Our internal monologue guides us through day-to-day life. She is the voice we hear the most and she is with us 24/7. Sometimes she is the most critical person that we have ever met and other times she’s the only one that’s on our side. Regardless of the relationship that you have with your inner voice the one indisputable fact is that her words are pretty constant.
We all think in our own language, for instance, Americans think in English, French people think in French and Chinese people think in Chinese. This interpretation of the mind creates one question, and that is, if we think in the language that we hear in what do deaf people’s thoughts sound like?
Previously hearing people
When trying to establish what any particular deaf person’s thoughts are like it is firstly important to consider if they have ever been able to hear. For instance, some people are born deaf, some reasons for this include genetic factors or infections transmitted before birth.
Other people may have been born fully hearing and experience sudden deafness due to an infection or injury. The final scenario is that many people go deaf overtime, for instance, they will begin by noticing slightly reduced hearing and they will then progress along the spectrum of hearing loss until they are deaf.
For those who were once hearing there is another factor to consider when concluding what their thoughts would sound like and this would be at what age they became deaf.
For instance, those who went deaf as very young children or even new-born babies are highly unlikely to remember what their native language sounds like. However, a 40-year-old man who goes deaf after suffering from a devastating infection will more than likely remember the sound of his language.
If a fully grown adult woke up deaf one morning for instance, due to a head injury resulting in damage to the cochlea or 8th nerve he would not suddenly change the way in which he thinks.
This means that if one suddenly becomes deaf as an adult or older child, they will often still possess the ability to think in their mother tongue and their thoughts will still sound like their native language.
Methods of Communication
We will now look at those who were born deaf or became deaf at a very young age and have no memory of the pronunciation and sound of the English language or any other language.
For these people it is important to consider how they communicate as this has a direct impact on the way in which they think and process information and thoughts. Most deaf people in America choose to communicate in American Sign however, others may choose to use speech cues or lip reading.
Sign Language is an Umbrella term covering many different ways of communicating via hand gestures and signals. Some of the most common forms of sign language used around the world include American Sign Language, Makaton, and British Sign Language.
Although all of these examples are their own languages which vary in their own ways, they have one thing in common and that is that they all use gestures and symbols to convey letters, numbers, words, and meanings.
So, if these people rely on sign language to communicate which involves little to no auditory components what exactly do their thoughts sound like? The notion that a non-hearing person can hear their own internal monologue is arguably inaccurate as rather than hear it they often see it. When one of the five senses (taste, touch, sound, sight, and smell) is comprised the others often become stronger.
So, for a deaf person their sound is compromised but this may mean that their sight is stronger as they rely on this so much. This reliance and strong bond with sight can also make it easier to picture and imagine visual concepts as they are ingrained in the mind.
This means that when it comes to thinking they may picture the thoughts in sign language rather than internally hear them in American or any other native language. So, whereas we might think “I am hungry” a deaf person relying on American Sign Language for communication is more likely to picture the signs that equate to this meaning.
Understanding how a deaf person thinks is even more complex when they are also blind as if they have never heard spoken language and never seen sign language neither will exist in their internal monologue.
Most deaf and blind people rely on a combination of tactile sign and brail to communicate. Tactile sign is a language that relies on touch and is mostly used for conveying non-textual information whereas brail is raised bumps that resemble a natural language such as English.
Being deaf or blind or both does not affect the cognitive ability of the brain and therefore such people are still capable of having in-depth thoughts. It is believed that the majority of deaf people will think in tactile sign and therefore they will think of the sense touch and process thoughts in terms of the physical feeling that comes with them.
In conclusion, it is clear that deaf people are capable of just as many and as detailed thoughts as hearing people. Regardless of what our main mode of communication is, it is via this that we think and process thoughts, for deaf people this will predominantly be sign language.
The question what do deaf people’s thoughts sound like, although widely pondered, actually has a very simple answer, they don’t sound like anything, they look like sign language. However, as previously discussed this is not a hard and fast rule as not every deaf person has always been deaf and some still possess the memory of the sound of their language.
Therefore, they could use this in their own internal monologue and then their thoughts would sound just the same as every other speaker of their language, perhaps sometimes combined with sign.