Many synaesthetes experience colours when viewing letters or digits but a new research study involving academics from UCL, has for the first time, documented a similar phenomenon among users of signed languages.
Synaesthesia is a phenomenon in which perceptual experiences, such as colours, tastes, or smells are elicited by stimuli that are not usually associated with such experiences – such as letters or sounds.
For example, in the most common form of synaesthesia, known as ‘grapheme → colour synaesthesia’, letters or numbers are perceived as coloured. People who report a lifelong history of such experiences are known as ‘synaesthetes’ and it’s a condition that affects around 4% of the population.
While there has been a considerable amount of documented research into synaesthesia within reading, writing and speech, little is known as to whether the condition affects users of signed languages, and whether there is a transfer between written language and fingerspelling.
However, a new study recently published in the journal, Neurocase, has for the first time documented an equivalent synaesthesia amongst signed language users, with colours induced by manual fingerspelled letters and number signs.
Researchers, Dr. Joanna Atkinson and Prof Bencie Woll, from the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL), University College London, have collaborated with academics, Jamie Ward from the University of Sussex and David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine in Texas and presenter of BBC series ‘The Brain with David Eagleman’, to demonstrate that colour associations may also transfer from writing and fingerspelling systems but also this can occur within signed language based on perceptual similarity or articulatory features such as handshape.
Commenting on the publication, Dr Atkinson, said:
“The results from this collaborative project which has brought together world experts in synaesthesia with world experts in sign language research.
“Working with a mixed study cohort of hearing and signed language users – both of British Signed Language (BSL) and American Signed Language (ASL) – we discovered evidence that manual alphabet/numeral sign → colour synaesthesia exists within second-language users of two different signed languages, ASL and BSL.
“These findings fit with the notion that for most second-language learners, the transfer of colour into this system is primarily determined by conceptual meaning based on their first language but the colours can also be influenced by perceptual properties of the signs or fingerspelled letters themselves.
“This study also underlines the importance of broadening research to include signed languages because this casts new light on the mechanisms underpinning synaesthesia in general.”
The full article can be found here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13554794.2016.1198489
The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
Please note that the views of the writers are their own, and not necessarily the views of the Editor or site as a whole. Read our disclaimer here.
- Phonak: innovative technology and products in hearing acoustics
- Ai-Media: Remote captioning. Check out these captioning fails!
- Bellman & Symfon: home alerting solutions
- Deaf Umbrella: sign language interpreting and communications support
- Clarion: BSL/English interpreting and employment services
- Appa: Communication services for Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people
- Signature: Find out about the Signature conference here.
- SignVideo: Instant BSL video interpreting online
- 121 Captions: captioning and speech-to-text services
- Hearing Direct: Online hearing aids
- The National Theatre: Captioned and BSL accessible theatre in London
- Doncaster School for the Deaf: education for Deaf children
- SignLive: Online video interpreting for Deaf people
- RAD Tax Advice: Tax and Tax Credit info for Deaf people
- Deaf Independent: Deaf care and support services
- Signworld: online BSL learning and teaching materials
- National Deaf Children's Society: The leading charity for deaf children
- DCAL: Find out how to study at the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre, London
- cSeeker: Deaf-led educational communication support service
- Signed Culture: Advocating for BSL access to arts and culture
- Sarah Gatford: BSL interpreting, training and consultancy
- SignHealth: healthcare charity for Deaf people
- CJ Interpreting: communication support in BSL
- Sign Solutions:, language and learning
- Action Deafness Communications: sign language and Red Dot online video interpreting
- BSLcourses.co.uk: Provider of online BSL courses
- British Society for Mental Health and Deafness: Promoting positive mental health for deaf people
- deafPLUS: Money advice line in BSL
- Happy: Microsoft Office courses taught in BSL and SSE by a Deaf trainer – all abilities catered for
- Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton: education for Deaf children
- Lipspeaker UK: specialist lipspeaking support
- Ozen: Australian hearing aid specialists
- Elmfield School, Bristol: Inclusive education for Deaf pupils
- Exeter Deaf Academy: education for Deaf children