Friday, 2 September 2011

vowel colour

What colour would you say ɛ was? And ɒ?

For many of us those questions may seem pretty fatuous. We’re used to the metaphorical use of the term “vowel colour” as a synonym of “vowel quality”: something to be described in terms of front/back, close/open (or high/low), and rounded/unrounded. But actual hues? Is this vowel pink, that one green? Meaningless questions, surely.

Not for everyone. Some people exhibit a neurological condition known as synaesthesia. For them, numbers or letters or days of the week are characterized by different hues. Read about it here.

(It’s not the same as phonaesthesia, which is to do with sound symbolism. Though I suppose the two are related.)

If there are synaesthetes who think that particular letters have particular colours (and apparently there are), what about speech sounds? Are they coloured, too? That’s the subject of a piece of research currently being carried out by Rob Drummond of Manchester Metropolitan University.

Anyone can take part in this research, even if they have never thought of speech sounds as being coloured. Just go to www.vowelcolours.org or visit the dedicated page on Facebook, and volunteer as a subject to answer an online questionnaire.
…we need as many people as possible to help us by completing a task online. Anyone at all can take part, as long as you are able to hear sounds on the computer you are using. The task itself is extremely straightforward and will take no longer than 10-15 minutes to complete.

Rob asks me to invite all my readers to take part, whether native speakers of English or not. So how about it?

45 comments:

  1. I find it interesting that they ask which kind of speakers you're going to use but nothing whatsoever about your display, which can mess up the exact colours shown to a much larger extent than poor speakers mess up with vowel formants.

    Also, I'd have liked a larger palette and/or the ability to choose *two* colours and picking an intermediate one along the scale. (For example, [o:] is dark greyish blue to me, but there was no such colour so I had to choose between grey and fully saturated blue, and I pretty much chose at random.)

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  2. Whenever synaesthesia is mentioned, I always tend to think of Rimbaud's poem (Les) Voyelles (available online at http://www.mag4.net/Rimbaud/poesies/Voyelles.html)... though Rimbaud is obviously thinking in terms of "vowel letters" rather than vowel sounds.

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  3. Another thing that bothers me is that sometimes rhyme covers two (IMO) quite different scenarios.

    If someone asked me whether breather and either rhyme I'd say “sometimes” because the latter has two phonemically different pronunciations which I use interchangeably; one of those has the same phoneme as breather and the other has a phoneme which is so different that there's no risk of confusion between the two, even in non-careful speech.

    OTOH, when asked about Pam and palm I said “sometimes” because, whereas phonemically they are always /pam/ and /pA:m/, the distributions of possible realizations of those phonemes overlap to such a large extent that, if I heard a recording of myself saying one of those words in spontaneous speech, I wouldn't be able to confidently tell which it is, even though I can clearly imagine myself saying “I said Pam, not palm” (using a fronter-than-average realization for the former and a longer-than-average realization for the latter).

    Now, when asked about duck, book, and spook... For me*, the FOOT and STRUT phonemes somewhat overlap realization-wise, whereas GOOSE is more clearly distinguished (though not as clearly as, say, PRICE and FLEECE); duck is consistently STRUT, spook is consistently FOOT, and book can be either FOOT or GOOSE; I can't even remember how I answered that question, but IMO none of the answers was completely satisfactory.

    * Italian native speaker, lived in Dublin for eight months but about half of the people in my residence were foreigners.

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  4. I had taken the survey before seeing this posting. I agree that I read through many of the comparative pronunciations and thought "well, it depends on the situation." I teach my theatre students that the realm of correctness is often gray and that we must adapt to our surroundings.

    The thing I wondered while taking the survey was how were the colors chosen and why? They seemed somewhat limited and several times I felt I was choosing a color because the color I wanted was not there.

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  5. In what way is this not fatuous when his fellow researchers have already found that synaesthetes have very varied interpretations of vowels, music, sound, etc.? It strikes as someone who researches something without bothering to understand the very concept of what he's studying.

    I'll eat my pride (as well as my pants) if he legitimately discovers anything other than the obvious: that the overall correlation between vowels and colour is next to random because the associations are to do with individual higher-level processing and not just genes governing brain formation.

    Of course, in order for Rob Drummond's little survey to be of any use to his field, he must compensate for the obvious bias such a voluntary questionnaire will cause, considering that the few who will partake in it will be, irony upon ironies, other linguists drawn by linguistic blogs like this one. There will be a natural bias to map his static array of colours in each question to the IPA vowel chart.

