It’s a complicated question, right? For those of us that are able to hear when we are born, who are fully able-bodied it’s hard to imagine what it might be like for someone who was born deaf.
So when I stumbled upon this question online. I tried to get a grasp on what it might be like. On an online question-answer forum someone posed the question, "If a person is born deaf, which language do they think in?”
"I was born deaf. I did have speech therapy at an early age, and growing up, my inner voice is figuratively speaking to me and I hear it as well as lipread it. This is the same voice that I imagine people have when they read blocks of text and hear in their head. I don't exactly see some creepy "Voldemort" face in my head, but I always have some image of lips moving along with a voice that I hear.
At the same time, I do have memories of when I was little and didn't speak at all, and all my memories were heavily visual and olfactory. I would always remember specific images of locations and could describe them to my parents in vivid detail trying to figure out what I was remembering. Before speech therapy - my inner voice was highly visual.”
- Giordon Stark, Deaf.
“Rather than reading and writing, the language we think in is the language we use primarily to communicate, which for many deaf people is some sort of sign language. So "speakers" of ASL do tend to think primarily in ASL. Even if they're not taught an official sign language, deaf people tend to be very kinesthetic with their communication, the parts of the brain that we use for phonological production end up routing elsewhere.”
- Michael Katsevman, Linguist
"It's misleading to talk about the language that people "think in". Most thinking doesn't actually occur in language at all. We think it does because when we talk about thinking, we're talking and thinking about language. We can't talk about the pre-linguistic thinking, so we tend to ignore it, but it's actually the vast majority of thought.”
- Joshua Engel, Writer in Linguistics
The human mind is a complex a beautiful place, and learning about this only makes it more mysterious for me. I hope this made your day as much as it made mine.