An Explanation of My Grapheme-Color Synesthesia

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[This was originally published in January of 2009, back when I kept up with a regular (and singular) blog. My posts on synesthesia are pretty much the only ones I’ve kept and decided to re-post elsewhere, because they are a nice documentation of my experience with the phenomenon.]

In my grapheme – color synesthesia, every letter has a specific color, although some are more distinct than others. When I look at words, I see every letter’s color, but they usually blend together and the word becomes the color of the combined letters, or the most prominent color of all the letters, or the color of the first letter in the word. Some words take on a color based on their meaning, while others’ colors can be different from their meanings.

The alphabet, as seen in my brain, with synesthetic colors and spatial placement.

The alphabet, as seen in my brain, with synesthetic colors and spatial placement.

For example, the word “yellow” is initially yellow. This might be because of its meaning, but also because three of its letters are yellow (Y and L), and O is a light orange. As the word’s initial color fades, however, I can see the underlying blues of the E and the W. The word “banana” however, is never yellow. It is always an orange-ish red, because B and N are orange, while A is red. Because of the repeating color sequence in this word (not to mention its fun alliterative quality), I really enjoy this word.

Whenever I hear audible speech, I see the words in my head. This is why it is essential for me to know how words are properly spelled (and pronounced), because it all is important to how I perceive them. I can’t know a word’s “true color” unless I know how it is properly spelled, and that frustrates me. (Similarly, I can’t know a word’s “true taste” unless I know how it is properly pronounced). When thinking of letters individually, they always have the same color, and I see them in their proper place along my alphabet line. Below I’ve made a little diagram of my letter sequence along with each letter’s color. (As an aside, all punctuation marks are black. That is not to say that they are colorless – they have a color: black.)

NOTE: Since this was originally written, my K has actually changed color from yellow to pinkish-magenta. Rare, but not unheard of for synesthetes.
The digits, in all their (my?) lovely colors.

The digits, in all their (my?) lovely colors.

Similarly, each number has a specific color. Each digit 0-9 has its own color, but when they are combined to form larger numbers, each digit retains its original color. So a string of digits, like 67521, does not have an overall color (like words do). I would still see the number as lightgreenorangebluemagentawhite. Because of this, some numbers are more beautiful to me than others. Since green is my favorite color, that may be why I have such an adoration of the number 3 and its multiples (even 6 is green, and 9 is a close neighbor – yellow). Numbers like 24, 56, and 99 are especially lovely to look at (although they don’t look nearly as pretty on the screen as they do in my brain). Perhaps that is also why I so enjoys patterns and palindromes in numbers. I also see my numbers along a sequence line. While not as complex and whirly as other synesthetes’ mine is still particular enough to count (I think).

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