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On Thought without Words, and the Relation of Words to Thought

  • William W. Ireland

The condition of uneducated deaf mutes often nearly approaches that of a being destitute of language. It is true that even if they are not taught signs they contrive a few of their own invention; but these signs are of a very simple kind, and neither fitted nor intended to express any abstract notions, so that the deaf and dumb are in a much worse condition for obtaining knowledge than the blind. The deaf mute sees everything, but understands nothing; whereas in using the senses still remaining to him the blind man is guided by the words of others into true interpretations. We thus find that the deaf and dumb in the narrow circle of their own cogitations are in a very benighted condition, but it would be absurd to say that they do not possess or exercise reason. After they have become educated and are able to communicate by signs or writing, deaf mutes sometimes detail what they remember of the bounded state of their intellect before being sent to school. They record accidents and events which have made an impression on their mind; but it is clear that their speculations upon the nature and causes of things have never gone below the surface. In the Reports of the American Asylum at Hartford, there are a number of answers to questions put with a view to find out what were the thoughts of uneducated deaf mutes. One of them when asked, What did you formerly think when you saw a person die ? replied that he thought “he was deceiving the people, and that he would rise up.” He thought that “a man that was died was buried alive, and wondered that he did not rise from the dead in a few days.” Other deaf mutes by observing that the dead bodies of animals rotted away, arrived at a nearer idea of death. They rarely thought that they would die themselves, and an existence beyond the grave occurred to none. Many attended public worship for years without knowing what was the object of it.

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Quoted in a lecture on “Modern Spiritualism,” by W. J. Marshall, M.D·, Greenock.

“Yerhältniss des Denkens znm Sprechen, Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie.” Band xxii., p. 366. 1866.

Paget, “Hunteiian Oration,” 1877, p. 18

* 0p. cit. p. 20, 21. Dr. Angosto Tarabarini, in his able “Contribuzione alla Fisiologia et Patologia del Linguaggio, Reggio-Eemilia,” 1876, after referring to Lordat's case, observes : “It is evident that verbal formulae are not absolutely necessary to the exercise of thought, especially when it occupies itself ttifcb the objective and the concrete.”

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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: -
  • EISSN: 2514-9946
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On Thought without Words, and the Relation of Words to Thought

  • William W. Ireland
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