Ferdinand Berthier – a deaf educator from 19th-century France

Who was Ferdinand Berthier? What did he do? Where and when did he live? Join us for another video in the "Fun Facts in Polish Sign Language" series, explained by Nikola Śliwa.

On September 30, 2023, the Google search engine displayed the following graphic in many countries. Who is this?

Grafika Google doodle z 30 września 2023 roku, przedstawiająca głuchego Ferdinanda Berthiera. Grafika w formie rysunku. Starszy, elegancko ubrany mężczyzna pokazujący znaki języka migowego. W tle żółty napis GOOGLE oraz grafiki dłoni pokazujące znaki migowe. The Google Doodle graphic from September 30, 2023, features the deaf Ferdinand Berthier. The graphic is in the form of a drawing, portraying an older, elegantly dressed man making sign language gestures. In the background, there is a yellow "GOOGLE" inscription along with hand graphics displaying sign language signs.
Ferdinand Berthier

Who was Ferdinand Berthier?

This is Ferdinand Berthier, who was deaf. And now I will tell you about him. Ferdinand Berthier was born on September 30, 1803, and he passed away in 1886. He was a deaf educator in 19th-century France and one of the first advocates for the identity and culture of the Deaf community. It’s important to remember that these were times when deaf individuals were marginalized in society.

Received Education

Early on, Berthier received basic vocational education, including the ability to read and write. At the age of 8, he began his education at the National Institute for the Deaf in Paris. Thanks to his hearing teacher, he learned French Sign Language. In later years, he published his first research on this language.

The Deaf Society “Société Centrale des Sourds-muets”

At the end of 1837, Berthier approached the French government to request permission to establish the Société Centrale des Sourds-muets, or the Central Society of Deaf-Mutes. It was founded the following year. This organization represented the interests of the Deaf community. Its goal was to unite “all the deaf people scattered around the world, to establish contact between speakers and non-speakers, those endowed with intelligence and heart, regardless of distance, regardless of language, culture, and law differences.” The association offered practical mutual aid to the deaf and the opportunity to participate in educational activities for adults.

History and Culture of the Deaf

Ferdinand Berthier also wrote books about the history and culture of the Deaf, highlighting Deaf artists and poets of sign language. We can say that he did what many organizations and individuals do today. Of course, now, in the age of the Internet and affordable video cameras, it is much easier than it was in the 19th century. In 1849, Berthier was awarded the Knight of the Legion of Honor, making him the first deaf person to receive this highest French honor.

Now, let’s go back to the Google graphic. Why did the Google search engine display this image on September 30? Because it was the anniversary of Ferdinand Berthier’s birth.

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