The Naked Scientists

The Naked Scientists Forum

Author Topic: If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?  (Read 11590 times)

@DavidWorley94

  • Guest
@DavidWorley94 asked the Naked Scientists:
   
If people was born deaf, what language do they think in?
 Cheers :)

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 27/11/2010 12:30:12 by _system »


 

Offline Bored chemist

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 8646
  • Thanked: 42 times
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #1 on: 27/11/2010 18:12:12 »
Why do you assume they think in a language?
That has been debated here
http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=33220.0
 

SteveFish

  • Guest
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #2 on: 27/11/2010 19:19:18 »
Symbolic representation of objects and object features, processes, intentions, concepts, and so on, are required for most, but not all complex thought processes. We are programmed for verbal symbols, but just about any sensory modality will do and any internal symbolism set could be called a language.

Development of language requires human interaction and if a child misses the critical period for language he/she will be badly affected for life. On the other hand, I remember a statement by a language development scientist that said something like- If a group of people could be raised with just the skills to take care of themselves, but no language, the group would develop a full language by the second generation. If the group were deaf I would guess that their language would probably be based on vision using hands, facial expressions, and posture, and could also include touch.
 

Offline Belle LeStein

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 12
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #3 on: 28/11/2010 17:51:49 »
I don't really have any input on this right now but I just wanted to say, what an awesome topic of discussion.  I am brand-spanking new to the forums as of today and this is just great.   ;D
 

Offline elfabyanos

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 19
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #4 on: 01/12/2010 10:20:37 »
Yes in my opinion thinking that oneself thinks in a language is an illusion created by the language centres of our brain.

We think, the language centre translates that into language - in case we might want to speak it. It happens so quickly that it may seem that the original thought was in a language. Of course it wasn't. Its the most absurd concept ever. I first encountered this idea when a girl in my psychology class years ago asked how do horses think if they can't speak?

Unfortunately, as post 2 of this thread sort of points out, the OP's question is predicated on the assumption that we think in a language.

To anyone who thinks they think in a language doesn't realise the hundreds of component parts that go into every thought. The language centre happens at the speed we speak - try speaking as fast as you can - it is not your physical mouth that holds you up, it is knowing the words to say fast enough.

Next time someone unexpectedly throws you something or something falls over and you catch it, think what words actually went through your head as you reacted. It is likely that the only one was "Whoops". Not "Movement detected, trajectory verified, collision or damage likely, object still unrecognised, move to intercept, nearest available limb left arm, raise left arm full speed to intercept, successful intercept probable, prime local feedback loop for direct control of hand clasp by hand when its skin detects contact, intercept velocity attained reduce power to muscles, contact with object has been registered - awaiting confirmation of successful catch.....catch successful.....etc etc.
 

Offline Bored chemist

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 8646
  • Thanked: 42 times
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #5 on: 01/12/2010 11:45:14 »
To be fair, a reflex action like that doesn't involve any thought.
Thinking would be too slow.
Here's a simple but enlightening experiment.
Sit on a chair with one leg crossed over the other and get someone to tap the knee just below the kneecap as if you were testing your reflexes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patellar_reflex

Watch your leg as it moves. You will see it move before you feel the tap.
It takes a while for the nerve impulses to get from your knee to the brain and be interpreted.
Your leg is already moving by the time that happens. The path from the eye to the brain is a lot quicker so you see it before you feel it.
 

Offline CliffordK

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 6321
  • Thanked: 3 times
  • Site Moderator
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #6 on: 02/12/2010 16:00:34 »
Interesting question.

However, keep in mind that "deaf" people aren't free of a language. 

They will have learned ASL (or their local dialect of sign language) essentially from infancy.
Most will have speech therapy, and will learn to speak.
Many will also learn to lip-read.
And read and write and use a computer.

When I think of words, I have the sensation like I'm hearing them, but it seems more like I'm trying to pronounce them.

So, perhaps even without an auditory representation of the words, they would have a representation of how they are produced with either the hands, or in the mouth if they learned to speak.

In a sense, a deaf person should be considered to be bilingual, or multi-lingual.  And, people fluent in foreign languages often learn to think in the foreign languages, perhaps even independently.  Likewise, I'd imagine the deaf person could think in either ASL, or the spoken/written language they've learned. 
 

