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Syn-types: grapheme-synesthesia | Part 01

Updated on August 8, 2011

Back with a series (and a disclaimer)

Alright, all, I’m back, and I’ve brought a synesthesia-related Hub series with me! For the next little while (read: until further notice), each Hub will focus on one particular type of synesthesia, such as sound-> sight or taste-> touch. Because so many different and very specific types of syn exist, I cannot and will not focus on them all. Instead, I’ll hit many of the major or more general ones. Also, I do not have all of these types of synesthesia, so my ‘expertise’ with certain types will not be as great as with others. I’d love to hear from all synesthetes about their experiences and from all non-synesthetes about their thoughts on these different types. But I digress. Disclaimer over – on to the real fun! Today's topic: grapheme -> color syn!


Stimulus-Response example

A chart showing the stimulus and the response in syn-type names.
A chart showing the stimulus and the response in syn-type names. | Source


Before delving into the wonderful world of grapheme -> color synesthesia, a few terms should be clarified and a few side-notes made.

  1. Grapheme: a letter or number. D, 3, s, 4, and so on are all graphemes.
  2. My other Hub 'How do you pronounce that?' has definitions of many other terms (projector, associator, stimulus, and so on) that I'll be using. For a refresher, please check out that Hub. If there are still terms which are unclear, drop me a message, and I'll do my best to help out.

Note: Sometimes the name of a syn-type is written with only a dash (-) between the stimulus and response, while other times it is written with an 'arrow' (->), with dashes of varying lengths according to personal preference. The first looks like this: grapheme-color. The second looks like this: grapheme -> color. Either way is fine, and both mean the same thing. Additionally, types can be written as stimulus -> syn, for example, grapheme-syn. It is always written with the stimulus name, never with the response name.

Another Note: When discussing a particular syn-type, be sure to have the stimulus and response in the right order. Taste-touch syn is quite different from touch-taste. The first implies that, upon tasting something, the synesthete (or synee) gets a synesthetic touch response. The second implies that, from a touch, the synee gets a synesthetic taste response. Make sure the stimulus is listed first and the response second.

How I see my name. I do not see the grey box - it's only there so the color of the E can show up better.  My response is associated.
How I see my name. I do not see the grey box - it's only there so the color of the E can show up better. My response is associated. | Source

Time for some examples!

  • Simple(-ish) colors: My O is white and my lowercase 'i' is a dark grey. My 3 is yellow and my 5 is a medium green.
  • Complex colors: My G is a dark purple-navy-black. My J is brown-orange-red kind of like dirt.
  • Striped, polka dots, etc.: I don't have any like this, but an example is a black C with diagonal baby pink stripes going from top left to bottom right.
  • Indescribable colors: ...... Well, they're indescribable, aren't they? Synesthetes attempt to describe the color(s) by pulling known ones from the natural world, but they always end with a frustrated sigh, saying the color simply "doesn't exist in the real world".
  • Multiple colors: My R is mostly navy blue, but at the bottom right is a rust red-brown. My V is a dark green-grey at the bottom that slowly fades into a grey (and is completely grey about two-thirds of the way up).
  • Multiple colors yet separate colors: I don't have this kind either, and it is perhaps the most difficult to explain. An example might be an 8 which is completely yellow but also completely blue. However, it is not green! The colors do not mix. They exist separately at the same time.

Grapheme-color syn: a general explanation

So, what exactly is grapheme-color synesthesia? Quite simply, it is a type of syn where the synesthete sees a letter or number and, as a response, sees a synesthetic color. The image above is how I perceive my HubPages name. Note that the colors are as exact as I can get them. Also, my responses are associated, meaning I see them in my mind's eye.

Grapheme-syn can be either associated or projected. One synesthete might perceive a green 5 in his mind's eye (associated) while another might project the color red onto the number 5. This color may be perceived (by either) as being a sort of 'aura' of color around the grapheme; more commonly, the grapheme may be perceived as actually being that color. That is, the number looks green or red, just like using a green or red font would make the number 5 look green or red.

Synesthetic colors can range from a simple 'light blue' to a very complex 'dark navy blue-purple-black' to colors that can't even be described because they don't seem to exist in the natural world. Additionally, graphemes may have stripes or polka dots, or (perhaps most complicated of all) graphemes can be more than one color at once, yet still two separate colors!

No matter what the response, one thing to be sure of is that all synesthetes (grapheme-synees or not) will attempt to describe their synesthetic colors (or other responses) in the most precise detail imaginable. A letter is not simply 'red' or even 'red-brown'. No. It's 'rusty red-brown with bits of black scattered about like pieces of dirt with a texture like shortbread cookies'.

"Wait? Texture?!" I hear you cry. Yes, dear reader, texture. Graphemes can have a texture as well, associated or projected just like colors. I personally do not have textures for letters, but here are some brief examples of what some responses could be. A glossy-looking E. A velvet-feeling 6. A brick-textured H. A spiral-feeling T. I won't go on any longer because this is a whole 'nother topic altogether.

