Visualising words
Posted: 19 March 2007 01:09 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Somewhat off-topic, but this board should be a good one for the question. I have always visualised words as I say or hear them, sort of as a running subtitle somewhere in the back of my mind. This means that I get distressed if, say, I’m introduced to someone called Ann(e) until I find out how she spells her name, as it disrupts the run of the script. Unusual or foreign words are even more problematic, obviously.

For years I assumed that everyone did this. I now know most people don’t, though according to a Radio 4 programme I once heard those who do it tend to think it’s universal until they learn otherwise. I’m just curious to find out if there are other people here who have the same involuntary tic.

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Posted: 19 March 2007 03:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Mine is a somewhat modified version of yours. There are ghostly images of the words running through my mind’s eye as I speak, and if I took the time or were more properly visual, I could see the words distinctly. More importantly, if I don’t know how to spell a word, for example in a foreign language or in the case of an English word I am unfamiliar with, I find it virtually impossible to use the word until I learn the spelling.

As it happens, spelling is not something I’m particularly good at. Latinate words are the worst for some reason. Anyway, just in the last couple of weeks it occurred to me that this habit we are talking about may have been something I had developed to overcome difficulties in learning to read and write. My daughter is rather dyslexic, though I hasten to add that she’s barely 13 and has recently finished “Pride and Prejudice” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” (not at my suggestion). I have told her for years that you have to “see and hear the word” to know it.  Needless to say this never sank in much. But it got me to remembering that there was a time when I was young that I got pretty obsessive about “seeing and hearing” the words. This went on for long enough that I actually complained about it to my Mom because I couldn’t make it stop. Then finally it subsided as reading and writing became more natural. Perhaps subconsciously I was fixing a problem I didn’t even know I had.

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Posted: 19 March 2007 04:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I once saw a TV programme on syna(e)sth(a)esia, where people experience words as tastes or smells.  Whether what you describe falls into this category, I don’t know.  Here’s one site describing the condition, and here’s another.  Apparently you’re born with it; it tends to be genetic and you don’t think it at all unusual. 

Occasionally I see phrases as Pitman’s shorthand, but I don’t think it’s the same sort of experience as you’re all describing, because a facility in shorthand comes with intensive drilling.

edited link

[ Edited: 19 March 2007 04:08 PM by ElizaD ]
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Posted: 19 March 2007 05:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Synesthesia (synaesthaesia, whatever) may have something to do with it. My daughter accused me of being synesthetic when I told her that she should develop a feeling for numbers. 64 is a great number because it is 8 squared and 8 is like the infinity sign. 64 has a nice roundness to it; I like 6’s and 4’s together. It’s also twice 32 and good things come in quarts, like milk and other liquids. 71 is very sharp and unaccommodating while 17 is sharp and exciting. 13 appears unlucky but is in fact an individualist and demonstrates certain rebellious tendencies which can be beneficial to people like bakers. 55 has a dreadful, repetitive dullness to it and you never expect it to live up to its reputation of being more than half a hundred. 22, on the other hand and despite Joseph Heller, has lots of potential, much like a basket of hen’s eggs.

I said “What’s synesthesia?”

[ Edited: 19 March 2007 05:47 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 21 March 2007 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Foolscap, please don’t think I’m being rude or personal, but this sounds fascinating. It certainly seems that both you and your daughter may have the sort of neurological differences found in dyslexia and possibly synaesthesia. Have you ever discussed any of this with groups supporting and researching dyslexia and synaesthesia? I think they would find it interesting.

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Posted: 21 March 2007 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I have a mental map of numbers, rather like a road map, where each number has its location on the map and a similar, but not identical map for dates.
I’ve always preferred even numbers over odd, too.

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Posted: 23 March 2007 12:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Flynn,

Thank you for asking. Indeed, I have never enquired of any professionals and have not really been aware of any groups that deal with the area. It might be of use to a lot of people. A couple of years ago my daughter’s mother had her tested through the school district psychologists and they found that she had some major spikes and valleys in her chart in terms of performance. However, because her grades were high enough across the board they couldn’t get her in to any programs for further treatment or analysis. That’s bureauracracy, I guess. We all, no matter what our abilities, adapt to the world around us. California seemingly has adopted programs whereby massive quantities of unrelated trivia in math and science are dumped on kids at younger and younger ages for the purpose of rote memorization. My daughter has been learning exponents for a few years now without any particular explanation as to why they are important. I remember in math class that exponents took about a week before we moved on to quadratic equations. It’s a form of torture for kids nowadays.

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