Offline Belle LeStein

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 12
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #7 on: 03/12/2010 03:22:53 »
So there are different dialects of sign language too?  Sorry I have never really looked into this much.  I did a report on cochlear implants once in my undergrad studies but it focused more on medical ethics and the debates and such.  That is about the extent of my exposure to the deaf community. Anyone out there who is deaf who could add their input here?  I think that would be awesome.   [O8)]
 

Offline CliffordK

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 6321
  • Thanked: 3 times
  • Site Moderator
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #8 on: 03/12/2010 03:58:52 »
So there are different dialects of sign language too?

Well, I had assumed that since ASL was short for American Sign Language, there would be other dialects.

According to Wikipedia, ASL actually ranks #3 or #4, with the vast majority of the native sign language people speaking Chinese Sign Language.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sign_languages_by_number_of_native_signers

About 100 different dialects are listed here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sign_languages

A good question would be how easily speakers of different sign languages could communicate, for example someone fluent in American Sign Language speaking to someone fluent in Chinese Sign Language.

Likewise,
I'd love to hear comments from actual deaf people...  although it certainly is difficult to explain what a thought is with respect to any language.  One may have an internal commentary...  but...  what really does that mean?
 

Offline elfabyanos

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 19
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #9 on: 03/12/2010 09:20:32 »
To be fair, a reflex action like that doesn't involve any thought.
Thinking would be too slow.

The same though experiemtn works with basic maths. Ask someone to do a simple sum and they will come up with the answer far faster than they can actually say the entire calculation process.

The problem with natural language as a basis for thought is that it is necessarily full of holes and non-specified leaps of logic (otherwise we'd be here all day). Besides, if it was the basis for all our thought there would be no chance of ever saying one thing and meaning another - nobody would ever say "What I meant to say was...."
 

SteveFish

  • Guest
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #10 on: 03/12/2010 17:43:41 »
Elfabyanos:

I has been a while since I looked into this question, but I am pretty sure that what you are saying is at odds with where the neurocognitive sciences are on this. Consider the following cognitive task-- You are thinking about what your strategy should be tomorrow when you will debate the notion that thinking doesn't require symbol manipulation, and also what you might wear to make a good impression. Please break this down into elemental components, like your catch the object example. Symbols representing collections of complex facts, feelings, and relationships are much more efficient to manipulate. Catch the ball or keep the eyes locked on an object while turning the head are relatively simple tasks that have dedicated neural processors.

Steve
 

Offline CliffordK

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 6321
  • Thanked: 3 times
  • Site Moderator
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #11 on: 04/12/2010 04:46:17 »
Certainly there are different types of skills.
Some language dependent.
Some language independent.
Some both.
I get pretty lost when a 4 yr old is trying to explain to me about bunny ears rabbit holes and tying a shoe.

And if you have a cup of coffee on the desk, you might take a sip without thinking "I want a sip of coffee now".

However, the Stroop Effect has demostrated the dependence that we have on language, and how difficult it is to turn it off.
"Tell me what colors you see" RED GREEN RED BLUE BLACK ORANGE WHITE PURPLE PINK BLUE GREEN PINK

When I was studying foreign language, I discovered that it was much easier to recall a simple number such as 3.14159265358979323 if I thought about it in English than if I thought about it in Italian.  The number should be language independent, but I can only effectively recall it in the language that I learned in.

I suppose that one could say that without a spoken language, one would rely more on procedural tasks like tying a shoe, or drinking a cup of coffee.  However, I would think any form of communication would serve the purpose for planning and actions for example. 

I suppose the true question to ponder is what about those individuals who are otherwise "normal", but never learn a human language.

This article briefly touches on a group called Feral Children.
http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/moviesfc.html
http://listverse.com/2008/03/07/10-modern-cases-of-feral-children/
http://cogitz.com/2009/09/03/feral-children-living-with-beasts/

Apparently many of them have some utterances, but never master "human" speech.

