Phoneme-colour synesthesia

In spoken language, a phoneme is the equivalent of a grapheme or letter in written language: it is the smallest unit of speech distinguishing one word from another, i.e. a sound. Grapheme-colour and phoneme-colour synesthesia are therefore very similar as in both cases the synesthete associates colours with the different letters within words, but in the case of phoneme-colour what distinguishes each one is its sound rather than its written form or symbol.

In their book “Wednesday is Indigo Blue”, Richard Cytowic and David Eagleman inform that about 10% of grapheme-colour synesthetes actually have phoneme-colour as they are sensitive to the auditory component of words. As a result, phoneme-colour synesthesia is very often mistaken for grapheme-colour, when technically speaking the two are different.

A practical example of this type of synesthesia could be as follows. The phoneme-colour synesthete hears a phoneme: /u/ for example, a sound which has the colour brown for them. The voice of the person pronouncing this sound nuances the brown colour and determines whether the synesthete perceives light brown (a higher-pitched voice) or dark brown (a lower-pitched voice).

Here is a practical illustration of the difference between grapheme-colour and phoneme-colour synesthesia: For a grapheme-colour synesthete, the letter c in the words call and cell would have the same colour. However, for someone with phoneme-colour they would have different colours, as the pronunciation of the c is different in each case. The opposite would be true for the words sight and cite: the phoneme-colour synesthete would associate the same colour with the letters s and c as they both sound the same, while for a grapheme-colour synesthete the s and the c would have different colours despite their identical pronunciation.

Go to the page on grapheme-colour synesthesia

This page is about phoneme-color synesthesia

This page is about phoneme-colour synaesthesia

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