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Juan Pablo Bonet was born in Zaragoza (Aragon), and became secretary to Juan Fernández de Velasco, 5th Duke of Frías, Constable of Castile. While serving in the constable's household, Bonet observed the methods of a tutor hired to teach Luis, the constable’s second son, who was deaf from birth. In this wealthy and titled family as well as in others related by marriage or birth were a number of deaf sons and daughters whose parents wanted them educated in addition to their hearing siblings. Some of the deaf sons were in line to inherit the family’s properties, and literacy was a requirement for legal recognition as an heir.
The modern recorded history of sign language began in 17th Century in Spain, in part with Bonet. In 1620, Juan Pablo Bonet published Reducción de las letras y arte para enseñar a hablar a los mudos ("Summary of the letters and the art of teaching speech to the mute") in Madrid. Considered the first modern treatise of the phonetics of sign language and the use of sign language to teach speech to the deaf, this book depicted Bonet's form of a manual alphabet. His intent was to further the oral and manual education of deaf people in Spain.
Bonet's system of signs and manual alphabet has influenced many sign languages, such as Spanish Sign Language, French Sign Language, and American Sign Language.
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