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What language do deaf people think in? One person's answer.

I found this in a Quora discussion and thought it would be intresting to some of you:

Link to article: https://www.quora.com/If-a-person-is-born-deaf-which-language-do-they-think-in/answers/5839495?srid=3GKyQ

From the article:

I was born Deaf and have been Deaf my whole life. I do not wear hearing aids or cochlear implants (and have no desire to wear either). I speak American sign language (ASL) and it is my primary language. I am a mother of two born-Deaf children, so our being Deaf is genetic for us.

I have a 'voice' in my head, but it is not sound-based. I am a visual being, so in my head, I either see ASL signs, or pictures, or sometimes printed words. My inner 'voice' does have words, concepts, and thoughts. My mind is not blank, nor is it "silent."

I process information through my brain, my eyes, my nose, my tongue, and my touch, all in the same way anyone would process their information. Sound just isn't part of my thought process, and because it's not part of my thought process does not mean I don't have an inner voice. I do.

I'm a conscious, sentient being who thinks and reasons. :-)

October 16, 2017



Thanks - very interesting. If I can take the liberty of asking a couple of questions....

I was wondering if there is a deaf version of Tourette's syndrome. Have you heard of such a thing? (This is a genuine question)

Also do deaf people sign to themselves, the way that hearing people sometimes talk to themselves?

Apologies if I am being too nosey.

Edit: Please ignore - I just re-read. I realise now this was all a quote, not your direct experience. Oh well. BTW You can use > to indicate quoted text.


Often, Deaf people's thoughts are like snapshots and/or movies. For example if a hearing person were to think of a grocery list, he would hear himself voicing the items he wants to purchase. When a Deaf person thinks of a grocery list, he pictures the items he wishes to buy.


Thank you for sharing that with us Sweilan!

I am a hearing person. If I'm at a store, I most often think in pictures, like the item or the word representing it, and sometimes the smells and feelings the item invokes in me. If I am having a conversation with myself in my head, it is often with "sound" thoughts and pictures. However, I also regularly find myself signing on my hands parts of my thinking too. The most common off the top of my head seem to be "awesome", "where", "don't know", "that that that", "interesting", and "ok". (I am learning ASL.)


FYI, I have asked a few prelingually deaf if they ever think in ASL and they said they did not. Sometimes some Deaf people will "talk to themselves" in ASL. Interestingly enough, I had a conversation at a Deaf social and was asked if hearing people ever think in English.


Interesting topic, some math geniuses that do impossible calculations in there head describe not thinking in numbers but with colors and shapes that represent numbers. That’s how they do extremely complex calculations in their head others humans can’t.

I’m not deaf but my ‘inner voice’ certainly is not language/sound based. Very visual, tend to think with spatial relations, patterns etc. Especially evident with my career path, never had the raw natural talent for typical computer programming languages average at best despite real effort.

However I instantly became a guru at ladder logic and function block coding, a very visual programming language with its base in electrical schematics (also learned electrical schematics reading/design quickly). It’s a field specific to automation and robotics, just sort of picked it up instantly made a heck of a career out of it.

There are measured differences in how people’s brains all function, we are not all the same in how we internally think. While I excel many things…. flat out horrible at English grammar, spelling, writing, always have been. I noticed the same traits in other talented engineers terrible spelling and grammar, outstanding at spatial relations and pattern recognition.


wow thats truly inspiring


very interesting question indeed :)

I studied german sign language interpreting and my Deaf friends always told me they think in visuals too. At least if they were born Deaf. And to the question of talking to themselfs: I saw it and I know from telling me, some do. and they do it in signs, gestures and mime.

I'd like to know more from Deaf people on the subject.


Yes, sometimes a Deaf person will talk to himself in ASL - but that's generally frowned upon in the Deaf community - just like in the hearing community.

It's very rare to see a Deaf person in public signing to himself. One reason being that ASL has traditionally been an oppressed language. Often young Deaf kids avoid all signing in public in order to fit in with their hearing peers.


I am sad to read that there is so much pressure for people to publically distance themselves from their language, if it is not the language of the majority. :(

In public, I also talk to myself out loud in English sometimes. So, I suppose I am just a rebel ;) However, I don't want to be disrespectful. Should I try to train myself out of my recent habit of signing to myself? It is happening without thinking. But, I can start working to break the habit if that's for the best?


If you are studying and/or practicing ASL to yourself, I would encourage you to continue. A Deaf person wouldn't mind and some might even come over to you and ask you where you are learning. But if you are having long, drawn-out conversations with yourself - especially if you are answering your own questions - well, I'd say that would be frowned upon. ;-)


Oh, no. Not long drawn out ones. Like I said, mostly those signs I listed above pop out from time to time. :)


Wow, that will put another empty crater in my mind to think about. I already have some, like to think space never ends, or time never began. but this is a totally different one. Thank you for posting that :)




Thank you for sharing that, it is very very very interesting...!

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