 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #12 on: 04/12/2010 11:21:15 »
I suggest anyone interested in this subject read "The Language Instinct" by Steven Pinker. He quotes real cases of the development of a rich sign language by a group of people born deaf and living in an isolated community in N America; I think in the 19th century. According to Chomsky, and as explained less mathematically by Pinker, it seems the human brain is hardwired with mechanisms for communicating via language. There is much commonality between all languages and in the development of syntax. These mechanisms are not dependent on communication via sound so language every bit as varied and complex as that spoken can equally be communicated via signing. This mechanism does not seem to be present to anything like the same extent in other animals, so whilst they may have communication skills, the use of syntax is very simplistic. IT also seems that these in-built mecahanisms need to be stimulated before a certain age or the acquisition of complex language becomes limited.
 

Offline elfabyanos

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 19
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #13 on: 07/12/2010 11:42:43 »
Elfabyanos:

I has been a while since I looked into this question, but I am pretty sure that what you are saying is at odds with where the neurocognitive sciences are on this. Consider the following cognitive task-- You are thinking about what your strategy should be tomorrow when you will debate the notion that thinking doesn't require symbol manipulation, and also what you might wear to make a good impression. Please break this down into elemental components, like your catch the object example. Symbols representing collections of complex facts, feelings, and relationships are much more efficient to manipulate. Catch the ball or keep the eyes locked on an object while turning the head are relatively simple tasks that have dedicated neural processors.

Steve

Hi Steve. The example I gave is much simpler, but even then I don't believe for a moment that it is as simple as the particulars I gave - they were merely to illustrate how much more complicated apparently simple tasks are than at first it may seem - especially if one has taken for granted their experience of the world and not thought about how it happens.

Writing it out for a more complicated task is going to be analogous to the previous example but just much longer. I don't feel it is necessary. In much the same way there will be actions, sensory perception, decision making and instructions. For complicated thoughts this will draw on thousands of previously recognised patterns - one's lifetime experience informs every decision whether it sways the decision or not. I see this as self-evident, that the use of natural language has not in fact hijacked the entire brain, which continues to function as it did before human language. Human language is dealt with by specific regions of the brain, the early development of which is essential for normal human day-to-day life. If this is not stimulated early, such as the many case studies of maltreated children who were locked in basements for their childhood, then this particular part of the brain doesn't develop, and the subject will permanently find communication hard - or not even really understand it exists. What I can't understand is the implication that the rest of the brain somehow goes on strike because it doesn't have an inter-human communication system.

Quote
Symbols representing collections of complex facts, feelings, and relationships are much more efficient to manipulate.

Than what though?

Symbols and natural languages are at least one abstraction layer (probably many) above the core communication language between the neurons, and therefore are more complicated.

Any symbolic system assumes the existence of an underlying system on which the symbols are built, otherwise there is no meaning to the symbols. One must know what a symbol means, and how does this happen? Through other symbols? This would regress to absurdity.

It is the case that the mind communicates with itself using a system that is very different to spoken languages or even computer languages. Any neuron in the brain can send information to any other which can 'interpret' it, through only two other intermediary neurons. This 'interpretation' occurs whether or not the data in the message actually relates to what it should do (example - the visual cortex is perfectly able to process audio information as lots of pretty colours and shapes - the reason why this occurs in synaesthetes is due to the existence of a communication path, not because anyone else's brain couldn't do the same with the right connection)

There is a whole level of communication in the brain that is 'below' the cumbersome thoughts and ideas of the concious, and certainly any natural languages that are knitted on over the top by a specific part of the brain in early development. This inter-neuron communication pre-exists spoken language, and it has evolved over billions of years and allowed the creatures that use it to think and survive.

For me, the onus is not on those to prove that we don't think in terms of words, but on the contrary, it is up to anyone else to prove that we do, before we discuss how a deaf person thinks. Why is it assumed that for the first few billions years of our evolution we thought in one way, and then all of a sudden we are thinking in a different way because we learned to talk? Wouldn't it be easier to continue to operate in the same way but add on additional abilities (spoken language) - in much the same way as nearly every neurological incremental development has happened?

The whole point of my point is that the very essence of the question assumes a state of affairs which is not only not known, but seems incredibly unlikely to have evolved and is much closer to how a person would imagine such a system.

