Do Deaf People Have an Inner Voice? (Important Facts) | Iris Reading
Do Deaf People Have an Inner Voice?

Do Deaf People Have an Inner Voice? (Important Facts)

Do Deaf People Have an Inner Voice?

Deaf people do not have an inner voice but inner hearing. It’s similar to having an inner voice, except deaf people mostly experience the conversation in sign language. Some deaf people with experience and exposure to spoken speech may have an inner voice. 

Internal voice is a powerful phenomenon. It’s that inaudible conversation you have in your head. 

Even though others cannot hear your inner speech, you experience it like you’re talking, complete with words, tone, and inflection. 

Psychologists have associated inner speech with many vital body functions, including self-regulating behavior and cultivating self-control. 

So, what’s the story for a deaf person, considering they have no experience of/with spoken speech, especially those born completely deaf? 

What do they use in place of spoken language? Do they even have an inner voice? 

In this article, we examine if deaf people have an inner voice, what language they think in, how they learn language,s and more. 

Do deaf people hear their own voice when speaking?

Deaf people may hear their voices when speaking, but this will depend on the severity of their hearing loss. A person with severe hearing loss may not hear their voice when speaking even if they use a hearing aid or device.

It’s important to stress that deaf people are not dumb. They can speak and do not have cognitive disabilities tied to their deafness. Even a completely deaf person may sometimes hear sounds from planes, vehicles, and dogs barking. 

Levels of deafness

The degree of a person’s hearing impairment affects whether they hear their voice or not. There are four levels of deafness, including:

1. Mild deafness or mild hearing impairment

People with mild deafness can only hear sounds in the 20 to 40 decibels (dB) range. 

They can hear some speech but will severely struggle when there’s a lot of background noise. Soft sounds below the above dB range are hard to hear for this group.

2. Moderate deafness or moderate hearing impairment

People diagnosed with this level of deafness can only hear sounds between 41 and 60 dB. They’ll particularly struggle to hear people speaking in their normal voice. 

Regular conversations occur typically at 60 dB. Using hearing aids helps them listen to such conversations better. 

3. Severe deafness 

An individual with severe deafness can only detect sounds of 61 to 89 decibels. Vehicular traffic typically produces sounds of 80 dB. 

4. Profound deafness

A person with profound deafness has little (limited to very loud sounds) to no hearing. 

They cannot hear sounds below 90 dB and often rely on sign languages like American Sign Language (ASL) and lip reading to communicate. 

Characteristics of deaf speech

As a hearing person, you learn to use your voice better because you get feedback through what you hear. 

You can tell normal questions apart from rhetorical ones due to the intonation and inflection of the speaker. You can sense nervousness and a wide range of emotions in a voice. You can equally communicate multiple emotions with your voice and speech. 

In essence, you can say “Are you okay?” in different tones, and others can interpret it differently. In one instance, you may be asking out of care. In another scenario, you may be asking out of anger. 

Unfortunately for people born deaf who can’t hear but learned how to speak, they’re unable to master how to manipulate their voice to reflect different emotions. 

Consequently, their speech sounds characteristically different from that of a hearing person. Sometimes, they’ll talk too loud or too gently. They may also use an incomparable pitch that stands them out.  

Do deaf people have an internal monologue?

Every human thinks in three ways, words, images, or a combination of the two.  

Hearing ability and the degree of vocal training influence how a deaf person thinks. 

Someone born deaf with little to no exposure to vocal training will likely think in what they communicate with externally, the sign language. A completely deaf person sees their thoughts in pictures, American Sign Language or British Sign Language, and sometimes printed words. 

That’s their form of internal monologue, sometimes referred to as having an “internal sign.” 

However, a person with mild or moderate deafness or someone who was not born deaf but developed hearing loss along the way and who also learned how to speak may also be able to think in spoken words and sign languages. 

Is there a difference between inner monologue and inner sign?

There’s no remarkable difference between having an “inner signing” and having an inner voice other than the method. 

Research into the “Neural correlates of thinking in sign language” found that the same part of the brain activated for inner speech works for “inner signing.” 

According to the report, internal signing activates the left inferior frontal cortex of the brain. 

The scientists further noted that “the activated region corresponds to that engaged during the silent articulation of sentences in hearing subjects.”

What is condensed inner speech?

Condensed inner speech is a dimension of inner voice that does not form complete sentences or use proper grammar. It’s likely others will not fathom what you mean if you say such words or phrases in public because it is highly abbreviated.

When humans communicate externally, we often use complete sentences with accurate grammar. Anyone who hears these sentences can make out their meaning. 

Amongst your friends and family members, however, you may have special language or signals that others may likely not understand. This understanding is because you know each other well, to the point of having “inside jokes or lingo.”

Condensed speech is similar to what you have with your friends. Think of condensed speech as one that only you understand. It is often a result of familiarity with one’s thoughts. 

