The psycholinguistics of synaesthesia

Mankin, Jennifer Lauren (2018) The psycholinguistics of synaesthesia. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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To most people, a question like “What colour is the letter A?” may seem nonsensical, but to a grapheme-colour synaesthete, each letter and word has an automatically evoked colour sensation associated with it. This thesis asks whether the synaesthetic colours for letters and words are shaped by the same influences that inform the typical use of language – that is, if grapheme-colour synaesthesia is fundamentally psycholinguistic in nature. If this is the case, the colour experiences of synaesthetes for letters and words can also be used to investigate long-standing questions about how language acquisition and processing work for everyone.

This thesis addresses two aspects of the psycholinguistic roots of synaesthesia: structure/morphology and meaning/semantics. The first two studies on word structure collected colour responses from synaesthetes for compound words (e.g. rainbow), the constituent morphemes of those words separately (e.g. rain and bow), and the letters that in turn form those words (e.g. R, A, B, etc.). These studies showed that synaesthetic word colouring does indeed encode linguistic properties such as word frequency and morphological structure. Furthermore, both linguistic and colour elements of words were important in determining their synaesthetic colour. The second two studies turned to the semantic aspect of language, asking how the meanings associated with words (e.g. red, fire) and even individual letters (e.g. A, Q) can influence the colours that a synaesthete experiences for them. The first of these studies indicated that the synaesthetic colour for a word like red or fire was measurably influenced by the colour that word typically evokes (e.g. the red of red and the orange of fire). The second showed that trends in letter-colour associations in large-scale studies (e.g. A is typically red) may be rooted in connections to particular words (e.g. A is red because A is for apple and apples are red). Overall, this thesis shows that both word structure and meaning have a systematic, measureable effect on synaesthetic colour, which allows these colours to then be used as a new tool to investigate psycholinguistic questions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0231 Sensation. Aesthesiology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0311 Consciousness. Cognition > BF0455 Psycholinguistics. Psychology of meaning
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 19 Jun 2018 11:17
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2018 11:17

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