Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Deaf-mute was a historic reference made by hearing people to identify a person who was deaf and did not know how to speak. It is a reference that dates to ancient Greek writing of the 7th century BCE. It continues to be used to refer to deaf people, mainly within a historical context, to indicate deaf people who have some degree of speaking ability, but choose not to speak because of the negative or unwanted attention atypical voices sometimes attract. Additionally, it is used to refer to other hearing people in jest, to chide, or to invoke an image of someone who refuses to employ common sense or who is unreliable. "Deaf and dumb," "semi-deaf" and "semi-mute" are other historic references to deaf people. Of these latter examples, only "deaf and dumb" prevails as a reference. There are connotations of insensitivity to deaf people concerning these terms of reference and for this reason the prevailing terms are generally looked upon as insulting, inaccurate or socially and politically incorrect. In Europe and western society, all deaf people are taught to speak with varying outcomes of ability or degrees of fluency. The simple identity of "deaf" has been embraced by the community of signing deaf people since the foundations of public deaf education in the 18th century and remains the preferred term of reference or identity today.
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