moore, 1952).
     At the age of twelve his uncle decided to take him to the Paris School for the Deaf. As a student, Clerc settled in very well, and achieved great grades. This school was the first time he was introduced to sign language, also his first time meeting another deaf person, Jean Massiue. Laurent Clerc could not speak before he came to this school, but here he was taught from a speech teacher that he was not fond of in any way, state or form. Sometimes while pronouncing words he would accidentally mix up the d's and t's. His speech teacher would smack him in the face for this. Eventually Clerc was quit emotionally scarred from these smacking incidents and his speech class that he vowed to never use his voice again, and he never did. Regardless of what had happened at the school, Clerc stayed at the school and taught other students first as a tutor during 1805, and eventually became a teacher in 1806 (R. Moore, 1952).
     On a trip to England in 1815, Clerc made the acquaintance of Rev. Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet who would later come to Paris with him and study how to educated deaf people. 1816 was when Gallaudet showed up and persuaded Clerc to teach him sign language to bring back to America so he could teach a young girl named Alice Cogswell. During the fifty-two days of sailing to America, Gallaudet would teach Clerc more of the English language, and it was where Clerc refined his understanding of how to read and write it (L.C.N.D.E.C).
     Clerc's coming to America would make him one of the most prominent deaf men in our history. Arriving in New York in 1817, along with Gallaudet, Clerc founded the first American School for the Deaf, located in Hartford, Connecticut. As the first deaf teacher in America, Clerc taught thirty-one students in the opening year of the school, with Alice Cogswell being the first student. During his forty-one years of teaching he traveled the United States helping to establish many residential schools for the deaf in Michigan, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Alabama to list a few. He devoted all of his life to this school, which was very successful until 1858, when Clerc was over-taken with sickness. He retired from teaching at the Hartford School with a generous pension at the age of seventy-three, and then died eleven years later at eighty-four (L.C.N.D.E.C).
     Laurent Clerc was the first deaf person to stand before congress, as well as the President of the United States. His best left impression on today is that about fifty-eight percent of American sign language, came from Laurent Clerc's teachings. (L.C.N.D.E.C)
There are many programs today that help people that are deaf with schooling, treatment and life's activities. The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, sponsored by Gallaudet University is one of theses places (A. Goodstein, 1979).


Robert Moore. "Laurent Clerc." Comptons Encyclopedia. Chicago. 1952

L.C.N.D.E.C. "Laurent Clerc: Apostle to the Deaf People of the New World."

Goodstein, A. & Walworth, M. Interesting Deaf Americans. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University. 1979.



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