Colour out of space, touch out of type

Fun, fascinating realization while writing about something totally unrelated this morning. So, I’ve known for a long, long time that I have synesthesia – it’s a lifelong neurological mechanism where sensory input in one arena reliably triggers sensation in another. For instance, the most common form is for certain letters or numbers to appear in particular colors. But synesthesia can affect spatial orientation, physical sensation like touch and texture, sound and taste.

In my case, words both written and spoken have an immediately tactile quality – touch, pressure and texture.

I’m now in a work environment where roughly 50% of my patients speak primarily Spanish, and while I have a very basic grasp of Spanish I’ve been hesitant to engage with them and instead rely on coworkers that can translate. Part of that is that my Spanish has atrophied, but another big part I couldn’t put my finger on until this morning as I sat writing about sensation in an entirely differently way.

It’s been so long since I regularly used or was exposed to Spanish that I forgot it has an entirely different tactile quality than English for me – it triggers totally unique physical sensations. And I’ve not felt them regularly for at least a decade and a half. This connection came to me in a split second and fits so perfectly with my physical experience of being in a Spanish-speaking environment again.

I took four years of Spanish in high school, had excellent teachers and enjoyed it very much but even before I knew about synesthesia recognized that it “felt” different than English. My post high-school experience with Spanish consisted mostly of translating Spanish poetry into English for fun and to keep the Spanish fresh in my brain, but also for the pure physical/neurological experience I derived from it. I also watched Spanish-language TV a bit to keep my listening skills sharp but that felt different and I did it less.

I was writing about color and texture in painting this morning and it all just sort of clicked.