The other day Janna went into one of the local shops in our Jersey City neighborhood to buy some food. Janna is Deaf and she usually chooses not to use her voice with strangers because if you use your voice then you are expected to vocally communicate on both sides of the conversation and that puts her at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding what is being spoken by a large immigrant population with many accents and unique vocalizations that are impossible to always comprehend and interpret.

Janna prefers to gesture and mime with most people she does not know because the communication barriers are more equally shared. When Janna was in the store she motioned with her hands that she wanted to know the price of the item on the counter by pointing at it and shrugging her shoulders.

The Middle Eastern guy behind the counter yelled at her, “Why don’t you use your voice?” Janna, born in Iowa, is now used to that kind of yelling on the East Coast, so she pointed to her ears and shook her head.

“What? You don’t hear me?” The guy was getting agitated. Janna shook her head. “Why don’t you talk? Talk! Say something!” Janna shook her head. “Why? You don’t have a tongue? SHOW ME YOUR TONGUE!” Janna shook her head and left the store. “SHOW ME YOUR TONGUE!


When Janna came home she was upset as she told me about her awful cultural and verbal assault. The guy in the shop who demanded to see Janna’s tongue obviously wanted to know if she had been punished by having her tongue cut out of her mouth. Removal of the tongue as a punishment for lying or speaking against a regime in power is one of the most horrible forms of torture. In Iraq:

Thousands of people are missing in Iraq, victims of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, but a more visible legacy are the parts that are missing from people who survived. Missing eyes, ears, toenails and tongues mark those who fell into the hands of Mr. Hussein’s powerful security services. … Farris Salman is one of the last victims of Mr. Hussein’s rule. His speech is slurred because he is missing part of his tongue. Black-hooded paramilitary troops, the Fedayeen Saddam, run by Mr. Hussein’s eldest son, Uday, pulled it out of his mouth with pliers last month, he said, and sliced it off with a box cutter. They made his family and dozens of his neighbors watch.”I thought they were going to execute me,” said Mr. Salman, sitting on the floor in his family’s small house in a run-down neighborhood of the capital a week after being freed by a frightened prison warden as Americans took control of the city. ”When one of the fedayeen said they were going to cut my tongue out, I said, ‘No, please, just kill me.‘ ” … ”I was standing and they told me to stick my tongue out or they would shoot me, and so I did,” Mr. Salman said.

”It was too quick to be painful but there was a lot of blood.” … Moaed Hassan, the owner of the tea shop outside of which the deed was done, said the fedayeen officer who cut the tongue held it up to the crowd and shouted, ”You see this? This will be the fate of anyone who dares insult the president.” He then threw the bit of flesh on the ground; another fedayeen officer scooped it up and said it would be given to Uday Hussein as a present.

Torture of the tongue is not limited to the Middle East as a means of punishment. The tongue is a valued totem of torture in other parts of the world, too. From Chile:

“They tell how the Chilean military – trained and financed by the United States – tortured people with electric shock, particularly on the genitals; forced victims to witness the torture of friends and relatives (including children); raped women in the presence of other family members; burned sex organs with acid or scalding water; placed rats in women’s vaginas and into the mouths of other prisoners; mutilated, punctured, and cut off various parts of the body, including genitalia, eyes, and tongue; injected air into women’s breasts and into veins (causing slow, painful death); shoved bayonets and clubs into the vagina or anus, causing rupture and death.”When Elba maintained that she did not know him, they said, “Let’s see” — they pulled out his nails, cut off his remaining ear, cut out his tongue, gouged out his eyes, and killed him slowly as she watched, thinking, “He could be my son.”


An officer of [President] Lucas Garcia’s army of murderers ordered the prisoners to be paraded in a line. Then he started to insult and threaten the inhabitants of the village, who were forced to come out of their houses to witness the event. I was with my mother, and we saw Patrocino; he had had his tongue cut out and his toes cut off. The officer jackal made a speech. Every time he paused the soldiers beat the Indian prisoners.


“Rosa had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken, their testicles cut off, and their eyes poked out They were killed by slitting their throats and pulling the tongue out through the slit.

The cutting of tongues from their mouths is a horrible and irrevocable torture and when we mix cultures in a giant American melting pot we are sure to create false assumptions and act on discriminatory information but that’s the price we all pay for free speech. In America you can yell at a woman and demand to see her tongue and not risk having your own tongue sliced from between your lips as punishment for inhuman cruelty.

