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Letter personification

A type of ordinal linguistic personification


Personifying letters and numbers are the two most common types of ordinal linguistic personification. In the case of letter personification, the attributes associated with each letter emerge during childhood, probably on learning the alphabet as a series of abstract concepts, and the personalities are consistent throughout the synesthete’s lifetime. They can involve more simple aspects such as each letter having gender only, or they can be highly complex: letters can have personality, gender, a physical appearance, clothes and accessories, likes and dislikes, a job, hobbies, family relationships, friends and enemies among the other letters, and they can even fall in love and get married. These personalities can evoke an emotional response – love or hate, for example – in the person who perceives them.

Image: Siyllawy44on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.

For some people with this type of synesthesia, the letters have different personalities according to the typeface used, whether they are in upper or lower case or whether they are printed or handwritten.


Letter personification often co-occurs with the personification of numbers. It also commonly coexists with grapheme-colour synesthesia, so the letters not only have personalities and human characteristics but each one also has its own particular colour.


Ordinal linguistic personification is considered a type of synesthesia, although technically speaking it does not perhaps fulfil all the requirements for being one: the concurrent is figurative or conceptual while synesthesia is normally abstract, and it also seems to occur sometimes in non-synesthetes. A study (J. Simner and E. Holenstein, Brunel University, 2007) found that 1% of people who did not have synesthesia personified letters or numbers.


Here are some descriptions written by people with this type of synesthesia:

 

This first case can often be found quoted in the literature. It dates back almost 130 years and was described by the psychologist and researcher Mary Whiton Calkins in a lengthy article on “pseudo-chromesthesia and mental-forms” (these being names given to synesthesia at the time) in the American Journal of Psychology in 1893:

“T's are generally crabbed, ungenerous creatures. U is a soulless sort of thing. (…) The letters are very individual, for instance, B; seems like a young woman, a friend of L, which seems like a daughter to M. N seems to be a sort of maiden aunt, sister to M. (…) Q is odd and stands by himself as rather an eccentric middle-aged man."

(Source: Mary Whiton Calkins, A Statistical Study of Pseudo-Chromesthesia and of Mental-Forms, American Journal of Psychology, July 1893.)


Here are some more contemporary cases:

“The letter F is a young, rather weak-kneed fellow who would get into trouble if it wasn't for the older, wiser gentleman G living right next to him. Troublemaker E loves to drag F into his antics, but can't do a thing with his other neighbor, the perky and somewhat daft lady D... and so forth.”

 
(Source: Kt in the blog Level of Decompression, 2012.)


The letters R and S have a rivalry based on a shared affinity for the letter T, where R is jealous that S sits beside T. Some letters have unpleasant personalities, such as M, while others are extremely friendly and welcoming, such as B, H and I. The letters A, K and Z are strongly associated with strong, feminine personalities, with Z having greater wisdom compared to A and K.”

(Source: the blog Little Bird, Dreaming. 2016.)


"These are drawings of my letters. Their hair colors are the color I associate with the letter (grapheme-color synesthesia)."

(Source: Image by Star-kwafie in Deviant-Art. 2015.)

I was thinking about the letter Q a lot because I always see it with a blue Donald Duck hat on. I then started thinking of other letters. A has a top hat, B has a scarf, C has a puffy jacket, D a sun hat. (…)

E - hat, scarf, and shoes (no other letter wears more clothes), F - whistle, G - pirate hook, H - messenger bag, I - tie, J - scars, K - crown, L - slippers, M - clogs, N - green scarf, O - tuxedo, P - necklace, Q - blue Donald Duck hat, R - high heels, S - sunglasses, T - TV antennas, U - choker, V - leggings, W - belt, X bead necklace, Y - flower veil, Z - bowling hat.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)


Go to the page on number personification

Go to the page on ordinal linguistic personification and personification in general


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