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Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language

Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language

Hereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard

Nora Ellen Groce

ISBN 9780674270411

Publication date: 03/15/1988

From the seventeenth century to the early years of the twentieth, the population of Martha’s Vineyard manifested an extremely high rate of profound hereditary deafness. In stark contrast to the experience of most Deaf people in our own society, the Vineyarders who were born Deaf were so thoroughly integrated into the daily life of the community that they were not seen—and did not see themselves—as handicapped or as a group apart. Deaf people were included in all aspects of life, such as town politics, jobs, church affairs, and social life. How was this possible?

On the Vineyard, hearing and Deaf islanders alike grew up speaking sign language. This unique sociolinguistic adaptation meant that the usual barriers to communication between the hearing and the Deaf, which so isolate many Deaf people today, did not exist.


  • Beautiful and fascinating… I was so moved by Groce’s book that the moment I finished it I jumped in the car, with only a toothbrush, a tape recorder, and a camera—I had to see this enchanted island for myself.

    —Oliver Sacks, New York Review of Books


  • Nora Ellen Groce is a medical anthropologist working in the field of global health and international development. She holds the Cheshire Chair and is Director of the International Disability Research Centre in the Department of Epidemiology and Health Care at University College London.

Book Details

  • 184 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press
  • Foreword by John W. M. Whiting