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American Sign Language:  Cognition and ASL:

In a message dated 8/18/2006 10:04:03 PM Pacific Daylight Time, a student writes:
Dr. Bill,
      I was sitting in my car today, after I finished an ASL lesson (the one where you learn telephone).  I started thinking of all the things that hearing people, including myself, take for granted, like the phone, and music, and lots of other things.
 It occurred to me that I, and I would guess, the majority of hearing people, think in words; sounds.  I know I think in terms of how something will sound when I say it or how it will "sound" when the person I am writing it to reads it.
(I'm doing it right now) :) I suppose since you are hard of hearing, you may think this way too ( I don't know) :) But how  do deaf people, especially people born completely deaf, who have never heard before, think? Visually? In pictures? letters? signs? Or the same way as I do?
It's ok if you don't want to answer, because its kind of a weird question.  I was just curious.  Thank you for time.  I really appreciate you taking the time to read this letter.
Sincerely,
Lindsay
Lindsay,
Much human thought occurs without being processed as either sounds or images.
When you ride a bike you don't think to yourself, "left foot push down, right foot push down, left foot push down."  When you brush your teeth you don't think the words, "back, forth, back, forth."  You just do the movement. 
 Deaf people, who have never heard sound, do engage in "image-based" thought as well as non-image based thought.
Image-based thought is not limited to just Deaf people.  Hearing people occasionally engage in "image-based" thought.  For example, a basket ball player visualizing the ball going into the basket or an Olympic athlete visually rehearsing her routine.
The next time someone does the gesture, "come here," ask yourself, did you interpret it in your mind as the words "come here" or did you just start walking?  The next time someone asks for a volunteer and you raise your hand, take a moment to reflect on whether you said any words in your head, or if you just raised your hand.  Obviously "thinking" took place, but it didn't require "inner speech" or verbalization. 
--Bill

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