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Vernon, M. Miller, W.G. (1973). Language and Nonverbal Communicaton in Cognitive and Affective Processes. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 2(1):124-135.

(1973). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 2(1):124-135

Language and Nonverbal Communicaton in Cognitive and Affective Processes

McCay Vernon, Ph.D. and William Gene Miller, Ph.D.

The nature of the interaction of language and thought is a profound issue, and its resolution is basic to understanding human psychology. The problem has attracted the leading scholars of many areas and varying disciplines, among whom are Plato, Socrates, Hobbes, Coleridge, Galton, Freud, Croce, Piaget, and Ruesch (VanderWoude, 1970; Vernon, 1967). Recently, the study of persons born deaf has yielded scientific data which have permitted experimentally derived conclusions about the role of language in cognition and inferences about its role in affective functioning.

Language and Cognition

The congenitally deaf provide a unique opportunity for the study of thought and language. Deaf children go through their early years with no verbal symbol system whatever. When the child born deaf begins his formal education, he does not know the names of the food he eats, the clothes he wears, or even his own name. Nor does he have any concept of the syntactical rules required to join words together. In contrast, normally hearing children by the age of six have almost complete mastery of syntax and a vocabulary estimated at around 25,000 words (Moores, 1970). Cases of congenitally deaf persons who grow to adulthood never having attended school are not uncommon. They obviously represent an even more extreme situation than the deaf child who attends school.

Thus, in the congenitally deaf child we have, in a sense, the setting for the medical model of studying the pathological to understand the normal. That is, if we could describe the effect of the absence of verbal language on thought and affect in the congenitally deaf, we would then know the role played by language in the development of thought and affect in the nondeaf or “normal” population.

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