Language and Intelligence By John Walker

Dr. Watts' research on deaf children's level of intelligence and whether it was intrinsically linked to language capabilities.

What they said then?

It was common belief in the 1970s that deaf children were incapable to naturally acquire language and the lack of English impairs the child's intelligence. In reality, there was little research in this field in the context of deaf children and their educational experiences. Oral education was the preferred approach in the UK, as pursued in the 1889 Royal Commission on the Blind and Deaf & Dumb - it was assumed that sign language impairs intelligence, lung function and mental health. Today, we know this is not true.

Dr. Watts research on intelligence

Photo:Montessori tests

Montessori tests

Dr. Bill Watts wanted to assess the level of intelligence in deaf children without relying on language to measure it. He identified three groups: deaf children who do not use English (or rather they use BSL), children who are oral and use English, and hearing children. He used the practical games created for the Montessori Method, where intelligence can be assessed without the need to use language. The tasks involved using letters, numbers and weights. He identified that all three groups demonstrated an equal level of intelligence, although deaf children who used sign language fared slightly better. 

The findings revealed an important fact: intelligence does not form as a product of language, intelligence is in fact independent of language. Also, the presence of language helps to bring the innate intelligence to the fore - it was more important that deaf children have a language regardless of which language it may be, ie. either English or BSL. As BSL is a more accessible language for deaf children, they will develop better, cognitively, than children brought up orally.

This PhD was published in 1976.

This page was added on 26/09/2012.

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