As such, the brain doesn’t need to expend energy converting your inner thoughts into complete grammatically-correct sentences. 

Let’s say you’re preparing for your sister’s wedding. To remind yourself of some things you need to get, your inner speech prompt may only be your sister’s name. If you utter your sister’s name externally, hardly anyone would know what to do with it. But you know what it means. 

Other dimensions of inner speech

Expanded, diagonality, and intentionality are other dimensions of inner speech. Expanded is the opposite of condensed inner speech. It simply means the thoughts are in proper sentences, with articulatory and auditory properties

Along the diagonality dimension, inner speech can either be monologal or diagonal. The former involves strictly talking to oneself, akin to a soliloquy. 

The latter refers to the inner speech where you’re conversing with others, with all parties represented by their voices. 

Diagonal inner speech may also involve recalling previous conversations. 

Along with intentionality, inner speech is either deliberately rehearsed or unintentionally when your mind drifts. 

What language do deaf people think in?

Deaf people think in the dominant language they use in their everyday life. If they predominantly communicate with sign language, they are most likely to think in sign language. 

A lot of factors dictate the language deaf people think in. For starters, whether they were born deaf or developed hearing loss later in life is one of the chief determinants. Other factors include: 

  • How much speech they can hear through their hearing aid (if they use one) or cochlear implants
  • Exposure to a particular sign language from an early age

Together, these factors will determine how a deaf person communicates in their daily life. Their language choices and preferences for external communication influence how they think. 

Ultimately, a deaf person will likely think in the dominant language they use. This can be spoken or sign language. 

There are also some deaf people with more than one thinking language. This scenario happens if they have two dominant languages. 

A deaf person may communicate at home in sign language and use speech at work. Their thinking at home will predominantly be in sign language, while they’ll mainly think about work in spoken speech.  

How the thoughts are shaped in their minds

Some deaf people who think in sign language have reported imagining themselves making signs. Some report thinking in written English and visualizing subtitles. You can describe such a person as a visual being. 

For others that think in spoken language, the experience may be one of the following:

  • Visualizing lip movements like they were lip reading 
  • Feel mouth movements
  • Or in some cases, those with auditory experience may “hear” vocal language sounds

Additionally, some deaf people report switching between the first person (communicating themselves) and the third person (watching others do the communication). 

How do deaf people learn language?

Learning a language is particularly difficult for a person born deaf or one who became deaf early in life primarily because they have never or hardly experienced sounds and speech.  

To acquire a new language, a deaf person must work with a trained speech and language therapist. The therapist will engage them in one or more of the following language approaches:

  • Auditory-Oral: This approach combines natural gestures with listening, speech (lip) reading, and spoken speech.
  • Auditory-Verbal: This approach includes the use of listening and spoken speech.
  • Bilingual: This approach combines both American Sign Language and English.
  • Cued Speech: This method uses cueing and speech (Lip) reading.
  • Total Communication: This approach comprises of the following, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE), Signing Exact English (SEE), finger spelling, listening, Manually Coded English (MCE), natural hand gestures, speech (lip) reading, spoken speech.” 

Below, we examine some of these communication tools.

American Sign Language (ASL) and Finger Spelling

ASL is a language like Spanish, Italian, English, or any other spoken language. The only difference is that ASL is a visual language. 

Anyone can learn ASL. It includes hand shapes, hand positioning and movement, body language, and facial expressions. The ASL also has its grammar, word order, and sentence structure. 

Fingerspelling involves spelling uncommon words, typically nouns (names and places), that don’t have a sign. 

Manually Coded English (MCE)

The MCE is similar to the ASL. Most of the signs of the MCE are borrowed from the ASL. 

The primary difference, however, is that the MCE uses the “grammar, word order, and sentence structure” of the English Language. 

Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE) and Cued Speech

CASE, also known as Pidgin Signed English (PSE), is a blend of ASL and MCE. 

CASE is more flexible than the two and may change to use more ASL or MCE depending on the people using it.

Cued Speech helps deaf people better understand speech sounds. Many English words have a similar appearance when looking at a speaker’s mouth and are thus harder to lipread. Words like “rat,” “sat,” and “hat” are similar. 

Cued Speech helps the deaf person to pinpoint which word the person communicating intended. This communication tool is used alongside other methods like speech reading or auditory training.

Takeaway: Deaf people have an inner signing

Completely deaf people do not have an inner voice, at least in the way hearing people do. This is especially true for those born deaf or those who lost their hearing ability at a young age. 

For this category of people, their inner thoughts appear in the language they communicate in, typically a sign language like ASL. So rather than having an inner voice, they have an “inner signing.”

Do you have trouble remembering things at work or school? Poor memory can tank your productivity at work and lead to appalling results in school. 

At Iris Reading, we offer an Advanced Comprehension and Memory course full of practical strategies to improve your memory and remember even the tiniest details.

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