LINGUIST List 8.192

Fri Feb 7 1997

Disc: Communication between blind & sighted

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Sheri B Wells, Communication between blind & sighted
  2. A.F. GUPTA, Communication between blind & sighted
  3. John Te Velde, Re: 8.133 communication between the blind and the sighted

Message 1: Communication between blind & sighted

Date: Wed, 5 Feb 1997 14:07:09 -0500 (EST)
From: Sheri B Wells <sbwellsACSU.Buffalo.EDU>
Subject: Communication between blind & sighted

I am writing to add my voice to Robert Englebretson's excellently
articulated response to the posting on blind/sighted communication. I
agree with Mr. Englebretson that the presuppositions underlying
Welcome Sekwati's proposed research are unscientific at best, and at
worst conducive to internecine prejudice.

I also agree that "constant transmission failures" do not characterize
blind/sighted interaction, neither in my own experience nor in the
literature I have seen on the topic; the natural redundancy present in
linguistic interaction compensates for whatever slight difficulties
may arise. While recent research (L.S. Kekelis & P.M. Prinz, "Blind
and sighted children with their mothers: The development of discourse
skills", _Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness_ 90:5, 1996)
seems to indicate that there may be some developmental differences in
early discourse of blind children, no study I know of indicates
communicational difficulties on the part of adult blind speakers.

I am a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics who is blind as well. What I
have observed in personal interaction is: increased use of vocatives
by both blind and sighted speakers; and occasional confusion arising
from the use of spatial deixis in lecture-type situations (e.g. "Now,
this chemical reaction is okay except for the extra hydrogen atom down

Blind/sighted communication is an area for potentially interesting
research, but -- as with any topic with social ramifications -- it
must be approached with scientific detachment and without damaging

- --------------
Sheri Wells
Linguistics Department
State University of New York at Buffalo
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Communication between blind & sighted

Date: Wed, 5 Feb 1997 08:54:57 GMT
Subject: Communication between blind & sighted

I enjoyed reading Robert Englebretson's response on this issue of 
blind/sighted communication. I would like to widen some of the 
points he made. He said:

> I should note that, of course, there are sometimes miscommunications between
> blind and sighted people. But, and this is important, there are
> miscommunications between all kinds of people--most of which have nothing to
> do with vision. Thus, one should not immediately jump to conclusions, that a
> particular miscommunication was due to blindness, gender, age, regional
> origin, etc. etc. One of the neat things about language, in my opinion, is
> that language also gives us tools for 'fixing' miscommunicaition.

It is surely a fundamental of language that negotiation must happen in
communication. In conversation speakers adjust to channel,
interlocutor features, physical environment and so on. Speakers
constantly need to negotiate such matters as:

+ which language to speak chosen from the personal repertoire
+ how to cope with discrepancies between one's own variety 
and that of interlocutor(s)
+ how to adjust speech according to distance between speaker and 
+ how to cope with written/spoken/auditory-only channels
+ how to negotiate cultural differences and sensitivities

Everyone gets some things right and some things wrong, but the
negotiation of these differences is a part of everyone's language
skills. If a speaker from Baltimore has some difficulties speaking to
a speaker from Leeds, it is almost certainly not because one of them
has a failing or an inadequacy but because they have not negotiated
their talk (yet). I can imagine that there are some speakers who
would feel discomfort at speaking to a blind person or indeed to
someone sitting in a wheelchair (the 'does he take sugar?' syndrome)
a phenomenon which needs to be interpreted in a cultural and
ideological context.

Anthea Fraser Gupta
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Anthea Fraser GUPTA :$staff/afg
School of English
University of Leeds
 * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: 8.133 communication between the blind and the sighted

Date: Thu, 6 Feb 1997 14:45:51 -0600 (CST)
From: John Te Velde <>
Subject: Re: 8.133 communication between the blind and the sighted

Dear Linguist members,

I would like to make a few comments in confirmation of what Prof.
Englebretson wrote recently on the subject of communicating with the
blind. Since I have a blind brother with whom I have had a close
relationship almost all his life (he is now over 36 yrs. old), I
believe I have some "empirical data" in the form of gathered
experiences communicating with him to substantiate all of what Robert
Englebretson stated. First of all, my brother shows now, and to my
recollection has never shown, any deficiency in the acquisition of
language. In fact, he has been very proficient in the acquisition of
two other (second) languages, German and Spanish, both of which I also
speak, making it possible for me to judge. He has always, since
learning to read braille, had a very large appetite for reading, which
undoubtedly has contributed to his further growth in language
proficiency. However, before he learned to read (reading began for him
in the first grade, just as it does for sighted people), he had no
difficulty acquiring spoken English. As far as I recall, his speaking
ability at that time did not differ, and since has not differed, from
that of sighted people. I would conclude, therefore, that his
"language development" has not been measurably different from the norm
amongst the sighted.
	Regarding his ability to communicate with the sighted and with
other blind individuals, I would again agree with Robert Englebretson
that there is no impairment of any noticeable kind. While it may be
the case that my brother, like other blind people, uses some
additional strategies in conversation for picking up on subtleties of
speech, this does not create any kind of breakdown in communication. I
would whole-heartedly agree that the redundancies in communication
more than suffice for any loss due to blindness.
	I would be happy to address specific questions about the case of 
my brother, if they are forthcoming.

John te Velde
Dept. of Foreign Languages and Literatures
Oklahoma State University
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue