Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Many years before he invented the telephone, in the late 1800s in Scotland, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) was enlisted as an assistant to his father, a speech teacher. Bell the elder was responsible for developing what he called "a system of visible language", composed of symbols depicting the actions of the vocal organs in action. He referred to the system as a "universal alphabet", and insisted that his letters, "instead of being arbitrary characters", were "symbolic representations of the organs of speech and of the way in which they were put together in uttering sound." Alexander would frequently participate in his father's "visible language" demonstrations, and the two travelled to Montreal, Canada to "teach" the language to small crowds of scientists and teachers. Young Bell's role was to "play" the sounds, to act as speaker for his father's records. When the child left the room, an audience member suggested a sound. Bell pere would then "write" it in his system of visible language (which resembled vibrating wave patterns), and Alexander, returning to the room, would decipher it. As he recalled, "it was just as easy to spell the sound of a cough, or a sneeze or a click to a horse, as a sound that formed an element of human speech." The nonlinguistic noises always attracted the greatest applause.
Alexander Graham Bell's mother and his wife Mabel were both deaf.