In a blog entry yesterday, I noted that it appears almost everybodyis a synesthete to a certain extent!
In 2008 Magdalena Wrembel and Karolina Rataj of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland published results of a vowel-to-color matching experiment conducted in English with students who were highly proficient in this language.
More recently, a study published in 2019, which took place as part of a collaborative venture of Radboud University, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and NTR Broadcasting showed that not just synesthetes but the majority of human beings do map vowel sounds to colors. To read about this research, go to https://neurosciencenews.com/color-vowel-synesthesia-10999/ Luckily for English speakers, the research used the Dutch language which is also Germanic based.
The Dutch study showed that, although each individual had their own, individual, color-to-vowel map, there were measurable commonalities. Vowels toward the front of the mouth, such as the “ee” as in “green” and “groente” tended to be light green for the Dutch. Looking at the graphic in the earlier, Polish study, the front-of-mouth sounds were also lighter and more greenish-yellow.
The sounds toward the back of the mouth were darker in both studies. In the Dutch study, they, tended to be blue as they sound in the English “blue” and the Dutch “blauw”. In Dutch, red was also popular for back-of-mouth sounds. This seems surprising until you remember that the color in Dutch is called “rood”, pronounced similar to the English “road”. I can’t help noticing, also, it’s similar to the word “rose” for the vowel sound “oh” in the colorvowel.com system.
The question arises, “Is there something about the “eeee” sound which makes humans think of fields and forests, inspiring us to name the color with a front-of-the-mouth, wider-mouth sound such as “green” and “groente”? Or, conversely, in English and Dutch, having used the vowel for many years in the word representing chlorophyll’s color, has our subconscious started to associate this sound it with the color itself? Or a little bit of both?
Now, here's a paper from The Chinese University of Hong Kong comparing vowel to color association in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. What a great variety of language types to study!