    From what I see this is distractive nonsense and truly unconstructive aside from simply raising awareness of this interesting ability in some people.

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  6. Well, I do suspect they'll find that f1 is positively correlated with brightness and f2 negatively correlated with hue, given the known near-universal phonosymbolisms (“little” having a front vowel and “large” a back vowel in most languages -- English small and big being famous exceptions -- etc.) IIRC, when shown a smaller and a larger figure with the same shape and asked who is Tit and who is Tot, an overwhelming majority of participants answered Tit was the small one.

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  7. @Michael
    Good point about the colours. I was in two minds whether to include more, but I decided to use the same colour palette as was used by Wrembel's study (mentioned on the site) so as to enable later comparisons.

    @Army1987
    You are absolutely right in your point about rhyming. Here, it is a just a (fairly crude) technique of trying to ascertain someone's accent, in addition to how they themselves describe it.

    @Glen
    I feel I should respond to this. I genuinely do welcome any comments (and criticisms) of the project, but I would like to answer a few points raised here.

    Firstly, this is not set up as a study of synaesthetes. John has chosen to present it with this link, but if you look at the site itself, there is only one reference to synaesthesia - the question 'Are you aware of having any form of syaesthesia?' Instead, it's looking at the population at large, most of whom, I would argue, are not particularly aware of synaesthesia. The synaesthesia question is intended to identify synaesthetes so that I can compare the two groups in the data.

    You may well be right that I discover no correlation. However, to me, that is not wasted research. There is also the additional aspect of accent. I want to know if a person's accent (and vowel inventory) affects vowel/colour associations. It might well be the case that a) there are no association patterns anyway, or b) there is no accent effect. But again, this for me is what research is about - answering questions.

    As for the few who take part, at the moment, 4 days after it was launched, I have 711 complete responses. While it is correct that there are likely be to be more linguists than would be representative due to my personal networks on Twitter and facebook (the only other places apart from this blog where the project was initially mentioned) I feel this bias is gradually disappearing. I am able to follow who passes the details on via twitter, and this has certainly gone beyond linguistics circles.

    I am not making any grand claims for this research project, I am simply following a question that interests me personally. Obviously I do not agree that it is distractive nonsense, neither, I would argue, do the many people who have contacted me over the last few days with positive comments and suggestions (including several synaesthetes!)

    I do not wish to appear too defensive over this, I simply wanted to put the other side on this public forum.

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  8. It's nice to enrich debate with a little lterary cross reference isn't it. Rimbaud's poem, for example. Ring a bell? Strike a light?

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  9. Vowels

    A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,
    I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:
    A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies
    which buzz around cruel smells,

    Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,
    lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;
    I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips
    in anger or in the raptures of penitence;

    U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,
    the peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows
    which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

    O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,
    silences crossed by [Worlds and by Angels]:
    –O the Omega! the violet ray of [His] Eyes

    Rimbaud

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  10. What happened to my post? I'm sure it was here before. I'll try again a bit later :)

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  11. Rob, sometimes this site takes a dislike to contributors' computers, but I see your last post has been there since 17.51, so it may be worth your trying again, but in the meantime I will try to post the version of your post that I got on the comments feed (click Subscribe to Post Comments at the bottom of the page. I would like to reply to some of your points, but I've only got time for a rushed reply now.

    Rob Drummond has left a new comment on the post "vowel colour":

    @Michael
    Good point about the colours. I was in two minds whether to include more, but I decided to use the same colour palette as was used by Wrembel's study (mentioned on the site) so as to enable later comparisons.

    @Army1987
    You are absolutely right in your point about rhyming. Here, it is a just a (fairly crude) technique of trying to ascertain someone's accent, in addition to how they themselves describe it.

    @Glen
    I feel I should respond to this. I genuinely do welcome any comments (and criticisms) of the project, but I would like to answer a few points raised here.

    Firstly, this is not set up as a study of synaesthetes. John has chosen to present it with this link, but if you look at the site itself, there is only one reference to synaesthesia - the question 'Are you aware of having any form of syaesthesia?' Instead, it's looking at the population at large, most of whom, I would argue, are not particularly aware of synaesthesia. The synaesthesia question is intended to identify synaesthetes so that I can compare the two groups in the data.

