Mind explode

July 9, 2010 6:59 pm Animals, featured, Pictures, Signs

Philosoraptor-If-a-person-was-born-deaf-Then-what-language-do-they-think-in

On a similar note, I always wonder what blind people (born that way) dream about.

What language do deaf people think in?

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64 Comments

  1. Alex says:

    Most of the activities we call "thinking" do not need to be done in language. Dogs and cats, for instance, still have basic reasoning. The thinking is done in the abstract, without language, although you can think this way also. Try imagining a tree and knowing it's a tree, but without thinking "tree". Instead, think of the object's appearance, its texture, and so on. You can make the association without actually starting with words.

    • amy says:

      good observations alex. sometimes i feel like my thinking is actually imprisoned by the confines of language and my vocabulary because it's somewhat simpler (at least for me) to rely on thinking in unspoken words.

  2. Adam says:

    Ahh…how about the language they read in??

    • Linnea says:

      I'm hearing. I can read multiple languages (mostly English and French,) but I think mostly in language. Being able to read a language doesn't necessarily mean it's the language your brain is most comfortable in.

      If you take two deaf people who both use a signed language and a written language, one might think in signed language while the other thinks in the written language.

      So thinking in the language they read in is a possibility, but it's not the only option.

  3. Martin says:

    I'm bilingual from childhood, and I seldom feel like I'm thinking in any specific language. I don't see how that could be puzzling to anyone – haven't most people had the experience of temporarily forgetting the word for something that they are very familiar with? A situation where they have a concept in mind, but have forgotten the "label" for it in their language? So why couldn't people think using these wordless concepts instead of with words?

    • Chris says:

      I'm bilingual from childhood as well. I have a tendency to think almost exclusively in English (and write journal entries), yet I live in Norway and therefore talk Norwegian on a daily basis. This of course colours my language a lot since I frequently forget the Norwegian word and just throw in the English one instead. Luckily, most Norwegians do that now anyway. I can't say I've experienced what you describe at all, but I find it very fascinating.

  4. Rowland says:

    I have a friend that's Korean, and came to America as a foreign exchange student in highschool, then ended up moving here. He always talked about how weird it was because he eventually started dreaming in English…

  5. brett says:

    let me try that again – very thought provoking, it’s a pity the person who created it didn’t know the difference between " Then " and " Than "

    • VDOgamez says:

      Well, technically, your comma should be a semicolon; you were connecting two independent clauses. :P (Cue some major grammatical mistake on my part, possibly relating to the use of emotes or the placement of punctuation in and around the parenthesis.)

      On-topic, a lot of people that I know tend to think visually, only thinking with words in scenarios that involve their use, such as deciding on something to say.

    • admin says:

      That typo has been corrected.

  6. UB says:

    brett…

    While you are correct, to be a proper grammar Nazi, you too must follow the rules. You opted not to capitalize the first letter of your utterance. Perhaps the decision was to obfuscate an inability to craft a coherent sentence. e.e. cummings was likely the last to use flaunting literary convention with originality. I fear his 'followers' are simply ignorant since there's nothing novel about arrogantly believing one is beyond reproach.

  7. Seamus says:

    Sign language.

    • John says:

      This is the only guy who has given the correct answer. People who are born deaf think visually and mainly in the ideas and grammar of sign.

  8. Heidi says:

    Sign language is right! When Deaf people talk in their sleep they will also use sign quite often.

    • Jake says:

      What about Helen Keller who was both deaf and blind?

      • Linnea says:

        She probably thought in both English and sign language, as she used both.

        I've worked with deaf-blind people before, and there's a whole range of communication strategies that can be used, ranging from tactile sign (using sign language while the person has their hands over yours,) to spoken language (as the term deaf-blind covers a continuum of people ranging from partially sighted with a mild hearing loss to people who are what society imagines a deaf-blind person to be – someone with no sight or hearing.)

  9. moggy says:

    thank god I didnt add a reply here had to leave school early and work made tons now I pay someelse to write for me hmmm maybe I should hire brett nah ill just watch an old Dvd of Brett Hart wrestling or an episode of corner gas with Brent Butt .well said my bit have fun brett

  10. Jo Dean says:

    OK that looks like fin

    Lou

  11. razorsfury says:

    whoever said dogs and cats have basic reasoning skills is and idiot. reasoning i what differentiates humans from other animals… if you don't know what your talking about don't say anything…

    • KurayamiShikaku says:

      Animals can problem solve. The extent of their prowess in problem solving varies greatly, but they can do it. Even training via operant conditioning is rudimentary problem solving – animal wants food, animal performs task in an attempt to attain food, animal gets food for performing task. That isn't even taking primates into account, who are widely known to create and utilize tools.