Janna is not one to be discouraged and the next day she went back into the same store. She resisted the temptation to stick out her tongue and blow a raspberry at the same guy behind the counter. She picked out a package of gum and placed it on the counter and waited. The guy who demanded her tongue the day before stepped away from the register. He sat on a stool in the corner and knocked twice on the back wall.

Another man came out from the back of the store to smile at her and to exchange gestures with her and to ring up her purchase and to bid her a good day. Janna left the store victorious in her culture and intact in her hidden tongue.


  1. Just a flying visit as my computer has packed up.
    In this country the shop owner would be prosecuted for that. Disability discrimination laws.
    Do you have cards to carry to show that you have a disability or are deaf/hard of hearing or blind/partially sighted.

  2. Hi Nicola!
    Ooof! You’re leaving just as you fascinate! How would that shop owner be prosecuted in the UK? Was he discriminatory or merely rude? How would guilt be decided?
    The Deaf/Blind have cards but not all of them carry them and they are always homemade and not from a government agency. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing usually just try to get by without any cards — in NYC there are too many people who can’t speak English, let along read it.
    Even a semiotic drawing doesn’t draw enough of a distinction, really, when it comes to defining the terms of communication.

  3. Hi David,
    It’s always amazing when people working in service industries fail to remember who pays their wages.
    The other day, we went by our builder’s sales office to drop off some money because the house’s foundation had been poured.
    The representative had a bunch of notes that she was picking up from her table and putting away. As she was doing this, she mentioned that a deaf couple had stopped by wanting to look at a model home and everyone was communicating by writing notes to each other.
    If a translator had been needed or some other accommodation was required to make a sale (or spark an interest in the properties), I’m sure the builder’s representative would have done whatever was needed be able to communicate with potential customers.
    I bet one of these days, someone will make a Language Line type service for deaf translation using computers with web cameras, if such a service doesn’t already exist.

  4. To add to my previous comment, Language Line does provide “On Demand” ASL translation as well. I just saw that in their product listings.

  5. Hi Chris!
    Yay! I hope you have some Deaf neighbors in your new subdivision! Writing notes is a pretty good way to communicate. They probably could’ve used her computer to make everything go faster.
    You’d be surprised how expensive it can be to provide a tutor. Some get $100 an hour with a two hour minimum PLUS travel time. It quickly adds up.
    Providing one interpreter for one class for one student at a university can cost $18,000. Covering a full course load can be around $64,000 in interpreting fees for a single semester for a single student. Universities do everything then can to NOT provide interpreters even though the ADA requires they must.
    Getting an interpreter to actually show up on time and ready to go is not reliable.
    Many interpreters will not interpret for stretches longer than 30 minutes so you end up hiring two interpreters instead of one.

  6. Chris!
    I have no idea why Akismet caught that message. It makes no sense at all.
    We talk about Video IP in our book. That’s the next big thing right now. There are Video Interpreter Relay services but they require broadband connections and many Deaf cannot yet afford to have that kind of fast connection.

  7. Hi David,
    I’ve noticed that a lot of courts have some sort of automated translation systems for deaf people, but I have never seen them in operation.
    I think they use the court reporter to make captions that are displayed on a television screen showing a person who is speaking.
    See Real-Time Transcription.

  8. Hi Chris!
    Yes, those “real time” captioning setups are pretty neat — but they assume the Deaf are able to read and understand written English.
    I’ve seen in court a Deaf person talking via an interpreter via a sub-interpreter in order to be understood and to understand. It’s a big burden on a judge to make sure everything is being fairly understood and properly transmitted. Many judges choose to lose patience in the process because they want to hurry things along.
    There are some schools that provide open captioning setups and the money is very good. $12,000 a course is not unusual for an open captions “performer.” You’d be surprised how many hearing students go to the captioner, not the Deaf person, to see if they can get a printout of what was captioned for the Deaf student in class.

  9. Hi David,
    This is an interesting subject. I am appalled at the actions of the clerk, as it pains me through and through when people are disrespected—whatever the reason. Certainly such actions are especially dispicable when directed to a person who is limited in some way.
    You may be interested to know that in many churches with which I am familiar, there often is an interpreter, who interprets every word spoken. There usually are a couple, who trade off, so that the one does not become unduly fatigued.
    Almost without exception at our very large meeting, there will be such an interpreter.

