Colloquia Green

Linguistic Synaesthesia – Francesca Strik-Lievers
11 May 2017 | MPI Room 163 | 15.45 – 17.00

Common expressions such as ‘sweet music’, and more complex and creative ones such as ‘Blows with a perfume of songs’ (Swinburne) are examples of linguistic synaesthesia. Several studies have shown that cross-modal associations in linguistic synaesthesia are not random. In most cases it is a hearing- or sight-related element that is qualified in terms of one of the other senses, rather than the reverse (cf. ‘sweet music’ vs. ‘musical sweetness’, the former being more likely to occur and sounding more “natural” than the latter). How can this tendency be explained? Does the explanation lie in (multisensory) perception, in cognition, or in language structure?

To answer this question, at least two issues must be addressed. First, many data, and data from many languages, are needed to verify the tendency and to understand whether it can be considered universal or not. To this end, I introduce a semi-automatic procedure that can be used for the identification of synaesthesia. Second, a clear definition of linguistic synaesthesia has to be provided. Based on a review of alternative accounts, I argue that synaesthesia is a metaphor, and that different types of synaesthetic metaphor conform to the general tendency observed for cross-modal associations to different degrees (e.g., ‘sweet music’ does, while ‘Blows with a perfume of songs’ does not). Finally, I argue how the tendency itself can be accounted for by a combination of different factors.