If a child is born deaf, what language does he/she think in?


I have been thinking about this question for quite some time now, and it's very frustrating that I cannot find a definite answer.  Everyone that I have asked stumbled through trying to give me an explanation that doesn't even answer my question.  Some people say English but how does that make sense?  They've never learned a language before, and therefore, can't think in English.  One kid I asked immediately responded with Spanish.  He said that it's how the wavelengths in our brain work-- Spanish is natural for our brains, he said.  I find this answer most likely to be inaccurate.  I Google searched my question also, and most of the responses explained that deaf people think in sign language, if that makes sense.  But what about when they're old enough to understand concepts, but they haven't learned sign language quite yet?  What do you think?


Understanding that deaf people that once people have learned sign language and then that's the language they think in, leads me to my next question.  If you're just sitting quietly thinking to yourself, you can realize that when hearing people think, they hear a voice inside their heads talking to themselves pretty much.  Do deaf people have this voice that they hear inside their head?  I believe that the answer to this question is no because if they were born deaf, they have never heard a voice in their life so how would they know what one sounds like?  They have not heard the sound of anything.  Can they not imagine sounds as something crashes to the floor?  Once again, they have no idea what it sounds like . . . What do you think? Can someone explain all of this to me?

Views: 9613

Comment by Eduardo Amador on June 29, 2012 at 10:45am

that is probably one of the best questions ive ever heard. I never really thought about that. Maybe they go in knowing their native language or just learn the language like Helen Keller.

Comment by Kevin Lang on August 23, 2012 at 9:55pm

Prior to any language learned, all human beings develop an internal language that gets manifested by cries, body language, facial expressions, that have to be deciphered by parents and others who are in charge of the child's care. When a communication has been understood, there is a corresponding response of acknowledgment using the above mentioned. When a child is born deaf, the language they think in is one that is going to be influenced by the native tongue, understandably, because of their parents native tongue and way of communicating, however, their developing language will have to be in the form of some version of sign language; instead of "hearing" words and concepts, they would be more likely to "feel" or "see" words and concepts in their minds. In some ways, they may actually have a deeper understanding than those of us who can hear.


I basically thought the same thing but this person's explanation was simpler than the explanation i was going to put


Comment by Sam Yim on September 19, 2012 at 7:07pm
I've always wondered myself what thinking in sign language is like. Do deaf people see images of their own hands signing their thoughts?
Comment by Natsuki on October 8, 2012 at 3:53pm

I am a bilingual and can speak both English and Japanese.

Personally, I don't really think in a language. It's like how  you don't really talk to yourself when you think, but there's just this vague image of thoughts. When you see something, say food, you don't tell yourself "I'm hungry" in your mind, but instead you just know that your hungry and you want to eat the food you see, if that makes sense...

Some people have asked me what language I think in, but to be honest, I don't know. 

Comment by Soumyaa Mazumder on October 9, 2012 at 6:00pm

It's strange that I've never thought about this question before even though it seems like one of the most puzzling questions to me now. Personally, I agree with Natsuki-I don't think that children think in a certain language at all. Rather, I think that what prompts us to speak is based on subtle body gestures. Very interesting question!

Comment by Sanjana B. on October 9, 2012 at 8:24pm

I have always wondered about this too. I agree with Natsuki as well. I speak three languages and I don't really think in one language. Images usually pop in my head. I think that these children probably have images pop in their head as well since they have never really heard a language. This is an interesting question.

Comment by Jenna Schneider on October 14, 2012 at 5:03pm

This is such an interesting question! I have never thought about what language deaf people think in. Maybe it's their native language? I'm not sure, do they have little voices in their heads, or is everything completely made up of sign language? Hopefully some day someone will solve this mystery.

Comment by Bianca Reyes on October 16, 2012 at 6:18pm

This is a great topic to do a blog post on! I have also wondered the same question before! I'm going to have to agree with Natsuki as well. I am bilingual and I rarely think in a specific language. I guess it just depends on the person!

Comment by Dannika Andersen on October 18, 2012 at 10:47pm

That gets me thinking, how do blind people think about things, too? Because while they can speak, hear, and understand, what is it like to think about things you can't see?

Comment by Aileen J on October 19, 2012 at 4:01pm

This is a really interesting question... I feel like people, deaf or not, all have some sort of internal "voice" that doesn't necessarily speak in a specific language. It's more of a personal language that we've developed with a mix of emotions, thoughts, and feelings, as Kevin commented earlier.

Like Natsuki, I am also bilingual and can speak both English and Chinese fluently. This question has come up before and when I really think about it, I'd say that it depends on what environment I'm in. If I'm at school with people who all speak English, I'll probably have an internal voice that is in English. It's different when I'm at home with my family because I'll start switching to Chinese. But as I said before, that thinking process is more a mix of feelings than any concrete language. 

Great blog post about an interesting topic!


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