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April 11: Teacher of the Deaf

April 11, 2013

pereireJacob Rodrigues Pereira, a Portuguese converso who returned to Judaism and became France's first teacher of deaf people, was born on this date in 1715. (In his adopted country he became Jacob Rodrigue Péreire.) Péreire had a deaf and mute sister. To communicate with her, he formulated signs for numbers and punctuation. Later he adapted Juan Pablo Bonet's manual alphabet by adding 30 hand shapes, each corresponding to a sound instead of to a letter. In 1746, he used his method of finger-spelling (dactylology) to teach the deaf and mute son of a wealthy French family to speak — an achievement he presented to the King of France. Péreire is therefore credited as one of the inventors of manual language for the deaf and with being the first person to teach a non-verbal deaf person to speak. In 1759, he was made a member of the Royal Society of London. Péreire was also well-versed in ancient and modern languages, in finance, and in mathematics and physics, and designed and manufactured an early calculating machine. As an unofficial diplomat, he secured the right for Jews from Portugal to settle in France in 1777. The city of Bordeaux has a street named in his honor.

“Listen to all the conversations of our world, between nations as well as between individuals. They are, for the most part, dialogues of the deaf.” ― Paul Tournier