You, Me & Helen Keller (Part 4)1These excerpts, abridged and edited, are taken from Chapter 5, “The Grounding Language Universals,” Shaping the Future of Language Studies, pp. 41-61.


In the next two chapters, we build on data and facts gleaned from the syllabus and Aquinas’ descriptions. We return to our re-enactment of what happened to Helen Keller moments after she had acquired knowledge. Her wonder probed its practical value with the question: what will I do?2We would suggest that the supporting passages in this article, written in retrospect by a more mature and articulate Helen, accurately express the strength of resolve in the young Helen at the time of these events. Images 1 and 2, below, provide a preliminary framework for what-to-do-wonder, the fourth of five core attitudes.3What-to-do-wonder is the fourth of five basic attitudes that can be associated with five meanings of the word why, the occurrence of which we associate with the exemplary cause. 

The Fourth Core Attitude 

Language learning had suddenly become the center of Helen’s life.4Op. cit., Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, 39. Spontaneously, she contemplatemeans to an end that would be responsiblegood, worthwhile, of valuehow to transform a judgment of fact into a practical plan. The arrow above Image 1 points to Helen’s desire to formulate a practical plan. She recalled: 

unless I turn my glad thoughts into practical living and till my own field, I cannot reap a kernel of the good.5Helen Keller, The World I Live In, The New York Review of Books, 2003, 128-29. 

What-to-do Wonder 

Image 1


 Sense, Images + Known Facts  

Helen reflected on known facts. She 

knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over [her] hand. That living word awakened [her] soul, gave it life, hope, joy, set it free!6Op. cit., The Story of My Life, 20.

She knew that her sense of smell, taste and touch would effectively replace sight and sound, and her blindness and deafness were 

barriers that could in time be swept away.7Op cit., Joseph P. Lash, Helen and Teacher, 257. 

She imagined new possibilities. 

As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me.8Op. cit., The Story of My Life, 20.



Image 2 


What-to-do Questions 

She wondered about her new reality, to what might be because of 

a habit learned suddenly at that first moment of release and rush into the light. With the first word I used intelligently, I learned to live, to think, to hope.9Op. cit., The World I Live In, 128. 

Direct Insight 

She generated a direct insight into a possible plan of action. 

I had now the key to all language, and I was eager to learn to use it.10Op. cit., The Story of My Life, 25.

Formulated Possibilities 

She consented to at least one formulated possibility: 

I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought.11Ibid., 20.

The arrow above Image 2 indicates that choice still remains open after consent.


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