    You may well be right that I discover no correlation. However, to me, that is not wasted research. There is also the additional aspect of accent. I want to know if a person's accent (and vowel inventory) affects vowel/colour associations. It might well be the case that a) there are no association patterns anyway, or b) there is no accent effect. But again, this for me is what research is about - answering questions.

    As for the few who take part, at the moment, 4 days after it was launched, I have 711 complete responses. While it is correct that there are likely be to be more linguists than would be representative due to my personal networks on Twitter and facebook (the only other places apart from this blog where the project was initially mentioned) I feel this bias is gradually disappearing. I am able to follow who passes the details on via twitter, and this has certainly gone beyond linguistics circles.

    I am not making any grand claims for this research project, I am simply following a question that interests me personally. Obviously I do not agree that it is distractive nonsense, neither, I would argue, do the many people who have contacted me over the last few days with positive comments and suggestions (including several synaesthetes!)

    I do not wish to appear too defensive over this, I simply wanted to put the other side on this public forum.

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  12. So Rob, don't be dismayed by Glen's remarks. He tends to be quite belligerent and then say it's the other contributors who are trolls, but in this case I had considered making some of his points myself.

    I too felt that blogs like John's would recruit participants who were willing, but not able to drop the baggage they would be bringing to the survey. I believe a lot less in Rimbaud's synaesthesia than in Ferdinand de Saussure's profession of his own, but I did think that knowing the poem Voyelles would be unhelpful for a start, even before it was brought up on here – twice.

    It did not help either that I recognized all the vowels being researched as realizations of RP (conventionally speaking) monophthong phonemes, although not always very convincing ones. I thought at first they would be more general, so that I thought the first one was a strangely clipped Cardinal e. When I heard ɪj for the second, I was already on to the fact that it was RP /iː/, and therefore reinterpreted the first, though admittedly not the synaesthetic colour I had assigned to it. So then I guessed I was supposed to be hearing ɪ iː ʌ ɛ ɜː ə æ ɑː ɒ ɔː ʊ uː. Was I wrong? Surely it must skew results that the realizations of them are close to mine, but at such a distance from those of other participants, especially non-NSs, that they would be almost like the "general" phonetic sounds I had anticipated.

    What is probably worse is that I soon realized I was assigning colours that corresponded to the appropriate points on the imaginary vowel quadrilateral I seemed to have superimposed on the palette! After that it was quite a struggle to decide whether or not I was choosing them because I was trying to look away from them.

    All this I feel invalidates your point about "the additional aspect of accent".

    I also wanted to write at greater length than I can now about Army1987's point about rhyming, which I think refers to what I call the upper limit of distinctive realization. Thus I had to answer that I "sometimes" distinguish pairs like "law/lore" (I can't access the question now, probably because your site has likewise taken a dislike to my computer, so I don't remember your example. I think I would if the examples were from John's lexical sets, or has merciful nature drawn a veil of oblivion?) What I hear in the recordings is ɔː however. And I don't believe the claim that Daniel Jones's original ɔə is extinct. It's only extinct for me non-finally, where it is also incapable of performing any distinctive phonological role in "paws/pores/pours", or morphological role in "paws/pause" as I think in Cockney and EE. I think this is why I am more resistant to linking r after ɔː than after other vowels, as John conceded he is himself on here somewhere recently.

    Sorry to be so negative. I did try to take this exercise seriously.

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  13. No problem, I appreciate the comments. I do feel, however, that certain elements are being over analysed here. This is largely my fault for asking John to mention the project on this blog - I am a regular reader, and I am fully aware of the expertise and insight of the regular contributors.

    For me, the relevant point is that the survey is aimed at non-experts. That is, people without specialist phonetic knowledge. I think we often forget what it is like to not be able to distinguish small differences between vowels, or to not be aware of the ambiguity of a question about rhyming. The survey was piloted on linguists and non-linguists, and I can assure you that the non-linguists simply heard ɪ iː ʌ ɛ ɜː ə æ ɑː ɒ ɔː ʊ uː as you suggest, and raced through the rhyming questions.

    I think perhaps it was a mistake to ask for John's help in publicising the project. It certainly hasn't been necessary, given the popularity so far (774 responses now), and this isn't a discussion I'd intended having. I am aware of certain shortcomings, and appreciate that there are probably several more. But once again, it is designed specifically for a non-expert audience.

