By Susan Schaller
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Additional info for A Man Without Words
After his first awareness of names, his progress became agonizingly slow. All he and I shared was the idea of language, not language itself. We had to wade through the murky vagueness of mime and temporary symbols. Ildefonso poked at new signs for hours or days, trying to figure out their shapes and uses. Sometimes he found the right niches in his brain for them, and his vocabulary grew slowly. 62 Susan Schaller He signed nouns exclusively. Language still meant only names to him. Syntax, tense, or any symbol other than a noun remained unknown and unimaginable.
We had used language without mime for the first time to carry an idea. " Ildefonso seemed to assimilate the gender signs more easily than the names Susan, Ildefonso, and Elena. They fit his new list better. He mimed something I didn't understand. "—he pretended to write by moving 51 A MAN WITHOUT WORDS his pencil back and forth above the paper. Then he gestured as if signing. His eyes opened wide, his eyebrows arched up, and he glanced quickly from his hands to the imaginary writing. " I didn't understand what he wanted so I repeated my "huh," attempting to show enough interest to encourage him to try again.
Friday morning I arrived early, but Ildefonso was already there and had carefully extracted the crumpled paper from his jeans' back pocket and smoothed it out on the table. Pencil in hand, he asked for words, all the words. He wanted me to spell out the word that corre54 Susan Schaller sponded to each of the things around him and to the signs he had learned. I took his paper and saw that he had tried to copy the shapes of each word. I added more words. The list grew. I was anxious to teach him more than names, but I didn't want to discourage him with news about rules.
A Man Without Words by Susan Schaller