Mouthwords

Given that I am highly multilingual, I often get asked how many languages I speak fluently. I generally respond with “none”, and this isn’t a joke. My thoughts are not word-shaped. This is one reason why I was puzzled by claims in the Chomskyan tradition (e. g. Hauser, Chomsky, Fitch 2002) that the capacity for language originally evolved as a tool for thought, not communication. I do not generally feel a need to put my thoughts into words until I want to share them with others. Sometimes, I fail, and produce entirely nonsensical sentences, because I don’t find a good match between my thoughts and words.

Autistic people often have a different relation to language compared to allistic people. Many autistic children have a delay in acquiring speech compared to allistic children. Some autistic people prefer to not communicate with what we call mouthwords. They might prefer speaking a signed language, or use devices for augmentative and alternative communication (ACC). In other cases, autistic children acquire an unusual amount of vocabulary at an early age and form highly complex sentences. We can delight in words the same way we may delight in interesting rocks or plants. Words and phrases can be something to study, something to collect. Often, autistic people have a heightened sensitivity to the literal meanings of expressions.

Two other aspects of how the autistic experience of verbal behaviour can be different from allistic people are social behaviour and echolalia, about which I will write separately.

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