    Whether the project yields any usable results remains to be seen. But thanks for the comments, they have been useful (except perhaps the one about it being 'distractive nonsense' ;))

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  14. I've always been under the strong impression that the association between vowels and colours does indeed exist, and is very important. It shouldn't be superficially dismissed as unscientific.

    For instance, I quite agree with Rimbaud that ''I'' (/i/, [i]) is red. Indeed.

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  15. Rob, I did mean to say that the likelihood that linguists would over-analyze things was entirely predictable, but I was foolhardy enough to feel that so long as we were being recruited I might be able to drop the baggage whereof I spoke. I hope I also made it obvious that I thought I had failed miserably, but I'm dead chuffed to think I did as well as the non-linguists in hearing ɪ iː ʌ ɛ ɜː ə æ ɑː ɒ ɔː ʊ uː (albeit not 'simply'). I think that was a remarkable feat on their part, and I suppose it must mean they had at least a good passive knowledge of standard BrE vowels, whether or not as NSs, or perhaps some sort of preconceived notion that those were the sort of vowels to expect. I can't see that there was anything in the questionnaire to lead them to do so. It is not of course at all remarkable that they raced through the rhyming questions about their own speech, but if anything those might have made them expect something more exotic than RP.

    But it's difficult. You don't seem very sure that it was a mistake to ask for John's help in publicizing the project, and I don't know how you can be sure it hasn't been necessary. 774 responses is not that many, and are you even sure you really want to exclude linguists altogether? It would have been no bad thing to include people like F de Saussure (v. sup.) but perhaps you should have built in some sort of naivety litmus test. There may be more faux-naïfs like me in there than you care to think.

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  16. Was the first sound meant to be [ɪ]? It definitely sounded like [e] to me!

    In any case, I enjoyed participating in the project. I soon noticed that I was assigning light colors to open front unrounded vowels, and darker colors to (relatively) close back rounded vowels. The comments on the Facebook page suggest that others may be following the same pattern. If this proves to be the case then I look forward to photographic evidence of Mr Gordon eating his pants :)

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  17. Mallamb: "He tends to be quite belligerent and then say it's the other contributors who are trolls"

    Please excuse Mallamb too who tries hard to create unprovoked discord with tired ad hominems.

    If we accept the "IPA-chart bias" then, this unaddressed lurking variable is precisely what destroys any value to the questionnaire. It's called elementary statistic methodology.

    The study will naturally "suggest" a link between brightness and vowel height only because the colours have been set up that way by the web designer. 'White' is ALWAYS up top and 'black' is ALWAYS at the bottom for each question.

    Since I know that one would need to program javascript, actionscript or a server-side script to handle this colour randomization, I'll assume the web designer was hired on the cheap and corners were cut that shouldn't have been. So be it but the whole project suffers as a result.

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  18. @vp - thanks.

    @ Glen - If the IPA-chart bias exists, how would colour randomization help? An open front vowel would be in the same place whatever the colour surely? It would just make the possibility of detection of the bias more difficult.
    ----

    As I said, I know there are a few shortcomings with the project, I and I genuinely appreciate the constructive comments.

    I'll be honest, I find the intentionally nonconstructive and dismissive criticisms bizarre. Why bother?

    Anyway, I'll leave it there.

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  19. Rob, I'm sorry that your first comment was indeed for some reason redirected to the Spam inbox. I've now ticked the "not spam" box against it.

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  20. Rob, do you or do you not acknowledge the vowel-chart bias I noted? Please be direct.

    If you do, you must tweak your questionnaire. If not, your results will be needlessly biased and thus meaningless. What about that is "unconstructive"?

    "An open front vowel would be in the same place whatever the colour surely? It would just make the possibility of detection of the bias more difficult."

    How is this difficult for you to plan and implement? Elaborate.

    Regardless of how you redesign it, you must still be rigorous enough to check the answers against IPA vowel-chart positions for any statistically relevant biases that will no doubt turn up.

    Here's a constructive idea for you. Have you tried using colour wheels as an alternative to your current grid system? This way, I figure it could cause a mental mismatch between the cartesian IPA chart and the polar colour wheel, discouraging therefore any subconscious connections between the two.

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  21. See, I knew you could do it! A colour wheel would be a great idea, thank you. Now doesn't that feel better? :)

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  22. I've been trying to recall the synaesthesia I enjoyed as a very young boy. The memories are tantalising in an etymologically authentic sense; like Tantalus, I feel they are within reach —but as my grasp closes, they vanish.