      I'll end with a quote from you: "if you don’t know what your [sic] talking about don’t say anything…"

  12. Jack says:

    Funny thing , i was just talking about this over beer last night.

    A friend of mine said she used to think in images as a child even though she's never been deaf.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I know a decent amount of deaf people and have asked this question. They've all known ASL (American Sign Language) and think and dream in ASL. One said he even sleep signs.

    To fully think of a tree – it's appearance, texture and so on – I would imagine would get pretty labor intensive for our brains as we start to think in terms of those details. Words are like shortcuts for our ideas and make the processing easier. People will make those shortcuts however possible and for deaf people, it's ASL.

  14. jacobian says:

    it's puzzled me too, not being able to say things in your head is something that is quite impossible.not to mention if it's will be effective.I guess we need to ask the real deaf person to tell us what language do they use to think in their head.

  15. George says:

    That really freaks me out.

  16. Dakota says:

    If you're really interested in knowing the basics of things like this, you should take an intro to psych class or something similar at a community college.

    We have three ways of thinking… in our language (there are theories that our language influences the way we think), in images/, and in concepts, which are broken down into prototypes.

    For example, think of summer. You might remember/think of the smell of fresh flowers, the heat on your skin, and the way freshly cut grass feels on your skin.

    You might also think of concepts related to summer – warm, bright, etc.

    All of these are ways of thinking, not necessarily involving language at all.

  17. bob says:

    yea I understand deaf people can't read either?

    • Linnea says:

      Many, if not most, Deaf people can read.

      However, most Deaf people cannot read English at the same level as their hearing peers. This is because they were not exposed to English in the same way as a hearing person and thus have had to learn it in a different way, and usually as a second language (after a signed language.) This correlates to how many people who learned a second language later in life are not as fluent in it as they are in their first language. In this case, 'later in life' simply refers to any time after the critical period of language learning. If you are interested in learning more about the critical period theory, I believe Noam Chomsky's done a lot of work on that topic. Check wikipedia.

      Many Deaf people learned a signed language or a manually codified version of a language (I'll explain that difference in a second,) and that would be their first language. They will usually become much more fluent in that language than they ever will in English, partly because of issues with second language learning and partly because they are unable to truly immerse themselves in an environment where they can hear how English is used and develop an innate sense of how to use it.

      However, some people have an innate talent for language learning. One of my former teachers was Deaf and was fluent in five (FIVE!) signed languages as well as … I believe it was two spoken languages.

      A signed language is a discrete language that has its own rules and grammar. This grammar does not necessarily share characteristics with the spoken language of the same geographic area. For example, most Deaf people in North America use American Sign Language (ASL,) while the spoken language is English. English is spoken with a Subject-Verb-Object word order, while ASL uses a Topic-Comment structure similar to Chinese. In the UK, the most common signed language is British Signed Language, which is not very similar to ASL. ASL is much more closely linked to Langue de Signes Francais, which is used in France.

      At the grammar nazis: My capitalization of the word Deaf is intentional and used to represent culturally Deaf people.

      But yeah. Deaf does not equal illiterate.

      • nelda says:

        Thank you for your explanations. I work with students who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing in a public school system (hearing world). Trying to educate the students is quite a chore, to say the least, when you are bound by “hearing rules”. I really do wish that “hearies” would stop being so critical and allow me to teach as I have been trained to do!

  18. Running Man says:

    The question should be what language does their inner dialogue speak? Mine speaks German when its really pissed and French when I'm making sweet sweet love to a model but it speaks Japanese when I am hungry for Thai food and that makes no sense.

    I'm just glad it doesn't speak in Canadian cause I couldn't handle all those A's and Aboot's and Yah oh Yah's.

  19. skippy says:

    All you grammar nazi douchebags need a girlfriend.

  20. Anonymous says:

    this was on highdeas months ago

  21. db says:

    They don't. Deaf kids who don't get sign or some other language by about 8 years are effectively mentally retarded. Deaf educators, doctors, audiologists etc know this and try to identify deaf children very very early. It's no joke.

  22. Eliza says:

    I'm deaf myself, and I really don't agree with some comments posted here. I'd like to set some things straight here:

    1. @Bob, Deaf people CAN read. Really, it's not impossible to teach a deaf kid to read in English, Swedish, French, or any other languages. It might be a bit more challenging than teaching a hearing kid, though. But I read so many books when I was a kid because my dad would always tell me to go read a book rather than watch TV. Although he forgot that whenever I watched TV with captions, I was technically reading there too… I also spent the last 3 years of my high school in English HONORS classes. I also took language courses in French during middle school, high school, and even college. If deaf people really couldn't read at all then I certainly wouldn't have achieved all that and be here posting this comment!!

