The French Connection – Part I

Robert Traynor
May 25, 2011

The French Connection was a popular police 1970s movie about a dapper businessman from Marseilles, France looking to sell 32 million in heroin in New York City. But his potential buyer – small-time hood Salvatore Boca – is being tailed by two undercover NYC cops, James “Popeye” Doyle and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo.  This whole movie has nothing to do with audiology except for the title and the fact that there was a lot of loud noise, super car chases that end in loud crashes, etc.  It is, however,  another French Connection begun in Paris during the 1700s that has roots for our profession in the United States ande actually around the world.  The players took their life in their own hands by visiting the slums of Paris to observe how the deaf communicated, percieved this communication as the “natural language of the deaf” and retrieved them from ther slums to be educated. Of course, these visits were conducted without the likes of “Popeye” Doyle and “Cloudy” Russo for protection.   Abbe’ Charles-Michel de l’Épée (1712-1789), known as the “father of modern sign language”,  with his followers observed that sign was the natural language of the deaf and established the Paris Deaf Institute, first school for the deaf in Paris.  In 1759, the Abee de l’Épée was introduced to two Deaf girls who were in need of a new instructor. The school began in 1760 and shortly thereafter was opened to the public and became the world’s first free school for the Deaf. It was originally located in a house at 14 rue des Moulins, butte Saint-Roch, near the Louve in Paris. On July 29, 1791, the French legislature approved government funding for the school and it was renamed: “Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris.”  Bender (1960) indicates that de l’Epee’ ‘s  major goal was that the instruction of as many deaf persons as possible.  To him this was especially urgent, since he believed that the education for religious instruction was necessary for the salvation of their souls.  So he shared freeley all he knew, and welcomed all that came to him for training as teachers.  In 1776, while the US was in revolution, de l’ Epee’ published his book on teaching the deaf signing – Instruction des Sourds et Muets par la Voie des Signes Methodiques and this was greatly expanded in a publication in 1784 – La Ve’ritable Manie’re d’Instruire les Sourds et Muets, Confirme’ par une Longue Experience, as a methods text for the instruction of teachers of the deaf.   Bender (1960) further suggests that as de l’E’pee’s work progressed he became convinced that the signs the deaf made with their hands in trying to communicate with each other were the basis of a mother tongue for them, in much the same way that one’s native language is for a hearing person.  The successor for de l’ Epee’ was Roch-Ambroise Cucurron, Abbé Sicard. Bender (1960) presents that this was the time of the French Revolution and, Sicard, as the head of the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Bordeaux, was in the middle of a dispute between the Crown and the Revolution and very nearly lost his life to the cause. The Abbé Sicard managed to escape any serious harm in the political troubles of of the French Revolution in 1792, and became a member of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris in 1795, but the value of his educational work with the hearing impaired was hardly recognized till shortly before his death in 1822 at Paris. Sicard’s chief works were his Eléments de grammaire générale (1799), Cours d’instruction d’un sourd-muet de naissance (1800) and Traité des signes pour l’instruction des sourds-muets (1808). During this time there were other programs developing in various parts of Europe.  There were the oralists, such as Samuel Heinke in Germany, Thomas Braidwood in Scotland and others across Europe determined to educate the deaf.  The real American-French Connection actually involves Thomas Braidwood, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and a virtual who’s who of American educators of the hearing impaired all chasing each other to find THE method of treating and/or teaching the deaf.  Join Hearing International next week when we explore the actual connection between France and the United States.




Bender, R., (1960).  The Conquest of Deafness, Press of Case Western Reserve:  Cleveland, Ohio.

French Connection (1971). 20th Century Fox, Los Angeles, CA. Internet Movie Database, Retrieved from the World Wide Web May 22, 2011:

Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard (20110).  Retrieved from the World Wide Web:  May 22, 20110:

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