    What seems to be a clear memory is that words had colours. Slightly less clearly, these colours were not associated with meanings. I was too young to have a concept of speech sound, so the organising principle must have been rhyme.

    This conclusion prompts me to reconsider the questions of rhyme in the questionnaire. I think the combination of phonemic analysis and strict prosody leads to a sort of ideal that conflicts with the basic function of rhyme. For most practical purposes, pairs like team and scene are 'good enough'. For more crafted poetic purposes, paw and pore are (for those who have the same vowel for them and are who non-rhotic) always rhyme. This is because rhymes are located at the end of a line, where (for non-rhotic speakers) there is no r sound in pore.

    [OK, this may not be true for internal rhymes. Still, these are relatively rare outside the work of songwriters catering for punters who don't necessarily appreciate the subtleties.]

    In any case, when we listen for rhymes, we take on trust that the rhymer intends them to succeed. At worst, a speaker like Mallamb with word-final ɔə might find pore and paw to be as close to satisfactory as team and scene.

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  23. It seems that for my very young self the colour association was a visual model for a developing schema — obliterated by the alternative schema represented visually by spelling.

    [I also formed visual models of the sequences of numerals, days of the week, months and years. Most significantly, I formed a visual model of pennies shillings and pounds — which I still recall — bur never formed a comparable visual model for decimal money. Visual modelling was not an adult thing.]

    Rhyme is the great mnemonic, so I assume that colour was a reinforcement for the building of lexical schemata — subservient to rhyme and independent of semantics. On this thread, there's a conflicting assumption that the association is between colour and the acoustic quality of segmented vowel sounds. Are these incompatible? Could the adult system
    of colour-specch sound association have grown out of a childish colour-rhyme association?

    And what might be the function of such synaesthesia? My infantile version served, I believe, as a mnemonic aid to lexicon building. But how might true and constant synaethesia function? From interviews that I've heard with synaethetes, they seem to see it as a rich and enjoyable but gift with no ulterior use.

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  24. David:
    Thanks very much. Describing personal experiences like this helps us all to understand better.

    What you experience is already what I've read on the subject: you perceive colour not by the vowel sound alone but by a *combination* of extraneous factors. Reports of consonant-colour synthaesthesia add to the wealth of unique individual experiences on the matter. This is one reason why I immediately find this project too facile as it stands.

    Rob:
    No need to be facetious in light of the planning issues you confess to. Here's more feedback.

    For most people lacking in synaesthesia (like myself), your colour grid is very laborious and overwhelming. I was all but forced to answer randomly (ie. "eeny-meeny-meiny-moe"), so a "don't know" checkbox might be considered.

    And even better than a colour wheel would be two sliders: one for shade and another for hue (RGB). In this way we can separate two phenomena: the correlation of sound to shade (an already known connection even among non-synaesthetes) and that of sound to hue, something which I find in myself has absolutely no perceivable connection. Afterall while we all use terms like clear l and dark l instinctively, *pink l isn't so catchy.

    Now, I notice that while "loud" can be described as an abundance of sound and "bright" can be described as an abundance of light, "blue" is certainly not the abundance of "red". The scales of sound and light are thus incompatible in this respect with hue, leading me straight to the conclusion that synaesthesia must be emerging out of higher mental processing, not from tendencies within a general population. Is there honestly another conclusion to be reached?

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  25. Glen,
    Thank you for your apologies on my behalf, which I acknowledge to be not inappropriate except in respect of the reference to trying to "create unprovoked discord with tired ad hominems". I have never knowingly tried to create discord, not even of any sort, here or anywhere else, and in your case it's not unusual for me to approve of the content of your posts, if not necessarily their tone. And since in this case I was supporting the content in spite of the tone, it was a case of ab homine rather than ad hominem.

    Since then you have gone in one bound from harsh criticism to admirably constructive. And if we can agree to be constructive about this, then I must rein back from my own facetious comments about my experience of superimposing the imaginary vowel quadrilateral in conformity with the natural bias you predicted, and retract my suggestion that it was an avoidance strategy that prompted the cases where I did not map onto it. I actually think those cases may well be significant, especially in the light of vp's reference to the comments on the Facebook page.

