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Dec 9, 2022
Manuscripts – The R. Orin Cornett Cued Speech Papers, 1966-1984
King Jordan Student Academic Center 1255
Cornett, R. Orin (Richard Orin), 1913-2002
The R. Orin Cornett Cued Speech Papers, 1966-1984
Gallaudet University Archives
Repository: Gallaudet University Archives Call No.: MSS 216
Creator: Cornett, R. Orin (Richard Orin), 1913-2002
Title: The R. Orin Cornett Cued Speech Papers, 1966-1984
Quantity: 25 boxes (13 linear feet)
Abstract: Papers and recordings of Dr. R. Orin Cornett, Gallaudet professor, vice president for planning, and inventor of the Cued Speech system. Includes correspondence, instructional materials, student work, reports, and educational recordings (such as phonograph records, audiotapes, videotapes, and film strips).
Note: This document last updated December 2018.
Acquisition Information: Donated to the Archives by R. Orin Cornett, 1989.
Processed By: Christopher Shea, February 2017.
Processing Note: Original collection included three filmstrip projectors, ca. 1966, in working order, which have been added to the Archives collection. These are used with the 8mm film loops in box 25.
Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions. See, however, the description of series 1.
Related Material in the Archives
Born in Driftwood, Oklahoma, in 1913, R. Orin Cornett studied mathematics and physics at Oklahoma Baptist University, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Texas. He taught at Oklahoma Baptist, Pennsylvania State, and Harvard before coming to Washington, DC, in 1959 to take a position at the Department of Education.
In 1965, Dr. Cornett was hired by Gallaudet as vice president for long-range planning. This was his first exposure to the deaf community. He was surprised to discover that deaf students often had poor reading test scores, since he believed that written language should naturally be easier for the deaf to learn. He soon learned about the difficulty and unreliability of speechreading, and the way it created challenges for deaf children to learn language as naturally as their hearing peers do.
Seeking a way to make language acquisition easier for the deaf, Dr. Cornett developed the system of Cued Speech over the course of three months. He first tested it with a high school friend, Mary Elsie Henegar, who had a deaf child, Leah Henegar. Leah became the first child to learn English through Cued Speech. Her success encouraged Dr. Cornett to begin teaching Cued Speech through workshops for parents and educators of the deaf, beginning in 1967.
Cued Speech, unlike ASL or other sign languages, is not a language. It is a method of making speechreading easier by using hand signs around the mouth to distinguish sounds that are difficult to read from the lips alone. It has the advantages of being relatively quick to learn compared to sign languages, and more accurate than speechreading alone. Since it is based on sounds, not words or letters, it can be easily used to support any spoken language, and by the end of his career Dr. Cornett had seen Cued Speech adapted to over 50 languages and dialects.
In 1975, Dr. Cornett quit his position as vice president of planning to focus full-time on Cued Speech. He became a research professor and director of Gallaudet’s Cued Speech Programs, teaching classes and holding regular workshops on Cued Speech, as well as writing extensively and traveling to seminars and conventions to talk about his work. In 1981, he became chairman of the Center for Studies in Language and Communication at Gallaudet.
Cued Speech received a great deal of interest in the 1970s, including mainstream media attention. However, after the early 1980s, interest in Cued Speech began to drop off. It received criticism from both sides of the deaf education debate: manualists saw it as just another form of oralism, and strict oralists objected to any system that involved use of the hands. Despite the controversy, Cued Speech continues to be taught and used today, including through video courses offered by Gallaudet University.
One other notable contribution Dr. Cornett made at Gallaudet was the introduction of a bass drum at football games to alert players when the ball was hiked. The drum became a symbol of Gallaudet football until it was retired in 2005.
Dr. Cornett retired in 1984, and was made professor emeritus by Gallaudet. Even in retirement, he continued to work to promote Cued Speech. In 1992, he published The Cued Speech Resource Book for Parents of Deaf Children, with a revised edition coming in 2001. He passed away in 2002.
Scope and Content
This collection includes extensive material covering Dr. Cornett’s work on developing and promoting Cued Speech between 1967 and the early 1980s. The bulk is Dr. Cornett’s correspondence, as well as essays and papers he wrote on various aspects of Cued Speech.
Also included is some Cued Speech teaching material, including word and phoneme lists, audiotapes, videotapes, and film loops, and even phonograph records. There is also material from Cued Speech workshops, in particular the original 1967 training project and various family workshops held in the 1970s and 1980s.
