what do deaf people dream?

You write of pre-linguistic deaf people: “Often they were considered retarded, and in a sense they were: they’d never learned language, a process that primes the pump for much later development. The critical age range seems to be 21 to 36 months. During this period children pick up the basics of language easily, and in so doing establish essential cognitive infrastructure.”

What are the permanent cognitive defects suffered by people who don’t learn any language before adolescence?

Welcome to the Straight Dope. As a point of procedure, we ask people posting questions in this forum to provide a link to the column at issue, so others will know what you’re talking about. You refer to this column:

Those who don’t acquire language in infancy typically suffer broad cognitive deficits from which they never recover. They have great difficulty learning language or anything else later in life. Profound deafness isn’t the only cause of this condition. Some cases of feral children are discussed here:

This is interesting, as my nephew* had fluid in his ears up until he entered Kindergarten, when the parents finally acquiesced letting him go to a doctor. Prior to this, he was a very rambunctious child, apparently frustrated that nobody could understand him. Now he is a much happier child, and seems to be acquiring language quite well.

The thing is, he is doing so outside the appropriate window. I question its veracity, as most deaf children don’t learn language in that time period, and few I’ve met seem to actually be retarded. Helen Keller makes an obvious example: while many people disagree with her politics, I have seen none argue that she is actually stupid.
*well, really my cousin’s son.

Deaf-mutes, to use the old term, are profoundly deaf; your nephew was not. Helen Keller became deaf at 19 months and was able to communicate through improvised signs from an early age.

It’s silly to think people can’t think without verbal or sign language. I never think in words, just pictures. Apparently it’s not too uncommon. Temple Grandin even wrote a book about it.

But I was kind of taken aback by the implication that people can’t have abstract thought without said thoughts being in the form of a word or hand gesture.

This is my first post, I’m just curious as to what you think.

Hmm, so I guess this means Hellen Keller was some sort of mutant?

Merely delaying language until a later age does not mean the child can never learn language. If this were the case, adult language classes around the world should cease functioning now, and Chomsky should give up his various prizes.

I already asked, and Cecil already answered that question.

The argument is that people who never learn any sort of language will have difficulty picking it up later. And, according to the original article, we are dealing more with feral children, which are not exposed to humans at all. It seems that even deaf-mutes are exposed to body language, and that is sufficient.

I still think Cecil is oversimplifying a bit, but I do see where he’s coming from.

How, then, were you able to construct these sentences? (And how was Dr Grandin able to construct the sentences that comprise her book?)

Well, how do you manage to think about abstractions in pictures? What would a picture of truth, or justice, or evil look like? Of course I realize that you could choose to use some picture as a symbol of such a concept -a blindfolded lady with a sword and scales for justice, maybe, or Hitler, or the kid who used to bully you at elementary school for evil - but unless you already had the concepts and chose to associate the pictures with them, the pictures themselves might indicate anything: S&M or Germany or 10 year old boys or, well, anything. You could use a picture of Hitler to represent a bacon cheeseburger if you wanted (but only if you already knew what a bacon cheeseburger is).

Thinking only in mental images won’t get you very far, especially with abstract matters. (Probably animals think in images - not necessarily visual ones - but their lack of language precludes them from thinking about anything very complex or abstract.) You (like Dr Grandin) may be a more than averagely visual thinker, but, as you are obviously capable of abstract thought and the construction of coherent sentences, I take leave to doubt that you think entirely in images, and never have a verbal thought at all.

It’s an abstract concept, and hard to understand a brain without language. Think of it like a computer. The basic operating system is pre-installed (instinct) and there is a camera and mouse you can use to click pictures.

What if there was no language based interface available or keyboard? It would be a great handicap to do anything complicated with it. Symbols are the stuff thought and logic is made of. The less of them you have, the less you think. Humans have evolved to be born prematurely with this part of their brain undeveloped for a reason. It is custom “programmed” by parents and society during the first year of life.