I believe I am well qualified to answer this question. 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.
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. I just don’t use my ears to collect or process information, as it does not make any sense for me. Sound doesn’t have the same importance or emotional meaning for me, as compared to what it means for people who hear.
Michele Westfall, ASL speaker and freelance writer
From our research with people born deaf whose preferred language is a sign language, the ‘inner voice’ is gestural/signing, rather than lips or vocal or audio impressions.
As a late-signing (still-hearing) person myself (from age 21 on), I find that when I am having word-finding difficulties (in speech), I can sometimes use my hands to retrieve an appropriate meaning item, and then choose an English equivalent. Likewise, when I spend a lot of time with deaf, signing friends or colleagues, I will find myself signing in my dreams. Thus the inner hands become available as needed, or with use.
Nancy Frishberg, 1st sign language dissertation from UC San Diego (Linguistics department)
I wasn’t born deaf, but at the age of two, I lost 85 per cent of my hearing and have worn hearing aids since.
In high school, someone asked me this very question, “Can you hear yourself think?” And yes, I can hear myself “think” and in words, not pictures. There’s no sound, obviously... I think.
I imagine it’s no different than a hearing person, but I wouldn’t know.
I don’t know if I should speak here. I have no impairment in hearing, but I never had any inner voice. It was always an inner visual. On the other hand, I have very good auditory memory which I often use to play my favourite music tracks in my head; I don’t need a Walkman ever.
Bikramadittya Guha Roy
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