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  Deaf History, Europe

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1785 - 1869:   Laurent Clerc, Deaf Teacher of the Deaf

1785 - 1869: Laurent Clerc, Deaf Teacher of the Deaf

Louis Laurent Marie Clerc (26 December 1785 – 18 July 1869) was a French teacher called "The Apostle of the Deaf in America" and was regarded as the most renowned deaf person in American Deaf History.

He was taught by Abbe Sicard and deaf educator Jean Massieu, at the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets in Paris.

With Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, he co-founded the first school for the deaf in North America, the Asylum for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, on April 15, 1817 in the old Bennet's City Hotel, Hartford, Connecticut. The school was subsequently renamed the American School for the Deaf and in 1821 moved to 139 Main Street, West Hartford. The school remains the oldest existing school for the deaf in North America.

Clerc's mode of instruction was French signs. His students learned those signs for their studies. However, for their own use, they also borrowed or altered some of those signs and blended them with their own native sign language. As the Hartford students and teachers widely spread Clerc's teachings in his original and in their modified signs, deaf communication acquired an identifiable form. This evolved into the American Sign Language, used in education and assimilated into the personal lives of America's deaf population and its culture. Consequently, about two-thirds of today's ASL signs have French origins. Examples of words that mean the same and have the same signs in American and French are: wine = vin; hundred = cent; look for = chercher.

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