Nonrandom Associations of Graphemes with Colors in Arabic

in Multisensory Research
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Numerous studies demonstrate people associate colors with letters and numbers in systematic ways. But most of these studies rely on speakers of English, or closely related languages. This makes it difficult to know how generalizable these findings are, or what factors might underlie these associations. We investigated letter–color and number–color associations in Arabic speakers, who have a different writing system and unusual word structure compared to Standard Average European languages. We also aimed to identify grapheme–color synaesthetes (people who have conscious color experiences with letters and numbers). Participants associated colors with 28 basic Arabic letters and ten digits by typing color names that best fit each grapheme. We found language-specific principles determining grapheme–color associations. For example, the word formation process in Arabic was relevant for color associations. In addition, psycholinguistic variables, such as letter frequency and the intrinsic order of graphemes influenced associations. Contrary to previous studies we found no evidence for sounds playing a role in letter–color associations for Arabic, and only a very limited role for shape influencing color associations. These findings highlight the importance of linguistic and psycholinguistic features in cross-modal correspondences, and illustrate why it is important to play close attention to each language on its own terms in order to disentangle language-specific from universal effects.

Nonrandom Associations of Graphemes with Colors in Arabic

in Multisensory Research



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    Arabic alphabet and digits. Panel A depicts the Arabic alphabet. The letters should be read right to left. ’alif ا is the first letter of the alphabet. Corresponding sounds are given in the light grey panel, and the Arabic letter name is in the dark grey panel. Panel B depicts Arabic digits (also known as Eastern Arabic numbers). The numbers are read from left to right. The top line shows the Arabic digits used in the study. The corresponding English numbers follow in the light grey panel. The Arabic names for the numbers are given below in the dark grey panel. Adapted from Ryding (2005).

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    Details of Arabic script. Panel A shows how vowels can be represented in Arabic using diacritics, or in combination with three of the letters from the alphabet. Panel B shows how Arabic letters change shape when written in words. Three color word participants produced in the study are shown on the left side, with the corresponding fully written out letters on the right side. Panel C gives an illustrative example of the rich morphology of Arabic. The Arabic word is shown on the right, with the transliteration and word class (n = noun; v = verb), and translation. Panel D shows how three of the color words change their form as a function of grammatical gender and number.

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    Synaesthesia prevalence and scoring distributions. Distribution of scores on the synaesthesia questionnaire for Arabic and English respondents.

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    Letter–color associations for Arabic and English respondents. Left panel shows the above chance Arabic color responses to Arabic letters. English translations for the Arabic words are shown on the right hand side, with their corresponding chance values. English color associations to Arabic letters are shown in the right panel. This figure is published in color in the online version.

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    Digit–color associations for Arabic and English respondents. Left panel shows the above chance Arabic color responses to Eastern Arabic numbers. English translations for the Arabic words are shown on the right hand side, with their corresponding chance values. English color associations to Eastern Arabic numbers are shown in the right panel. This figure is published in color in the online version.

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    Relationship between letter frequency and color words associated. Higher frequency color words (e.g., white) were more likely to be associated with high frequency Arabic letters, whereas lower frequency words (e.g., violet) were more likely to be associated with lower frequency letters. This figure is published in color in the online version.

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    Letter shape and color associations. Letters are depicted in groups based on similarity of shape. Significant color associations are associated with an asterisk. Where there was no significant color association for a letter, the most frequently associated color is depicted with a cross. There is no apparent systematic relationship between letter shape and color association.

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    Letter sound and color associations. Letters are plotted according to their sound characteristics. Where there was no significant association for a letter, the most frequent color association is depicted. There are no apparent systematic relationships between letter sounds and color associations. This figure is published in color in the online version.

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