Language Synaesthesia

Last modified date

Over the past few years, I came across something which I consider to be amazing: Synaesthesia.

What is Synaesthesia?

“A condition in which someone experiences things through their senses in an unusual way.

For example by experiencing a colour as a sound or a number as a position in space.”

Cambridge Dictionary


“Synaesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads or automatic, involuntarily experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report a lifelong history of such experiences are known as Synaesthetes”.


This is something that an estimated 4% of the population has.

I am not a Synaesthete myself, I have believe that I may have experienced moments of Synaesthesia at some point in life and suspect most of us will have at some point.

Some people experience it in such a profound way due to the way their brains are wired. I know of people who could look at someone and see (what I presume to be) an aura of colour which fascinates me.

In the recent year or so, I have come across something which caught my attention: Synaesthesia when talking to someone….especially in Sign Language. This phenomenon is not something I had even considered to be a possibility yet when you consider that the language centre is being stimulated and this leads to grapheme which is colour Synaesthesia.

Very little is known on the subject of Sign Language and Synaesthesia as the main focus has been on documenting/researching instances in Speech, Writing and Reading.

A group of academics collaborated to produce one of the first pieces of research into Sign Language and Synaesthesia. They are: Dr Atkinson, Professor Woll, Jamie Ward and David Eagleman. Their conclusion:

“The results from this collaborative project which has brought together world experts in synaesthesia with world experts in sign language research.

Working with a mixed study cohort of hearing and signed language users – both of British Signed Language (BSL) and American Signed Language (ASL) – we discovered evidence that manual alphabet/numeral sign → colour synaesthesia exists within second-language users of two different signed languages, ASL and BSL.

These findings fit with the notion that for most second-language learners, the transfer of colour into this system is primarily determined by conceptual meaning based on their first language but the colours can also be influenced by perceptual properties of the signs or fingerspelled letters themselves.

This study also underlines the importance of broadening research to include signed languages because this casts new light on the mechanisms underpinning synaesthesia in general.”

Dr Atkinson

For more information about the research, here is the article:

Do you have Synaesthesia yourself?
What form of Synaesthesia do you have?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment

Accessibility Toolbar