Below is the script for my first Toastmaster speech, about my synaesthesia.
What colour is the letter ”A”? Do you agree with me that ‘A’ is bright green, or do you see a different colour? If you share my way of seeing the world you will probably know exactly what I am talking about, but the vast majority of you, if not all of you, can be excused for thinking that I might have taken magic mushrooms with my morning coffee. However, I am pleased to report that you are mistaken. I am one of the 2-4% of people in the UK who have been born with the harmless neurological condition called synaesthesia. In this brief speech, I will firstly introduce what is meant by synaesthesia, secondly I will describe my own synaesthetic experience, and thirdly I will explain why my synaesthesia has influenced my decision to join Toastmasters.
Synaesthesia is an amalgamation of two Greek words, ‘syn’, which means ‘union’ and ‘aisthesia’, which means sensation. In other words, synaesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon where two or more of the senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and automatically joined together. There are many different variations of this sensory coupling. For example, some synaesthetes see colour when they hear music, while other synaesthetes experience a sensation of taste when they hear certain words. Synaesthesia is not a result of mental imagination and it is not metaphorical thinking. A small proportion of the population experience the phrase ”I see what you are saying” as literally true. It is thought that synaesthetes have over connected brains and this means that their experience of the world is more explicit and intense than that of the average person.
In my own synaesthesia, days of the week, months of the year, numbers and the alphabet are both spatially projected and intensely coloured, and they are all associated with distinct rectangular shapes and timelines. I also see words in colour, both in my minds eye when I think about words or when someone is speaking, and also projected onto the page when I am reading a book. The general colour of a word is determined by its first letter, but I can also see the individual colours of all the letters. For example, the word synaesthesia is a white word because S is white. However the y is orange, the n is brown, the a is green, the e is red, the t is black, the h is orange, and the i is black. By contrast, my own name, Anna, is a green word because it begins with an A. Words are visualised as huge entities, and each letter is saturated with colour, as if it has been painted onto a canvas.
My affinity with language runs like a golden thread through my life. I have an excellent memory for complicated and arcane words, because they are colour coded in my mind. Synaesthesia is an excellent mnemonic device. I was therefore drawn to Toastmasters like a moth to a light as soon as I heard about the organisation. After all, I am always looking for ways to increase my already stupendous vocabulary, and to enjoy the colourful artistic display that language, particularly in its spoken form, evokes. I navigate the world through the medium of language, and consequently I am an avid reader. Toastmasters has fed my insatiable verbosity by feeding me mouth watering words of the day. I will never forget the bright red ebullient, which means cheerful and full of energy. Synaesthesia intensifies my world, and this has undoubtedly influenced my enthusiastic, animated, and ebullient personality.
I started this speech by asking you what colour is the letter A? I hope that you will have learnt that if someone asks such a question, they are not necessarily on party drugs. I hope that you will have learnt that other people’s perceptual experiences of the world are not necessarily the same as your own, and that subtle differences in brain wiring can have life enhancing ramifications. After all, synaesthesia is the reason why I am standing here today, delivering this ice-breaker speech.
Thank you for listening.