Lack of visual experience affects multimodal language production: Evidence from congenitally blind and sighted people
The human experience is shaped by information from different perceptual channels, but it is still debated whether and how differential experience influences language use. To address this, we compared congenitally blind, blindfolded, and sighted people's descriptions of the same motion events experienced auditorily by all participants (i.e., via sound alone) and conveyed in speech and gesture. Comparison of blind and sighted participants to blindfolded participants helped us disentangle the effects of a lifetime experience of being blind versus the task-specific effects of experiencing a motion event by sound alone. Compared to sighted people, blind people's speech focused more on path and less on manner of motion, and encoded paths in a more segmented fashion using more landmarks and path verbs. Gestures followed the speech, such that blind people pointed to landmarks more and depicted manner less than sighted people. This suggests that visual experience affects how people express spatial events in the multimodal language and that blindness may enhance sensitivity to paths of motion due to changes in event construal. These findings have implications for the claims that language processes are deeply rooted in our sensory experiences.
Publication typeJournal article