Publication details [#12394]

Strik Lievers, Francesca . 2015. Synaesthesia: A corpus-based study of cross-modal directionality. Functions of Language 22 (1) : 69–95. 27 pp.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Amsterdam: John Benjamins


Synesthesia, understood as metaphoric mappings concerning distant sensory domains, has been constrained through a universal hierarchy of senses since Ullman (1957). With this study we aim at broadening the range of text types and data analyzed in synesthesic studies. We use the English and Italian versions of the Wacky corpora containing two billion tokesn plus the German novel Das Parfum translated into Italian. Our results show that the hierarchy holds in most cases. Nonetheless, sometimes reversed mappings (i.e. from higher senses like sight to lower senses like smell as in Italian un odore non appariscente ‘an inconspicuous odor’) are found. Linguistic and non-linguistic factors explain some of the preferences. For instance, the fact that touch is very prevalent as a source and hearing very prevalent as a target (even more than sight, despite its arguably more basic function in human perception) can be explained lexically. The words for touch in our data are mostly adjective and those for hearing are mostly nouns. Their lexical properties make them for fit for the role of either source or target in the constructional pattern most common in synesthetic expressions. Further crosslinguistic comparison of synesthetic expressions is needed to explain and corroborate both the implicational hierarchy and its frequency motivation.