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Words are tasty

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That is how I see the alphabet.

I am a synaesthete. Wikipedia describes synaesthesia as “a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway”.

The form of synaesthesia I experience most often is grapheme –> colour synaesthesia. This means that when I see, hear or think of letters and/or numbers, I experience colours.

A good way to explain it is this: think about the word ‘banana’. Most of you will probably have a vague sense of the colour yellow because bananas are yellow. That same vague sense of colour is exactly what I see in any word or number, because to me, ‘a’ is red, ‘v’ is fuchsia, ‘n’ is yellow.

I was raised bilingual. I learned to speak English and Maltese at the same time. My experience with learning the two languages was different for each of them.

Since living in Malta would make me more exposed to Maltese, I learned the language primarily through the aural dimension, therefore the language has a musicality to it, for me at least.

However, learning English was and still is something extraordinary for me. Although I was exposed to spoken English, I owe my fluency to my being such a bookworm. I have always been very good at spelling, especially with English (which would be deemed more difficult than Maltese as the latter has concrete rules, and very few exceptions). When I read, or am asked to spell a word, the letters, which all have different moods and colours to me to begin with, all take on a different position until the result is a blend of colours/light.

I am mostly able to spell English words I’ve never encountered in life or reading because of this. Taking the example of ‘idea’: this word to me starts and ends in bright white, with moderate tones of a bright and a pinkish red, and a green undertone (that’s the ‘e’). To me that feels like the correct spelling, or mood even, for the concept of an idea.

On the other hand, ‘eyedihr’ is a jumble of colours which do not make any kind of sense together. The green is very prominent as both ‘e’ and ‘r’ are on the green part of the spectrum, but then there are violent yellows and oranges which do not make sense at all, especially as the word ‘idea’ is linked to similar words in Latin which have the same colour tones.

Another form of synaesthesia I experience is spatial-sequence synaesthesia, which means that dates, years, months, and so on, all seem to me to have a definite place in a ‘line’ of sorts. Almost a timeline. Days of the week and months also have colours, and because of my ordinal linguistic personification, most numbers have personalities, apart from their colour. The number ‘9’ is red to me, and also evokes the notion of a sexy, curvaceous woman, like Jessica Rabbit. The number 5 is a yellowish-green colour and reminds me of a gentleman in a hat and waistcoat, with a pocket watch.

I only got to know that synaesthesia was not ‘normal’ a few years ago, at university. I thought everybody thought letters had colours, or that everybody thought the songs on Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell album were strictly green and blue. One day, I asked my mother if she thought Friday was yellow, and she gave me a weird look. So I googled it and found it was not something everybody experienced.

I’m quite proud of it. I owe my good spelling skills and my good musical ear (I have perfect pitch) to it. I wouldn’t want to live life without the experience of synaesthesia. It’s pretty cool having your own personal light show in your head.

For more information on synaesthesia, check out the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

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