The shapes of letters

The Shapes of Letters

The Letter A
For me, the shapes of letters of the alphabet have deeper meanings than merely the sounds they symbolise. Is this perhaps a characteristic of synaesthesia?

In particular, for me, initial letters seem to carry associations.

The capital letters A and V for example, with their chevron shapes, remind me of arrowheads or lanceolate leaves, or the streamlined wings of a raptor. They are associated with strength and vigour.

M is motherly, reliable, nurturing. Z is “out there”, alien and wild, exciting and almost certainly dangerous.

The letter I, both upper case and lower case, is light, golden, elfin.  How much have I been influenced by Tolkien’s perfect creation of names? I did read The Lord of the Rings at an early age, so perhaps marvellous “I” and “L” studded elvish names/words such as Galadriel, Laurelindorenan, Glorfindel and Simbelmynë sank into my childish imagination and gave rise to those associations.

The sixth century monks who created illuminated manuscripts must also have felt that initial letters were important. Those specific initials in an illuminated manuscript, were known as initiums. Those monks lavished their art, their paints, their costly gold leaf upon those initiums.

Hundreds of years later, William Morris included some of the most glorious initiums in his books, printed by the Kelmscott Press.  He had 40 custom-designed initial letters specially block-cut for use in his books.

The letter A featured in this post is from the Goudy Initialen font. American Frederic W. Goudy designed these floriated initials in the early 1900’s, and they are among my favourites.

Do the shapes of letters hold other meanings for you too?

Do you have synaesthesia?

synaesthesiaWhat’s a synaesthete?

World Wide Words says, “This word is moderately common in the psychological and artistic fields. It refers to a person who has some kind of cross-wiring in the brain, so that things which ought to be perceived by one sense are instead felt in another. The most common form is for language, sounds and tastes to be sensed as colours.” The term synaesthesia was coined at the end of the nineteenth century by Sir Francis Galton.

I think I might be slightly synaesthetic, but I’m not certain. For me, certain numerals and letters have always been associated with certain colours. The numeral 7, for example, is a beautiful, solid sky-blue, while lower-case “i” is golden-yellow. Not all numerals and letters have a colour, which makes me wonder whether I have true synaesthesia. Perhaps, when I was learning the alphabet in my first year at school, the teacher coloured the number 7 in blue and the letter i in yellow, and this memory engraved itself deeply into my receptive child-mind. . . Or perhaps it’s because “seven” rhymes with “heaven” and the heavens are blue? Or because a lower-case “i” (for me) resembles a chamomile flower?

Something in my mind thinks that some names have colours. “Goldilocks” is of course yellow, for many reasons. My own first name is bright yellow, probably because it contains two “i”s.  “Susan” is blue. “Charlotte” is red, but then, it does almost rhyme with “scarlet”.  “Dominic” is a rich, glossy black.

Wikipedia says,
“Awareness of synesthetic perceptions varies from person to person.
In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme–color synesthesia or color–graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored.
In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may appear as a three-dimensional map (clockwise or counterclockwise). Synesthetic associations can occur in any combination and any number of senses or cognitive pathways.”

It has become popular, almost a fad, for people to claim they’re synaesthetic. If they’re not, how can the truth be proven?
In fact, scientists at the American Psychological Association have been trying to do just that, using questionnaires, as well as processes called “positron-emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging”.  Synaesthesia is real, but you don’t have to believe everyone who claims to have it!

I’ve heard of a professional musician whose synaesthesia linked sounds and smells. She avoided playing the note Middle C whenever possible, because for her it had a foul odour!

There are many fascinating articles about synaesthesia ion the Internet, for example:

Catalyst Synaesthesia

Chocolate smells pink and stripy

A taste for words and sounds

Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes

Do you think you might have synaesthesia?