  10. Hey Shirley!
    I agree the clerk was a jerk! It took me a long time to get Janna to tell me what happened. When she finally did, I asked her if she knew why he wanted to see her tongue and she just looked at me — you know how wives do when their husbands ask a really unfortunate question — and that was that. She said it wasn’t the first time it had happened and if I wanted more information to “wait a few hours” to let the situation cool down inside her a bit.
    Gosh! Men are so dumb!
    Churches and political rallies always seem to have interpreters and seeing them there is always wonderful. Is there a large Deaf community in your area? Usually one church will become the “Deaf Church” and provide the interpreters and all the Deaf in the area will attend that particular service.

  11. Hi David,
    I almost forgot about our local Mega-Mega Church.
    They always have ASL translators “on stage.”
    In a newspaper article, they contribute their continued growth to being able to serve all sorts of people.
    In fact, it’s probably the most integrated church in the area — people from every race are in attendance because they use gospel and Christian pop music in their services.

  12. Chris!
    Do you have any idea how many Deaf members attend the Mega-Mega Church?
    We have the landmarked Stanley Theatre near us in Jersey City. It was taken over by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1983 and turned into a meeting hall. They have a lot of Deaf people in that theatre for services and they always aggressively try to convert us into joining them as we walk around Journal Square.

  13. David, am I understanding your last post? Is Janna your wife?
    There is not a large Deaf population in our area to my knowledge, although I believe there is a great school for the Deaf in Riverside, a city down the mountain, not too far from our home in Crestline. Every day a young neighbor is picked up for her schooling by one of their buses.
    I travel extensively throughout the United States, so my observation of interpreters in our churches extend past those of this area.

  14. Shirley —
    Yes, Janna is my wife.
    Riverside, California has a big Deaf school:
    I am interested to know what services your church provides for the Deaf beyond interpreting at services.
    How does your church view the Deaf? Are they broken people in need of healing? Did the devil cause their Deafness? Do they deserve more or less attention from God because of their disability?

  15. Hi David,
    I’m not sure how many deaf people attend that church.
    I found a page detailing our local “Deaf Ministries” and note that all of the huge churches have some sort of ASL program.
    The Catholic Church in our diocese also has a sign language program as well.

  16. Hi Nicola!
    Ah, I’ve seen that logo before! I even used it in my Audists article, I believe. The Deaf here don’t cotton to it, though. I believe they think it is too negative — too Hearing Perspective on what it means to be Deaf, i.e. “broken ears” or ears that refuse to hear. I think they would prefer a listening eye or something that is more positive.
    I read your DDA link but I don’t see how that would apply to what happened to Janna. I also don’t see how the fellow would ever feel the force of the law detailed on that link.

  17. Hey Chris!
    Deaf Ministries are an important part of any community that hopes to serve the Deaf. Janna did a lot of work with Deaf Missions growing up in Council Bluffs.
    Catholic Charities in Brooklyn is where Janna first taught ASL when we moved to NYC!

  18. Thanks for that reassurance, Chris. Things are usually lightning fast here!
    Today whenever I click on the Submit button to post a comment it’s taking like 30 seconds for the site to respond and to post the comment.

  19. David, it is interesting to know Janna is your wife. I will more carefully read the pages regarding her.
    I’m probably not as knowledgeable as others concerning the ministries for the deaf in our churches as are other people. I’ve inserted a link that lists several functions of the deaf ministry in one in Alexandria, La..
    How do we view the deaf?
    “Are they broken people in need of healing?”
    I consider deaf people to be in need of healing in the same way a blind person is in need of healing for his blindness or a crippled person for his lameness. Sometimes doctors are able to effect such restoration; often not, as you well know.
    I do not consider deaf people broken any more than all of us are broken. There is no perfect person. We all are frail with certain individual limitations.
    “Did the devil cause their deafness?”
    Of course not, except in the sense that we live in a fallen world, and that all pain and sorrow is because of that.
    “Do they deserve more or less attention from God because of their disability?”
    I don’t know the answer to that. Probably not, though, for we all need God’s attention every day.
    They do deserve more attention from us who are blessed with excellent hearing, sight and mobility.

  20. Thanks for that fine link, Shirley!
    Deaf people don’t see themselves as broken or in need of healing or fixing. They see their Deafness as an indicator of a culture.
    Over her lifetime Janna has been told she was Deaf from devoutly religious people because:
    1. God didn’t love her enough.
    2. The Devil was in her and blocking her ears.
    3. She believed in God too much and to teach her a human place, she was punished with Deafness.
    4. She was a sinner in a previous life.
    5. Her parents were sinners.
    6. She wasn’t Saved.
    7. Jesus will return and heal her.
    Here are some of my favorite Janna articles:

  21. David! Thank you for the links to those beautiful stories about your charming wife, Janna. I cried as I read them, I promise you.
    Yes, the slowness is probably Verizon. I’m mad at them anyway, and this post explains why. If you go there, you must read comment 8 for the grand finale.

