Grapheme-taste and grapheme-smell synesthesia

It includes letter-taste, letter-smell, number-taste and number-smell

These types of synesthesia are very uncommon.

Letter-taste and letter-smell

I am not aware of any constant, consistent cases of letter-taste or letter-smell synesthesia, but the study Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia: linguistic and conceptual factors by Jamie Ward and Julia Simner (2003) speculates that some synesthetes with lexical-gustatory synesthesia – i.e. where words trigger taste perceptions – perhaps receive their taste sensations in response to just one letter. An example would be if all words containing the letter K tasted like cereals. If the taste sensation was evoked on reading the letter as part of a written word it would be a case of grapheme-taste, whereas if the taste was perceived on hearing the sound /k/, regardless of how it is written (with K, C, CK or Q), it would be a case of phoneme-taste. This could also happen with smells in case of lexical-olfactory synesthesia… but these are all very rare cases and I haven’t been able to find any real examples... except for this little update I'm adding, discovered on Reddit, where a person with numerous types of synesthesia ("I feel like all my senses crossfire") talked about a letter-to-smell phenomenon they had perceived:

"I was playing Scrabble earlier, and any time I had an R or a T, I got an overwhelming metallic smell, that felt yellow like fall leaves."
(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2021.)

The concurrent is clearly synesthetic in nature although I wonder if perhaps in this particular case the inducer was emotional, connected with the sudden feeling of "I've got a useful letter now". Difficult to say... but any scrabble-induced aromas floating around are always of interest to us on the Tree! 

If a person perceived specific and consistent tastes in their mouth (or smells in their nose) on looking at or thinking of the different letters of the alphabet, as a regular occurrence although presumably not all the time, as smell- and taste-related synesthesias tend to "come and go" somewhat in general, this would be classic letter-taste or letter-smell synesthesia.  

Number-taste and number-smell

Smelling and tasting numbers is a very uncommon type of synesthesia, despite often being cited as an example of synesthesia in general articles in magazines and websites, which frequently begin with statements like “Do you taste numbers or smell colours?” Such questions or statements are never backed up by descriptions of real cases as they are actually extremely difficult to find.

Sean Day's study on 1,143 synesthetes to discover the prevalence of the different types indicates that there may be a small percentage of synesthetes with number-taste (0.26%), while none of them reported having number-smell. In all uncommon types of synesthesia involving tastes and/or smells, gustatory concurrents tend to be more common than olfactory concurrents, and both frequently occur together, sometimes accompanied by others such as colour or sound. It appears that this type of synesthesia tends only to affect people with a high “synesthetic disposition”, i.e. people with numerous different types, strongly expressed. In the case of number-taste or number-smell synesthesia it is possible for several concurrents to occur together, as in the first example below.

Here are some descriptions written by people with number-taste and/or number-smell synesthesia:

“For me, some numbers have sounds, temperatures, personalities, textures, flavors, or colors. For instance, 16 has a high pitch like a small chime, and tastes like frosting.”

(Source: this comment in the blog The Used Life.)

“I also have an addition of tastes/smells with the lower end of the numerical scale. So number 1 is yellow and tastes like buttered popcorn, 2 is like orange pastel lollies, but twelve is like fake watermelon flavouring (...). Most numbers smell more like food additives to me, like banana lollies and food colouring.”

(Source: this comment in the forum of the website AutismForums.)

“1 is a tomato taste. 2 is honey. But 12 is onions with salt.

One tastes like fresh cut grass, two is sun heat smell, twelve is burning cigarette. (…) Sometimes I confuse words because they taste similar, but they have different temperature and odour and different sound...”

(Source: an interesting conversation with A.J.R., a person with this type of synesthesia. 2020. )

Go to the page on lexical-gustatory synesthesia (words-taste)

Go to the page on lexical-olfactory synesthesia (words-smell)

Go to the page on grapheme-colour synesthesia

This page last updated: 11 September 2021

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