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Ordinal linguistic personification and personification in general


Personification is the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to inanimate objects or concepts: gender, personality, human appearance, clothes and accessories, likes and dislikes, feelings and relationships with the other objects or concepts in their group. When these associations are considered a type of synesthesia they are usually formed during childhood and are stable, tending to show no variation over the synesthete’s lifetime.
The term used to describe this phenomenon as applied to series or sequences of concepts is ordinal linguistic personification, often abbreviated to OLP. The name grapheme personification can also be used to talk about letter personification and number personification, two of its most common manifestationsThe less frequent names “sequence-personality” and “social synesthesia” have also been used.

What is the prevalence of ordinal linguistic personification?

For the moment there are no conclusive figures, but it seems to be a relatively common type of synesthesia. An interesting study by Amin et. al (2011) found it to be very common among the synesthetic population: 33% of the 248 synesthetes interviewed reported attributing gender and/or personality to letters or numbers. However, on repeating the test some months later, only 10% described their personalities in a sufficiently similar way to be considered genuine grapheme personifiers. Sean Day and Julia Simner/Emma Holenstein suggest a prevalence of just under 5%. However, judging by the enormous numbers of detailed personal accounts that are readily described on enquiring about it, I suspect that the figure is likely to be higher than 10%, or 20% even, and that it is actually one of the most common types of synesthesia. The difficulty of designing a simple, reliable test to determine the degree of consistency like those that exist for grapheme-colour, for example, stands in the way of obtaining a representative figure.


When is it considered synesthesia?

Some types of personification are considered synesthesia, despite showing some differences from what is normally accepted as such. These differences are firstly that the synesthetic concurrent is figurative or conceptual, while synesthesia normally triggers more abstract materialisations such as colours or geometric shapes, and secondly because it appears that it is not exclusively experienced by synesthetes, although it seems to be much more common and manifest more strongly in synesthetes than in non-synesthetes. (For types of personification that are not considered synesthesia, see the description below.)


These are the main types of personification considered synesthesia: They all consist of personification of elements in series or sequences. The links lead to the page about each type.


Grapheme personification

Numbers

Letters


Personification of other sequences

Days and months

Colours

Objects or other elements forming part of series or sequences (some more abstract examples include directions, school subjects or cities; more concrete examples that could perhaps also be considered synesthesia include fruit and furniture)

An interesting example in this category is:

Cutlery personification (knives, forks and spoons)


Personification of musical sequences

Notes, chords, key, timbre and other musical sequences


And when is it not synesthesia?

Here are some types of personification that are not considered synesthesia:


- Pareidolia: automatically recognising faces and other human traits in inanimate figures, such as faces formed by the doors and windows of houses or by cracks or marks on the wall, human figures in clouds or on a piece of burnt toast, etc. This is more connected with pattern recognition, or a memory-prediction reflex reaction.


Affective anthropomorphism: This means feeling empathy and concern for inanimate objects, and it is often a tendency in sensitive people in general, people on the autism spectrum, synesthetes (although it isn’t considered a type of synesthesia) and people who live alone. It consists of frequently having attitudes such as feeling sad for objects that have been left alone, the desire to protect an object left out in the cold, attempting to treat all objects equally and not favouring one over others, etc. It is a sensitive, endearing habit that can give rise to perfectly innocuous behaviour such as buying the last product left on the shelf in a shop or one with torn packaging “because nobody wants it”, or becoming very attached to one’s personal belongings, making it difficult to get rid of them when they are no longer useful. However in a few more serious cases it can contribute to disorders such as compulsive hoarding or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).


- Animistic thinking: attributing human characteristics to stuffed toys, dolls and other much-loved possessions, as small children do before they learn to correctly distinguish between the animate and the inanimate. When someone gives their car or computer a name, it is probably a manifestation of this type of thinking, for example. It can only be clearly considered a type of synesthesia if it applies to series or sequences of objects, and in this case it would normally occur in people who already have other types of synesthesia.


This page last updated: 25 March 2023


13 comments:

  1. Does it fall under synesthesia if you had a regular ongoing story about something specific? When I was younger there was this elaborate story-esc thing where I had a favorite of my left and right side, and there was something about assassination and how the least favorite needed to pose as the favorite to avoid death and whatever. That one may have just been an overactive imagination, but I also distinctly remember specific numbers being related or friends. Mostly low multiples of five. Five and fifteen were brothers, ten was their vaguely annoying little brother, and twelve was their female tomboy friend. This is mostly just to get it off my chest but if it does in fact fall under the category please tell me

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    1. Yes, I think so. If you had personalities for numbers, as you say, and the ongoing stories you created were related to personification of some kind of group, series or sequence in your daily life, then all that would fit in with having OLP, yes. (I'm not sure what you're saying about your left and right side, but if you're personifying parts of your body like your right and left hand for example then that's it!). Sorry it took me a few days to see and answer your comment!

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  2. I personify directions, like left, right, up, and down. Is this synesthesia?

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    1. Yes, that would certainly fit into the category of sequence personification, and it's a good example in fact because you're personfiying something intangible that couldn't be considered to have a human form in any way so it wouldn't be confused with animistic thinking.