I'm not sure if there is an equivocation in the question which is why I disagree with the premises implied by the question. But to me the ability to formulate complex thoughts is due to education, which is only possible due to language, but that doesn't mean language has a part to play in processing of those ideas, just the communication of it. Yes there may be some influences - the brain is after all complicated.

Also, in what way does this contradict current neurological thought? I'm basing my comments on studies of psychology and neuroscience.
 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #14 on: 07/12/2010 15:18:13 »
I would again emphasise reading Pinker's books on the subject. Simplifying, I think the thesis originally put forward by Chomsky, and supported and developed by a large section of neoroscientists specialising in linguistics, is that the human brain is pre-configured to accept and manipulate a type of symbolic representation of languages. A key to this is that there is a commonality in all languages in how syntax is deployed and it is possible to represent all languages with a set of symbols that can convey nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. and all language nuances, even though they may be conveyed verbally in differing ways. The brain is also plastic, however, so although there is this preconfiguring it seems it has to be activated before a certain age or it is either not utilised properly or, maybe, redeployed. It maybe that the mapping of the verbalisations on to the symbols has to be done early in life. It is certainly not the case that the brain we are born with is a "blank slate" but has a rich structure already. The evidence suggests that part of the brain could be considered as an "organ" for language just as there are specialised sections for interpreting vision or controlling muscles.

 

SteveFish

  • Guest
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #15 on: 07/12/2010 16:37:26 »
Elfabyanos:

You seem to think that you have a pretty good idea of how the brain works for processing language and high level cognition without actually knowing anything about this rich area of research. The onus is on you to do some studying before making such strong statements about your own ideas. I strongly suggest that you take Grahams suggestion. Pinker is a very bright guy and an excellent communicator, and he does research in this area.

Steve
 

Offline elfabyanos

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 19
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #16 on: 08/12/2010 11:17:58 »
Elfabyanos:

You seem to think that you have a pretty good idea of how the brain works for processing language and high level cognition without actually knowing anything about this rich area of research. The onus is on you to do some studying before making such strong statements about your own ideas. I strongly suggest that you take Grahams suggestion. Pinker is a very bright guy and an excellent communicator, and he does research in this area.

Steve

Hi, respond to my points or don't respond. Thank you.
 

Offline elfabyanos

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 19
    • View Profile
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #17 on: 08/12/2010 11:48:24 »
I would again emphasise reading Pinker's books on the subject. Simplifying, I think the thesis originally put forward by Chomsky, and supported and developed by a large section of neoroscientists specialising in linguistics, is that the human brain is pre-configured to accept and manipulate a type of symbolic representation of languages....

Yes I'm going to pop into the library on my way home later. I'm struggling to see how Pinker's work contradicts what I have thought about. Much appears to concentrate on the way in which one learns to communicate, and I so far I have not found a claim that this dictates the way we think. Nonetheless I will try and work it out. I have a feeling it is a semantic issue.
« Last Edit: 08/12/2010 11:50:55 by elfabyanos »
 

SteveFish

  • Guest
If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #18 on: 08/12/2010 16:19:31 »
Elfabyanos:

The Society for Neurosciences yearly conventions passed 20,000 in attendance sometime in the 1980's. At the convention, most of the attendees present some aspect of their recent research, and most of the presentations result in publications in a large variety of high quality peer reviewed journals. For somebody who has learned the basics it would take further reading and analysis of hundreds of original research articles, reviews, books, and book chapters, to understand one of the sub areas well, and you are going to "pop into the library on my way home" and evaluate a leader in cognitive neuroscience.

Most research areas are extremely complex and it is hard for the layman to deal with this. One way is to get your hands dirty and dig into the original literature to see what the data really say. Most of us don't have the time to do this, so second best is to read books for the general public written by scientists who are actually doing the research, not by some professional writer. Pinker is a good start. After you have read a couple of his books you will realize that he is somewhat controversial so now you have the background to read some of his competitors. If you do this you will then have enough background to talk about the area. Have you ever actually read any original research?

Steve
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

If people were born deaf, what language do they think in?
« Reply #18 on: 08/12/2010 16:19:31 »

 

SMF 2.0.10 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines
SMFAds for Free Forums