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Deaf-mute is a term which was used historically, by hearing people, to identify a person who was both deaf and could not speak. The term continues to be used to refer to deaf people, mainly within a historical context, to indicate deaf people who cannot speak, or have some degree of speaking ability, but choose not to speak because of the negative or unwanted attention atypical voices sometimes attract.

The classification has a particular importance in Jewish law; deaf-mutes were not moral agents, according to Judaism, and therefore were unable to own real estate, act as witnesses, or be punished for any crime.

In the past deaf-mute was regarded as a socially acceptable term, usually to describe deaf people who use a signed language, but in modern times, the term is frequently viewed as derogatory. The preferred term today is simply "deaf".

Additionally, it is sometimes used to refer to other hearing people in jest, to chide, or to invoke an image of someone who refuses to employ common sense or who is unreliable. "Deaf and dumb," "semi-deaf" and "semi-mute" are other historic references to deaf people. Of these latter examples, only "deaf and dumb" prevails as a reference.

There are connotations of insensitivity to deaf people concerning these terms of reference and for this reason the prevailing terms are generally looked upon as insulting, inaccurate or socially and politically incorrect. From antiquity (as noted in the Code of Hammurabi) until recent times, the terms "deaf-mute" and "deaf and dumb" were even considered analogous to "idiot" by some hearing people.

In Europe and western society, most deaf people are taught to speak with varying outcomes of ability or degrees of fluency. The simple identity of "deaf" has been embraced by the community of signing deaf people since the foundations of public deaf education in the 18th century and remains the preferred term of reference or identity for many years.

Deaf-muteness in art and literature

Stephen King's novel, The Stand, features a main character named Nick Andros who is referred to as "deaf-mute." Though "deaf-mutes" almost always have a voice, King interpreted the term literally and made Nick unable to vocalize but he could hear.

The phrase is used in The Catcher in the Rye to indicate someone who does not speak his mind, and hears nothing, in effect becoming isolated from the world.

Chief Bromden, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, is believed by all to be deaf-mute, but in fact he can hear and speak; he does not let anyone know this because, as he grew up, he was not spoken to (making him "deaf") and ignored (making him "mute").

In the film Babel, the character Chieko Wataya, played by Rinko Kikuchi, is a deaf teenage girl who is referred to several times in the English subtitles as being a deaf-mute (although it is unclear how accurately the subtitles translate the Japanese reference to the deaf character).

The character Singer in the novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, written in 1940, is referred to as a deaf-mute multiple times.

Wilkie Collins' 1854 novel, Hide and Seek contains a character, Madonna, who becomes deaf after a circus accident as a child and subsequently stops speaking.

The rock opera Tommy by The Who centers around the life of a boy named Tommy Walker who is effectively deaf, dumb and blind, due to a psychological block caused by a traumatic event in his childhood, but is later miraculously healed.

See also

For "deafness", see hearing impairment. For "Deaf" as a cultural term, see Deaf culture. For "inability to speak", see muteness.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Deaf-mute" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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