Word-color perceptions

1. How I perceive "HubPages".   2. If "ub" were tinted the same color as "H" and "ages" were tinted the same color as P.  (fabricated possibility - not mine) 3. If all letters were tinted the same color as "H". (fabricated possibility - not mine)
1. How I perceive "HubPages". 2. If "ub" were tinted the same color as "H" and "ages" were tinted the same color as P. (fabricated possibility - not mine) 3. If all letters were tinted the same color as "H". (fabricated possibility - not mine) | Source

Grapheme-syn in words

Okay, so letters and numbers have colors. But what about words? What does that look like to a synesthete with grapheme-syn? The plain and simple answer is best described by paraphrasing the Japanese: "Saa...." Translated, in this case, that means "It really depends on who you are talking to." Each synesthete has his own colors and, likewise, has his own way of perceiving words. Here are some possibilities.

  • Each letter is equally distinct, maybe with some influencing here or there. This is what I perceive. When I see a word (for instance, 'syn'), I see green, medium silver, dark red-brown. All colors are equal. No one color dominates another. Sometimes the color of a letter is influenced by those around it. The light pink-orange 'a' might be more orange in one context (around an orange 4 or an orange-brown D) than in another (surrounded by a 6 pink and a dark pink M or P, which is why I dislike names (especially male) that have M or P next to an A). The color stays constant overall but one of the colors comes out more than the other in certain situations. A more intense form of influencing (which does not happen for me) might be: a long word filled with the green S would make a yellow E turn green or yellow-green when it would not normally be so.
  • Beginning influences the rest of the word. I cannot say much about this since I don't do this. Basically, some synesthetes will perceive each letter individually but, overall, the word is the color of the first letter (or letters). Also, it varies in degrees with each person. One person might see the individual colors tinted with the color of the first letter (say, a dark pink M). Others might see the individual colors but have a sense that the overall word is dark pink.
  • Word influenced by predominant colors. This would be where the color of a word, especially a long word, is influenced by the two or three most predominant letter colors. For example, in "synesthesia", there is so much green, yellow, and brown for me that I might describe it like this: each letter looks like this,this, and this, but overall there is so much green, yellow, and brown that those colors jump out at me more than the other colors, even though I still see the silver Y or the dark grey I. This is an example of still seeing all the letters but having so many of a few colors that the words is basically those two or three colors. Another example might be: a synee sees "synesthesia" as red, blue, and black because those are the three most prominent colors; the colors of the other letters basically disappears.

Again, all of this depends on who you talk to. One synee will perceive the color of a word differently from another synee, just like he will perceive the color of a letter differently.

Ways to describe syn

Associated explanations:

"It's like watching a black-and-white TV show. You see the grass as some shade of grey, but you also see it as green because your mind knows it is green and automatically 'fills in' the color for you. So you see both the grey and the green at the same time, but in your mind's eye." ~'Lisha Danae

"When I read text, the colors "apply" themselves to the letters, but not in my vision... it's like there is a color behind the letter that I can't see, but I know it's there. When I think of letters, or when I see letters in my minds eye, the letters appear in their color a few inches out from my forehead, in the top half of my vision. This is where most of my syn appears, although textures will sometimes appear in my hands on in my mouth." ~jazzmoth, Nexus member

Projected explanation:

"I see the actual color of the letters tinted with the synesthetic color. For example, I know that when I type D N S, it shows up as black. But the D is a greener black than the N and S, the N is a more orangey black, and the S is a pinker black." ~MagentaRedBlue, Nexus member

Coming up next...

And that's a basic look at grapheme-color synesthesia, where letters and numbers are perceived as having color. Keeping with the grapheme stimulus, the next Hub will discuss a type mentioned above: grapheme-touch (specifically, grapheme-texture). Stay tuned for more on letters, numbers, and words that look glossy, feel like velvet, and more!


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    • 'Lisha Danae profile image

      'Lisha Danae 3 years ago

      That sounds interested, dragupine!

      Elise: Thanks for your comment! I'm glad you like my article.

    • Elise-Loyacano profile image

      Elise-Loyacano 5 years ago from San Juan, Puerto Rico

      Thanks for another interesting article on synesthesia.

    • profile image

      dragupine 5 years ago

      hmm. Flynn for me is a rather orangy-silvery-gold name. All the colors in a name kind of mash together for me... kinda hard to explain...

    • 'Lisha Danae profile image

      'Lisha Danae 6 years ago

      That's really interesting! Mine is plain and boring - no letter really influences another. It's just as-is. So, Flynn would be dark purple-black, red-brown, light grey, rust-ish brown, rust-ish brown.

    • profile image

      Ender 6 years ago

      For me the color of the word is influenced by double letters--or colors, as long as they aren't on the end of the word. The name "Flynn" for example, is a weird shade of red because of the F and not sort of yellow because of the N's and L. (Flynn is not my name)

      If a word doesn't have any letters the same color it's influenced by the first letter.