    By that I do not wish to detract from your effulgently commonsensical observation that the way the colours have been set up by the web designer predisposes to these associations. It's just that it may be significant that other associations can override them. Obviously ensuring your mental mismatch between chart and wheel is better, and no match at all, as with the sliders for shade and hue, is better still.

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  26. Why does Mallamb go on and why does John Wells still tolerate nonsense?

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  27. Who IS the troll, eh? With one bound again, we are free to carry on as before.

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  28. David,
    « a speaker like Mallamb with word-final ɔə might find pore and paw to be as close to satisfactory as team and scene

    Much closer to satisfactory: note that I said it's at the upper limit of distinctive function that I have word-final ɔə in opposition to ɔː. In rapid speech or in cases like 'your' and 'you're' it's a goner all right.

    So were the pennies shillings and pounds of your visual model copper silver and green?

    I'm sure you're right about the function of synaesthesia. Whatever form it takes it's bound to be memory-enhancing, whether consciously or not. The associations you describe certainly seem to have been unconscious, and that was also my experience of the Method of Loci (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci) long before I knew of any such tradition.

    And I'm also sure that the widespread assumption that colour associations are merely figurative, as in John's reference to «the metaphorical use of the term “vowel colour” as a synonym of “vowel quality”» is unnecessarily reductionist. It makes me wonder how well-thought-out such initiatives as the colour coding of alphanumerics for teaching dyslexics have been. One could imagine it being counterproductive if there is not enough consensus among dyslexics themselves.

    Can it really be the same sort of fallacy to think the blues, whether felt or sung (in which case they feature "blue" notes, which are overtones in the harmonic series not even reproducible on tempered instruments) are aptly named as to think "dog" is more doggy than "chien"? Surely it's not for nothing that we talk of chromatic and coloratura?

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  29. A troll intentionally disturbs, usually by posing as something and insulting and insinuating while perfectly knowing better. I'm sure, without irony, that Glen doesn't do that.

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  30. Well, not the posing and knowing better, at any rate.

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  31. FWIW, when I was doing the test I would listen to vowels while keeping my eyes closed, imagine a colour, open my eyes back and pick the colour in the palette closest to the one I had imagined. Maybe you (Rob Drummond) could add instruction to that effect.

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  32. Mallamb/Lipman: Your sole purpose is to bully and pester certain people out of conversations as before. Nice trolling but your lack of informative input shows.

    It's a published fact that synaesthetes don't share common experiences.

    And common sense says that a voluntary questionnaire can't accurately reflect a general population because of the aforementioned "linguist bias".

    So as per Lipman's definition of a troll, that would make Rob Drummond a research troll for insulting and insinuating while perfectly knowing better.

    That is, in this case our intelligence is being insulted by his insinuation that non-synaesthetes would somehow share commonalities that synaesthetes already do not.

    Does anybody care to rebuttal, or is this blog devoted to ivory tower yesman thinking?

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  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  34. @Lipman:

    A troll intentionally disturbs, usually by posing as something and insulting and insinuating while perfectly knowing better. I'm sure, without irony, that Glen doesn't do that.

    On the evidence of his last post, Glen is determined to shake your certainty :)

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  35. Back to ad hominems, I see. Pathetic.

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  36. vp, I see your point, but my faith is unshaken.

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  37. I on the other hand have renewed my faith in the necessity of not engaging with him at all, even in agreement.

    However my faith in the non-necessity of his eating his pants remains unshaken. Will that do?

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  38. I'm presenting Rob Drummond with an opportunity to enlighten the public and to show his genuine service to it by answering relevant questions posed. Be forewarned that to avoid people's questions is to not act like a genuine scholar but as an ego-driven pedant (of which, it's no secret, there are many in university academe).

    I ask you again, Rob Drummond:
    1. What previous work is this research grounded on? Does it rest on anything conclusive?
    2. What coherent and conclusive tendencies among synaesthetes already exist in vowel-hue associations? Cite references please.
    3. If none, doesn't this indeed destroy any purpose of your study?
    4. Since you accept the "IPA-chart bias" and "linguist bias" of your ill-planned study (openly admitted to in the Facebook commentbox), why is it not perfectly fair to dismiss the value of your undergrad project entirely?
    5. Why must any of us dance around an undergrad's ego in fear of raising these inconvenient issues? Is denial and the passive-aggressive ridicule of any dissent the mark of competent scholarship these days?

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  39. Mallamb

    So were the pennies shillings and pounds of your visual model copper silver and green?