    2. Not all deaf people think and dream in ASL. You cannot assume that, because it actually depends on each person and what kind of environment they were exposed to. Not to mention that ASL isn't the only kind of sign language out there – there is British Sign Language, Japanese sign language, Spanish sign language, and so on. If a deaf person had been born in Japan he could easily think in Japanese or Japanese sign language instead of ASL.

    Again, I was raised to use English a lot more than ASL (as I grew up surrounded by hearing people rather than deaf people), so I frequently think and dream in English. The rest of the time when I don't use English I think and dream in images instead. It might not make sense to some of you but in my dreams I'm not deaf there. I act like I can hear instead. For instance, if someone speaks to me with their voice in my dreams, I understand it somehow. I even speak with my voice to other people in my dreams too. That is the best I can explain my dreams.

    • Mason says:

      Thanks for your insight. I wanted to punch a couple of people for their ignorance and stereotypes they put on hearing-impaired. I'm not hearing-impaired or nor do I know sign language but I hate how people automatically put restrictions on autistic, deaf, blind, or even animals. Many of these people haven't been exposed to these people and don't know how insensitive it it to say that they have restrictions while y'all have difficulties it doesn't it mean you can't have normal, healthy lives. For those language Nazi's out there I'm southern I say y'all and it's hard for me to think of another word than y'all.

      • Tim Riker says:

        Hearing impaired? What an inappropriate term to use. It’s more appropriate to use Deaf or hard of hearing.

    • nelda says:

      Thank you for your boldness! As I have stated in a previous comment…..teaching Deaf students is very difficult. Many Deaf students do not have supportive homes and therfore no one to assist them with doing homework or studying for tests. Much of their educational success depends on the type of support given at home. Of course, other factors include the severity and/or the onset of their deafness. Congratulations to you for all of your hard work and accomplishments!

  23. jalexis says:

    If a person doesn't know how to use a semicolon; should they use it at all?

  24. Jamie says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir%E2%80%93Whorf_

    It's the concept of "Linguistic relativity", or how the thought process is affected by language.

    It was touched upon in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the new edition of the Newspeak dictionary was meant to remove so many words, that thoughtcrime would be impossible since the language wouldn't exist to facilitate thinking about it.

  25. Medisoft says:

    I'm deaf and don't think in any "language" as you know it.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Sign Language.

  27. Anonymous says:

    The semicolon is not justified here because the graphic does not have two independent clauses. I would argue for leaving it all as one sentence.

  28. Tony says:

    I'm a hearing person who has used ASL, a home-made sign language, English, and Cantonese in my life.

    There are different types of processes we call "thinking". There are some that don't require a language like imaging and feeling (physically or emotionally).

    The one you're referring to is the "inner voice" dialog most of us have. Some deaf people sign to themselves either actually or in in their head. Some think in their native language.

    When I was younger, I could think in Cantonese or English without actually "hearing" the words in my head. Now I can't read or think to myself without also "hearing" the words in my head.

    As someone who has used at least 2 spoken languages and 2 signed languages, I can say confirm that the language definitely shapes the tone of your thoughts and what thoughts you can and can not form.

  29. Vin says:

    You guys are very silly talking about grammar. But, I did learn a lot (Not ALOT!!!?!?!?!!?) from the comments here. In conclusion, to each his or her own.

  30. dUR says:

    ASL, or whatever language they read in…

  31. cher says:

    they definitely think in pictures, in sign language. even if the deaf person didnt know sign language, they would think in pictures. their sense of sight is really strong.

  32. LuckyFork says:

    Sign language is just as valid a language as anything spoken. Sign languages aren't just a pantomime version of english or whatever other language, its a language with its own grammar system and syntax. :)

    Linguistics degree ftw

  33. cheap says:

    they think in sign language

  34. Hey! says:

    Don’t know if this has been answered, but a while back I heard that blind people dream of shapes, colors, and images that they have come up with in their mind.

    And not like squares and triangles and stuff, just the basic outline of something XD. figured I would throw that out there

  35. Tim Riker says:

    Why don’t you ask a Deaf person instead of assuming?

    I was born Deaf and my parents are also Deaf. My first language is American Sign Language, but I am bilingual in American Sign Language and English. I believe I think in both languages depending on what I am thinking about. I believe I visualize things such as pictures, people moving and signing, text I saw in a book or tv captions, etc. Again this all depends what I am thinking about and how my mind may have acquired the information it is processing.

    Sometimes I have this third “stream” going on in my head while I am thinking which enables me to express myself fluently whether it’s ASL, English or something in between. Code switching is automatic– such as signing in a different way when I am with a non-native signer (such as a hearing person who learned ASL later in life).

    • Tim Riker says:

      Also, when I am reading a book or watching captions on television, there’s a voice in my head which seems to match the gender, tone, etc. very realistically.