  22. Hi Shirley!
    Janna is definitely the better person in every way in our dyad. I look up to her. It’s been 18 years of wonderful for me — I’m sure she has more less-than-wonderful counts on her side — but she’s kind enough to remember them but to not punish me with them.
    Grr! Your Verizon post makes my blood go crazy!
    I’m so glad you were able to find a solution!

  23. Hi Chris!
    I love that alliance! It it the lesson we all need. Now if we can just agree on more than Global Warming — the world will begin to be a much better place!

  24. For whatever reason, as I read this post, I flashed on an old Saturday Night Live sketch:
    “Show us your guns!”
    But that was probably just me being weird.
    It’s also vaguely reminscent of those peculiar moments when someone I barely know insists on quizzing me about my ethnic/racial background. It’s personally intrusive in a way that’s difficult to describe.

  25. David, speaking of boiling blood, mine felt as hot and thunderous as the spewing molten mass from Mt. St. Helens when I read of the taunts spoken to Janna:
    “Over her lifetime Janna has been told she was Deaf from devoutly religious people because:
    1. God didn’t love her enough.
    2. The Devil was in her and blocking her ears.
    3. She believed in God too much and to teach her a human place, she was punished with Deafness.
    4. She was a sinner in a previous life.
    5. Her parents were sinners.
    6. She wasn’t Saved.”
    I am so sorry about that, and wish there were ways I could remove those words from her memory—and from yours. I can’t imagine how it could be so, but I hope the misguided people who spoke those message to her, did so with righteous intent.
    Those words contradict the very Bible Christians live by:
    John 9:1-3
    “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
    And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
    Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
    To Janna, please extend my sorrow for these hateful and ill-spoken words. They are not words originating from true Christians.

  26. All small businesses and shops in the UK are heavily regulated and inspected. They have to provide plans and show risk assessments to show that they meet all their stautory regulations/obligations.
    These include Health and Safety, Disability Awareness , Equal Opportunity, Racial Discrimination .
    For instance if I had more than 4 letting bedrooms ( which I dont) I have to have fire certificates, electrical inspection certificates for each appliance , an equal opportunities statement , a sexual equality ( anti gay/lesbian/bi) statement as well as a disability awareness statement – and provide risk assessments for all of the above.
    We do H&S risk assessments every six months – they can be seasonal – wet slippery paths in winter for instance.
    We have a disability policy – where we state that the cottage may not be suitable of people with certain disabilities as it has narrow steep stairs with reduced headroom , and that only the ground floor is accessible by wheelchair.
    The dungeon and shower/kitchen has ramps and wide doors to enable use by wheelchair users . has a walk in shower , and there is addittional ground floor ensuite accommodation in the main house suitable for disabled visitors.
    All this is documents – so in case of an inspection – I can show the assessment has been done and what we have do to rectify any issues.

  27. I think I know what you mean, Swan.
    It’s sort of like those people who try to figure out your ethnicity by your last name. It’s as if they cannot begin to learn you from zero. They need to first box you into a cultural leaning — even if that boxing is falsely done.

  28. Hi Shirley!
    Thanks for the wonderful comment.
    Janna was raised in the church so she knows what is and isn’t false and she is able to see through those cruel ruses. I think the false testifiers bother me more than they bother her.

  29. It sounds like you have a much more disability-friendly government enforced program than we do here, Nicola.
    Here we have lawyers who go to small business people and if the business is not in compliance with the ADA — the most common infraction is the lack of a properly marked and created handicapped parking stall — the lawyer threatens to sue the business because the grace period for compliance has expired.
    The really sleazy lawyers will then tell the business owner that they can either settle with them for $1,000 that day or pay a $1,000 fine and be forced to face daily fines until the business is in compliance. It’s a strange sort of ADA sponsored blackmail and it certainly doesn’t help the disabled in any way when the “hush money” payoffs are made.

  30. We have a whole level of local government civil servants to make sure all these regulations are met.
    The small business association says that there are too many and that they are being strangled by all the red tape.
    That however seems to be a better way to do things than the “hush money” route.

  31. If you are going to have laws and regulations they need to be equally monitored and enforced on a regular and fair basis. Too often here we just pass a law and the enforcement of it falls to the pockets of the civil justice system.

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