Based on anticipatory looking and reactions to violations of expected events, infants have been credited with ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) knowledge that a person’s search behaviour for an object will be guided by true or false beliefs about the object’s location. However, little is known about the preconditions for looking patterns consistent with belief attribution in infants. In this study, we compared the performance of 17- to 26-month-olds on anticipatory looking in ToM tasks. The infants were either hearing or were deaf from hearing families and thus delayed in communicative experience gained from access to language and conversational input. Hearing infants significantly outperformed their deaf counterparts in anticipating the search actions of a cartoon character that held a false belief about a target-object location. By contrast, the performance of the two groups in a true belief condition did not differ significantly. These findings suggest for the first time that access to language and conversational input contributes to early ToM reasoning.