How would a society work if everyone was deaf?

By: | Post date: 2016-10-13 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: General Language, Linguistics

Imagine a world in which humans didn’t have Electroreception. None of that electric frisson you get when a predator lurks outside. No ability to use your body as a compass; why, the number of humans that would get lost on hikes! No ability to tell what’s in front of you just by its capacitance or resistance. And how the hell would humans ever develop an intuitive understanding of electrical engineering?

Oh, I’m sorry. I said humans. I was, of course, speaking of sharks and platypuses.

A society that never had sound would never know what it’s missing, just as we don’t know what we’re missing out on compared to sharks and platypuses. (Or for that matter dogs.) So, no music, and no loss: humans are still creative animals, they would divert their creativity to the senses they did have.


Don Grushkin has written a meaty and substantive answer; but I have to say, I disagree with some of it.

  • The social imperative that drives people to differentiate their oral languages is human (it’s about group dynamics), and would also apply to signed languages.
  • The notion that visual communication inherently minimises conflict is one I would need to be convinced of.
  • The former Yugoslavia blew up because people there understood what each other was saying all too well.
  • Hearing people have had plenty of contexts motivating collaboration and collectivism; in fact, traditional societies do so in general (you can’t be either a one-man farm, or a one-woman hunter-gatherer). Individualism is a much more recent artefact, and certainly more pronounced in the US than elsewhere.

So the speculation that Eyeth* would be more peaceful, collaborative, and understanding than Earth is one I’m not buying.

Written language would start like Chinese; I don’t know that there would be as much incentive for it to move away from pictograms as there was for abugidas and alphabets, given the complexity of sign language phonologies.

But I agree with Don that Eyeth society would look pretty similar to Earth. (In fact, I’m arguing it would look even more similar.) Society is how it is because of cognition, not modality of perception.

* That is, while the planet of the Hearing is EARth, the planet of the Deaf is EYEth.

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