Series 1. Cued Speech teaching materials, 1967-1982
Of major interest is a collection of Dr. Cornett’s papers, articles, and essays on Cued Speech, from its origination to the late 1970s. Also included are worksheets and charts used for Cued Speech teaching, testimonial letters from parents and others, information packets and brochures, and a collection of teaching materials for Cued Speech in Spanish.
Note that this series also includes a file of assessments and audiograms of Cued Speech students. This file is covered by legislation governing the release of private medical records, and is closed to access.
Series 2. Clippings, 1967-1980
A collection of newspaper and magazine clippings, mostly from mainstream media sources, explaining and promoting Cued Speech.
Series 3. Training project records, 1967
Records from the first Cued Speech training workshop, where dozens of teachers of the deaf came to Gallaudet to learn Cued Speech and take it back to their institutions. Bulk is correspondence with attendees as well as application forms and lists of attendees, but also includes some schedules and agendas, a final report on the project, and texts of presentations by Merv Garretson and William Stokoe.
Series 4. Other workshop records, 1968-1980
From 1972 on, Dr. Cornett held regular Cued Speech workshops at Gallaudet where families could come and learn Cued Speech together. These were eventually so popular, with hundreds of attendees, that he had to hold multiple family workshops a year. This series also includes records of training workshops held elsewhere in the country.
Series 5. Cued Speech reading file, 1971-1981
A collection of Dr. Cornett’s extensive correspondence on Cued Speech, arranged chronologically. Most is with parents and teachers who were using Cued Speech, offering suggestions, advice, and clarifications. Includes outgoing correspondence only. Also includes some correspondence from Mary Henegar and Elizabeth “Betsy” Kipila, who worked with Dr. Cornett on his Cued Speech projects. Note that there is some overlap between files in the early 1979 letters, and correspondence from the first half of 1980 is missing.
Series 6. Other correspondence, 1966-1979
Another collection of Dr. Cornett’s correspondence, this one arranged alphabetically by the correspondent’s surname. Unlike series 5, this series mixes incoming and outgoing correspondence, but most is still related to Cued Speech.
Some correspondents receive individual files, particularly Mary Haney of the New York School for the Deaf, an early adopter and strong proponent of Cued Speech. Also includes a file requests received from parents and educators for copies of Cued Speech handbooks.
Series 7. June Dixon correspondence and reports, 1973-1981
In the United Kingdom, Cued Speech was primarily promoted by June Dixon, principal of the KIDS National Centre for Cued Speech. KIDS is a nonprofit charity that assists disabled children of all types. This series includes Ms. Dixon’s correspondence, mostly with Dr. Cornett, as well as reports and articles on the National Centre’s work and a manual of Cued Speech written by Ms. Dixon.
Series 8. Autocuer reports and papers, 1972-1977
One of the drawbacks of Cued Speech is that it is no help in speechreading someone who does not know it. Dr. Cornett hoped to design an “Autocuer,” a device similar to a hearing aid that would receive spoken sounds and turn them into tactile or visual cues without the speaker needing to know Cued Speech. While a table-mounted prototype was developed, attempts to miniaturize the Autocuer to make it wearable were not successful. This series includes progress reports on the development of the Autocuer, as well as proposals and feasibility studies.
Series 9. Class materials, 1972-1984
Dr. Cornett regularly taught classes on Cued Speech at the undergraduate and graduate level at Gallaudet. He also taught at other institutions, such as Maryland’s Montgomery College. The bulk of this series is student examinations and papers, with some outlines and syllabi. It also includes some independent study work by students, which included producing Cued Speech phoneme lists for other languages.
Series 10. Planning materials, 1972-1977
A small assortment of materials from Dr. Cornett’s other position as vice president of planning, including a copy of the 1972 Gallaudet College master plan and some books and reports on academic planning.
Series 11. Recordings, undated
Includes 78 rpm phonograph record and audiocassette of basic Cued Speech lessons, along with instruction sheets, as well as a collection of reel-to-reel tapes with Cued Speech lessons in English and other languages. Also present are some early videotapes of Cued Speech teaching, and a collection of “Artistic Cued Speech” video recordings produced by Jay Diamant of MSSD, showing students cueing popular songs.
This series also includes a set of 8mm film loops that were produced for Cued Speech instruction at the 1967 teaching project; a similar set was given to each attendee at the project.
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