Spatial language facilitates spatial cognition: Evidence from children who lack language input

Dedre Gentner*, Asli Özyürek, Özge Gürcanli, Susan Goldin-Meadow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Does spatial language influence how people think about space? To address this question, we observed children who did not know a conventional language, and tested their performance on nonlinguistic spatial tasks. We studied deaf children living in Istanbul whose hearing losses prevented them from acquiring speech and whose hearing parents had not exposed them to sign. Lacking a conventional language, the children used gestures, called homesigns, to communicate. In Study 1, we asked whether homesigners used gesture to convey spatial relations, and found that they did not. In Study 2, we tested a new group of homesigners on a Spatial Mapping Task, and found that they performed significantly worse than hearing Turkish children who were matched to the deaf children on another cognitive task. The absence of spatial language thus went hand-in-hand with poor performance on the nonlinguistic spatial task, pointing to the importance of spatial language in thinking about space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-330
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Deaf vs. hearing
  • Homesign
  • Language and thought
  • Spatial cognition
  • Spatial language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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