    Far from it. I'm one of those who 'fail' the 'painted cube test'. The test instructions are:

    1. Imagine a cube with all its facts painted.
    2. In your imagination, cut it into four equal cubes
    3. Now imagine cutting each of the small cubes into four even smaller cubes

    Now comes the test — not what the 'subject' expects:

    4. What colour is the paint?

    For me the paint is an abstract property, with no colour at all.

    Similarly, my £.s.d. model is a colourless abstract: a twenty-step approach to the final £1, each (shilling) step numbered. If necessary, each shilling step becomes twelve penny steps, again each bearing a number. The 'steps' are two-dimensional, but do have an odd sort of direction — odd in that the direction depends on whether I'm counting up or down. Each step is something like a square in shape; I wonder whether they were unconsciously based on a ludo board.

    No synaethesia there, then, but I do think the model was formed in the same years as my lost coloured words. And, the more I think of it, the more I'm drawn to the unlikely conclusion that my colour associations were with written words.

    I don't know how I learned to read. My mother remembers me turning in an instant from a non-reader to a reader. Without warning I read out a few words from a newspaper, never having been observed to read anything before. I don't remember this, but I do remember a reading test — a diagnostic test, though all tests feel like achievement tests when you're very young. I knew I couldn't read and apologised in advance to the tester, but went on to do extremely well.

    My best guess is that my colour-association phase was a substitute for any sense of phonics. As I began to recognise patterns of letters, I presumably made the unconscious shift to associating written words with smaller chunks. I'm sure we weren't taught phonics. As a teenager I finally observed a teacher giving a phonic lesson along the lines of kə æ tə says cat and found it bizarre beyond belief.

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  40. Mallamb

    "blue" notes, which are overtones in the harmonic series not even reproducible on tempered instruments

    Blue notes are easily played on the piano by simultaneously striking the two adjacent notes between which the blue note resides. This gives the illusion of a quarter tone pitch — an acceptable approximation to blue notes as sung or played on the guitar, which are of variable pitch, sometimes a quarter tone, sometimes sharper or flatter.

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  41. David Crosbie: "And, the more I think of it, the more I'm drawn to the unlikely conclusion that my colour associations were with written words."

    Now we're getting back to common sense. In the link I cited above (Cytowic, Synesthesia: A union of the senses, 2002), we can read pages 42 and 43 where it talks about a study done on the letters I, O and U by Baron-Cohen et al (1993).

    Long story short, any apparent connections between colour and letter therefore don't hold cross-linguistically and there may be several reasons for the restricted association seen in Anglophones. Cytowic is academically honest by confessing that he has absolutely no explanation for the correlations that do appear to exist.

    How is the colour-sound association proven to be entirely separate from the association of colours with the written word that evokes these sounds? By all appearances (and facts), it's aimless research seeking out a theory. But that's just not valid science.

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  42. Well David, I was of course curious to know just how "far from it" my facetious suggestion of copper silver and green was, and I got the answer in spades! Although as I implied above I was quite eidetic, I'm afraid I probably just had a robotic chant in my head going 12 pence one shilling, 20 shillings one pound, as with all the other chants. Eighteen pence, 30/-, 50/- came I think from common parlance rather than chants, which wasn’t the case with 30 pence half a crown, 8 half-crowns one pound. I think the half-crown was more of a reference point for me. Was this due to some atavistic sense of pieces of eight, do you think, like two bits? Isn't it deplorable of us to use JW's blog to exchange these reminiscences?

    I would always have agreed that the two adjacent notes on the piano are a delightful way of giving the illusion of blue notes, but I wouldn’t say that makes them "reproducible" on it.

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  43. I have no associations whatsoever between vowel and colour (that I can detect in myself) but had no way of indicating that fact as a colour has to be chosen. My solution was to choose white every time and indicate the highest level of uncertainty, but I think this is a serious flaw in the survey.

    I should add, I'm a linguist but have always had great trouble remembering what 'dark' and 'light' refer to in phonetics and wish everyone would stop using these unintuitive and meaningless ways of describing sounds. But I seem to be in a minority!

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  44. I suspect you might have succeeded better in drawing attention to this flaw in the survey if you had chosen white every time and indicated the highest level of certainty. If suspected of sabotage you could say that whatever colour was "correct" it was somewhere in there in the white, and you were only trying to help.

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