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In Session: Vietnamese Literature and Subcultural Lives: Recovering Voices of the Past
1: Examining Deaf Education in Colonial Vietnam: The Lai Thieu School for the Deaf
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Gallaudet University, United States
In 1886 the Lai Thieu School for the Deaf opened in Cochinchina, Vietnam. The school was founded by a French missionary and a deaf Vietnamese man, Nguyen Van Truong, who had studied at France's School for Deaf-Mute in Rodez. The Lai Thieu School provided vocational training for its deaf Vietnamese students, but more importantly it introduced them to a new language. This new mode of communication, based on French Sign Language, allowed some deaf people in Cochinchina to express themselves linguistically while providing the foundation from which Vietnamese Sign Language evolved. This paper will examine how the new sign language helped to form an identity for deaf people in Vietnam who had historically been neglected, socially disenfranchised and voiceless in Vietnamese historiography. It will situate the school for the deaf into the broader civilizing mission of the French colonizers and analyze the impacts the school had on Vietnam's deaf community. It will examine how Vietnamese parents reacted to the school but also how marginalized people such as Nguyen Van Truong attempted to create a space for deaf people to form an identity, language and culture denied to them, within a modernizing Vietnam that was also trying to understand its own traditions, culture and language amidst the forces of colonialism and modernity. How can the history of deaf people and Vietnamese sign language reshape our understanding of vernacular language and modern literature when we highlight their absences from the discourse on the formation of national language and identity in colonial Vietnam?