June 27, 1986

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

Author Affiliations

National Technical Institute for the Deaf Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology


by Nora Ellen Groce, 169 pp, with illus, $17.50, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1985.

JAMA. 1986;255(24):3427-3428. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370240097055

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The title of this book bespeaks the major themes of the author. It is, to begin with, a scholarly investigation of an unusually large incidence of hereditary deafness that occurred on the island of Martha's Vineyard from its colonial settlement until the early 20th century. The true importance of this book, however, is implied in the phrase "Everyone here spoke sign language," for Groce has provided us with a verified example of the fact that deafness need not necessarily be socially isolating and that deaf people can be socially integrated into the larger community.

In her investigation of deafness on the island, Groce used an ethnohistoric approach. This included interviews with some 200 islanders to record the oral history of the community and an exhaustive search of written records to try to confirm these accounts. Groce was able, for example, to track down the "missing" and largely unpublished research notes