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A New Study of Linguistic Synesthesia

by Ott Harfondle
Independent Scholar1

Synesthesia is a peculiar psychological phenomenon in which one sensory stimulus causes a response of a different sense. A prototypical example of synesthesia is sensing color when hearing certain tones. Thus, the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff recalled an occasion when he and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff encountered Alexander Scriabin, who associated colors with musical keys. To Rachmaninoff’s surprise, Rimsky-Korsakoff agreed with Scriabin in general, though they disagreed on several of the associations. The two agreed on the key of D major as yellow, but when Rachmaninoff expressed his disbelief, Rimsky-Korsakoff pointed to his (SR) opera The Miserly Knight, in which the music suddenly shifted to a bright D major when the miserly knight opened a chest of gold.2

Moreover, this anecdote should suffice as a literature review, because all work on synesthesia done since then by professional psychologists is just pure, unadulterated crap.3 In fact, synesthesia is very common, and most strikingly can involve the linguistic faculty as well. This study investigated this phenomenon among 47 1st grade students attending Vindlebucker J. Cobbpipe Elementary School in Fibbington, Ohio. This researcher noticed in the course of completing his daily tasks that many children used particular colors for the letters. This was intriguing, or at least more intriguing than anything else a bunch of 1st graders could puke out, crap out, or otherwise emit, so this researcher tested his hypothesis that the children were subject to mass synesthesia by having the children in three 1st grade classes write out the alphabet with any colors of crayons they chose; as this killed a class period after lunch for each of the teachers concerned, this was readily agreed to. The results were identical for all students. First, only 6 of the 64 crayons that could have been chosen were used. Second, the color chosen for each letter was the same for all students; the color associations are listed below:

Red: A, G, M, S, Y
Blue: E, K, Q, W
Green: D, J, P, V
Yellow: C, I, O, U
Orange: B, H, N, T, Z
Purple: F, L, R, X

This is much too improbable to be due to mere random chance. First, the probability of choosing only six of the 64 crayons for all of the letters is microscopically small, probably on the subatomic scale.4 Second, the probability of just those assignments is also really, really, really small, probably on the molecular level.5 Thus, the probability overall is like the molecular level below the subatomic scale!6 That’s really really really really really really really really really small.7 What could explain such an improbable event? Certainly not random chance. Once that is excluded, as Sherlock Holmes pointed out,8 the only possibility that remains is the basic character of the human mind. Clearly, this set of color associations is inherent to the human psyche. Cool, huh?9

This opens many lines of future research into less studied aspects of synesthesia. While many studies have been done on sonic-visual synesthesia and the like (all fatally flawed, of course), none have been done on more unusual synesthetic associations between such senses as the sense of style,10 the sense of humor,11 the senses of foreboding and doom,12 and the sense of wonder.13 So just you wait!

Editor’s note: We would like to apologize to our gentle readers for printing this, but it’s been a very slow year for submissions. Oh, hell, who are we kidding? You’ll read it and you’ll like it, or else.

1 Corresponding address: Room 025, Facilities Annex, Vindlebucker J. Cobbpipe Elementary School, Fibbington OH 43973.

2 Editor’s note: Rachmaninoff continued that he eventually realized this was an unconscious allusion to Rimsky-Korsakoff’s opera Sadko, in which the music shifted to D major when a lot of goldfish got caught.

3 Editor’s note: This might actually not be true, but as we like the sentiment we’ll let it stand. We might even make it editorial policy.

4 Editor’s note: As we’re really bored and the researcher clearly didn’t stay in probability class past the midterm, we make it as...sorry, actually we’re not that bored, so never mind. Suffice it to say it’s got a lot of zeroes after the decimal point.

5 Editor’s note: As we’re sickly curious what “molecular level” means in this author’s idiolect of probability theory, we’ll do his homework for him just this once: 1 in 266, or just about 3.24E-9 per student. Since a water molecule is about 0.29 nm (0.29E-9) across, that does seem to be on the molecular level...we guess. It’s good enough for government work, anyway.

6 Editor’s note: We had a roommate in college who watched The Incredible Shrinking Man one night while stoned out of his gourd on ganja. We always wondered what happened to him; now we think we know.

7 Editor’s note: Okay, we give in. [Mumble mumble...] It’s 1 in 2664, or about 2.77E-91 for each student, or 6.26E-4257 for the entire population of the study subjects. We suspect a few more really’s are in order.

8 Editor’s note: Technically speaking, 6.26E-4257 is not impossible, so this actually doesn’t follow.

9 Editor’s note: Your humble editors remember playing with the Fisher-Price Magnetic Alphabet Board as children, just as our children did after us. So yeah, real cool. One might even say real real real real real real real real real cool.

10 Editor’s note: A line of research that strikes us as stillborn for this author.

11 Editor’s note: We got that covered.

12 Editor’s note: We got those in spades just now. Shivery, man.

13 Editor’s note: Oh, man, talk about an embarrassment of riches...

On How Middle Voice Should Not Constrain for SyntaxBabylon J. Middleton
Local Linguist Mom Discovers One Weird Trick for Deriving NLP Equations!Computational Linguists Hate Her!Advertisement
SpecGram Vol CLXIX, No 1 Contents