1 December – Francesca Strik Lievers


Linguistic synaesthesia is a figure by which a perceptual experience related to one sensory modality is described through lexical means more typically associated with a different sensory modality. For instance, sweet voice is a case of ‘taste to hearing’ transfer, the noun voice being the target of the synaesthetic use of the adjective sweet.

In this seminar I will address the following issues:

What kind of figure is synaesthesia, and what is its relation with other figures?

Different interpretations have been proposed in the literature. I will argue that synaesthesia is a type of metaphor, which can in some cases interact with metonymy and other figures.

Is it possible to observe preferences regarding the sensory modalities that are associated in synaesthesia?

Several studies have shown that synaesthetic transfers tend to follow a specific direction, going from the so-called lower senses (touch, taste, smell) to the higher senses (hearing and sight). Directional instances of synaesthesia (e.g., cold colour) would be more likely to occur, and would be perceived as being more ‘natural’ than counterdirectional ones (e.g., coloured coldness). If this tendency is confirmed, can it be interpreted as the reflection of cognitive and/or perceptual principles?

How can we identify synaesthesia in text?

Since (conventional) synaesthesia is relatively rare in texts, automatizing its detection would be particularly useful. I will present a method for the (semi-)automatic detection of synaesthesia, at the same time discussing some problematic issues.