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  3. whenever i write the letters act up as my extended family which I am very scared of, and it feels like I can read them through the letters and they reat accordingly like letter N is an uncle A is his duaghter Sh is an aunt So is her duaghter R is a collective and T is another aunt B is another brother M is his cruel father W is the mother... and the letters transition sometimes as well like a subconcious reaction.. is this OLP ?

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  4. objects have names in my minds eye automatically. thumbs are
    charles, kitchen cabinets are gretchen. Ground carrots are grover
    Coffee is Phillip,glass tables are Andrew, wood tables are Phyllis, and they all have different personalities. Every inanimate object has a name and different personality that has been the same my whole life? Is that considered synesthesia? I've always been so embarrassed about it.

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    1. I love this! As to whether it should be considered synesthesia, really it depends on the kind of sequences you personify. If you personify letters, numbers, days of the week, months or other series of abstract concepts, then that’s definitely considered synesthesia. As to series of objects, probably not, although there could be a case for it sometimes if they fit into the definition of a series that you learn all together. Perhaps this page of the Tree:
      https://www.thesynesthesiatree.com/2021/03/object-personification.html
      could give you some insight, if you haven’t already seen it.
      You could also think about whether you have other types of synesthesia, like automatically having colours for letters, numbers or words (grapheme-colour), or sequence-colour synesthesia with time units like days or months or other concepts which might even include series of objects. If you don’t have any other types of synesthesia at all, then perhaps it would be more likely that this isn’t related to syn.
      I think it’s so fascinating though. I read about another case of this once, someone for whom all foods had names as well as very distinct personalities, although they’d only started noticing it recently in this case. But it stuck in my mind, as the “Strawberries are all named Chester. They are western cowboys, and wear leather” thing just seemed to me to be fascinating, memorable, and great fun :D Perhaps you would like to read it, it was on Reddit, although several years ago:
      https://www.reddit.com/r/Synesthesia/comments/2brno6/food_people_what/
      So you’re definitely not alone and there may be many more people who have something similar but like you they feel a bit embarrassed to talk about it…

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  5. Is there a study I can reach out to and discuss my Synesthesia since I can remember and how slightly things changed as I matured however lately I've noticed that I have the empathy also so being a young child they were boy girl and I could rip em off and I was shunned I would like to try and make a difference with the studies and information so far I have documentation and such I am 40 now and realizing that if I think now I. Able to find more innate things about each number being shit off oddly a woman had a similar feeling for the number 1 and 10 oddly also....many neat things to add after a trauma at 15 I can see myself walking into math class and suddenly 6 and L were sexually assaulted by 7 and K whom they are stuck next to I also have clairvoyant gifts and things that have been proven and have scared away many . I can see through people's eyes and feel their pain or anything bothering them not positive it's always negative that I will pull and I've got things to share and ideas where to start

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    1. Hello! To chat about ordinal linguistic personification and find others with the same type who will understand and be interested, you could try making a post in the Synesthesia subReddit or perhaps on one of the facebook groups (they’re linked on the sidebar on this page). For a real time chat, a Discord group might be a possibility. I don’t actually use them myself but people have mentioned these links, you could try them:
      https://discord.gg/hFRkspPt
      https://discord.gg/P9z4HFPH
      https://discord.gg/BypqnpxTrD

      Also, a good place to describe your experiences and ask questions and perhaps get a response from someone similar to you is Sean Day’s Synesthesia List. It’s by email, if you would like to join you should send him a mail (info at http://www.daysyn.com/Synesthesia-List.html) and he will put you on the list and you can receive the mails to get an idea of what kind of discussions there are, and then you could perhaps send your own.

      As to someone actually carrying out a study on this type of synesthesia looking for participants, that only happens from time to time really, but keep an eye on the Synesthesia List, Reddit Synesthesia, the facebook groups and the “Seeking Research Participants” section in the Tree, one might come up.

      Empathy is often discussed in all these forums too, as there are many empaths among the synesthesia community and they often discuss this subject.
      The clairvoyancy topic is a bit more difficult. Some of the facebook groups have members who are interested in clairvoyancy, have those experiences themselves and like to discuss it, while others are not interested and some don’t think it should be discussed in a synesthesia group as it’s a different subject. So if you wanted to bring that into the discussion you could try, but perhaps it’s better not to. The biggest group, called Synesthesia, is probably the best place to try. They will always be interested in OLP, empathy and experiences like the ones you describe here and perhaps be able to tell you about similar experiences.

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  6. Is it synesthesia to compare people to/someone makes you feel like they are certain foods, drinks, colours, specific situations in life (eg being at the beach in the summer) or feelings (eg someone reminds you of the wind) etc? unsure if that's a good explanation

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    1. Yes, most or all of those associations can be considered synesthesia, if they’re consistent (i.e. the same person always makes you perceive the same colour, situation, etc.).

      Person-to-colour is a well-known type of synesthesia, there’s a Tree page on it here:
      https://www.thesynesthesiatree.com/2021/03/person-colour-synesthesia.html

      And as for the other associations or possible synesthetic concurrents, they are discussed here:
      https://www.thesynesthesiatree.com/2021/03/figurative-images-as-synesthetic.html#people

      Thanks for writing!

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  7. Is perceiving the weight, width and height of numbers a synesthesia? For example 6 is heavier than 7, 3 is wide ?

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