Eric Cottle Oral History

Eric Cottle | Memories of the Deaf Community in Chilmark

Eric Cottle (1917-2010) fisherman and lifelong Chilmarker, talks about the people he knew in Chilmark who used sign language to communicate and demonstrates some of the signs that he remembers. A recessive gene for deafness in 17th century English settlers in the isolated town of Chilmark caused rates of hereditary deafness far higher than on the mainland. Deafness became part of everyday life in Chilmark, with a unique local sign language used by deaf and hearing residents alike. As Chilmark grew more connected to the outside world, the effect of the gene diminished and deaf culture faded. The last native speaker of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language died in 1952.

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Title Memories of the Deaf Community in Chilmark
Date 2000
Type Oral History
Thematic Collection Oral History
Interviewer Linsey Lee
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