Investigation into the underlying linguistic cues of Chinese synaesthesia
Synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which a sensory or cognitive stimulus consistently co-activates another sensory/cognitive quality, in addition to its usual qualities. For example, synaesthetes might see colours when they read words. This additional quality can be from a different modality (e.g., tactile stimuli triggering colour in addition to touch sensations) or from different aspects within the same modality (e.g. visually perceived shape stimuli triggering colour in addition to shape sensations). Coloured language is one of the most common, and most studied types of synaesthesia. The processes that govern such systematic associations of colours and language have been linked to the mechanisms underlying the processing of language. This thesis provides the first psycholinguistic exploration of synaesthesia in Chinese, in particular about how synaesthetic colouring is triggered from Chinese characters and their phonetic spellings in relation to psycholinguistic processes of character recognition. This thesis presents six empirical studies to provide evidence for the following facts: (a) that synaesthetic colouring of Chinese characters is a genuine phenomenon in the Chinese population and may affect as many as 1 in 100 Chinese people, with a (non-significant) female-to-male ratio of about 2:1; (b) that synaesthetic colours are influenced by the characters' constituent radicals (i.e., morphemic units), and (c) also by their associated phonetic spellings (in the spelling systems known as Pinyin and Bopomo); and (d) that even non-synaesthete Chinese speakers colour characters in predictable ways. These findings are discussed in relation to native (L1) versus non-native (L2) Chinese synaesthetes, and to the Chinese versus English systems. Hence, a further issue of this thesis considers how synaesthetic colouring in one's first language may affect their colouring in later-acquired languages. Synaesthetic transfer is discussed in relation to how, and how fast, the transfer can be established to a new language. Taken together, this thesis provides the most detailed information so far available about mechanisms that trigger synaesthetic colours in the Chinese language.