She has no idea yet that everything has a name

finger alphabet sample

one version of fingerspelling - letters a through d

The spelling Annie Sullivan writes of is fingerspelling, or the one-handed manual alphabet. To have a conversation without vocal speech, one hand spells letters, and one feels the words that are spelled. The American Foundation for the Blind has a poster of the alphabet that shows Helen Keller’s hand.

On March 20th Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller had been together for seventeen days. Helen is just on the edge of learning that there are words for almost everything, and everything can be connected with through language. Anyone who has been around kids who are learning to read knows how magical and challenging that can be.

March 20, 1887

Helen has learned several nouns this week. “M-u-g” and “m-i-l-k,” have given her more trouble than other words. When she spells “milk,” she points to the mug, and when she spells “mug,” she makes the sign for pouring or drinking, which shows that she has confused the words. She has no idea yet that everything has a name.

Yesterday I had the little negro boy come in when Helen was having her lesson, and learn the letters, too. This pleased her very much and stimulated her ambition to excel Percy. She was delighted if he made a mistake, and made him form the letter over several times. When he succeeded in forming it to suit her, she patted him on his wooly head so vigorously that I thought some of his slips were intentional.

One day this week Captain Keller brought Belle, a setter of which he is very proud, to see us. He wondered if Helen would recognize her old playmate. Helen was giving Nancy a bath, and didn’t notice the dog at first. She usually feels the softest step and throws out her arms to ascertain if any one is near her. Belle didn’t seem very anxious to attract her attention. I imagine she has been rather roughly handled sometimes by her little mistress. The dog hadn’t been in the room more than half a minute, however, before Helen began to sniff, and dumped the doll into the wash-bowl and felt about the room. She stumbled upon Belle, who was crouching near the window where Captain Keller was standing. It was evident that she recognized the dog, for she put her arms round her neck and squeezed her. Then Helen sat down by her and began to manipulate her claws. We couldn’t think for a second what she was doing, but when we saw her make the letters “d-o-l-l” on her own fingers, we knew that she was trying to teach Belle to spell.

one of Annie Sullivan’s letters about Helen Keller, written to Sophia C. Hopkins
from The Story of My Life
by Helen Keller, John Albert Macy, Annie Sullivan
image – Project Gutenberg (detail)

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One Response to “She has no idea yet that everything has a name”

  1. March Quote Snack News | Quote Snack Says:

    […] birthday, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and one of Annie Sullivan’s letters about Helen Keller first learning to spell. Annie Sullivan first met Helen Keller on March 3, 1887. We may think we live in a different world, […]

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