August 2014
Volume 14, Issue 10
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2014
What colours a letter? The deep learned structure of synaesthesia in two linguistic groups
Author Affiliations
  • Marcus R Watson
    Ophthalmology & Vision Sciences, The University of British Columbia
  • Kathleen A Akins
    Department of Philosophy, Simon Fraser University
  • Jan Chromý
    Institute of Czech Language and Theory of Communication, Charles University
  • John Alderete
    Department of Linguistics, Simon Fraser University
  • Martin Hahn
    Department of Philosophy, Simon Fraser University
  • James T Enns
    Department of Psychology, The University of British Columbia
Journal of Vision August 2014, Vol.14, 1139. doi:
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      Marcus R Watson, Kathleen A Akins, Jan Chromý, John Alderete, Martin Hahn, James T Enns; What colours a letter? The deep learned structure of synaesthesia in two linguistic groups. Journal of Vision 2014;14(10):1139.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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The development of grapheme-colour synaesthesia is a slow process, in which children gradually develop a consistent set of colours associated with each letter of the alphabet, beginning before age 6 and continuing until at least age 12 (Simner & Bain, 2013). During this time, a wide range of factors influence the specific colour associated with a given letter, factors that recent research is beginning to tease apart. These include semantic associations with letters, their order in the alphabet, phonological characteristics, shape, and frequency of use (e.g. Simner et al., 2005; Asano & Yokosawa, 2013; Watson, Akins & Enns, 2012). Here we directly compare these influences and several never previously-described in two distinct populations of synaesthetes (native Czech and English speakers). We find that while some factors (e.g. letter shape and alphabetical order) have similar effects in the two groups, other factors are particular to each language. For instance, the regular relationship between phonemes and graphemes in Czech enables the phonological similarity of letters to influence their colours, unlike in English, and Czech has several diacritical marks that influence the colour of their letters in different ways. The overall picture that emerges is one of complex interacting influences competing with each other over the course of synaesthetic development, leading to the apparently idiosyncratic sets of colours of adult synaesthetes.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2014


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