Monday, October 17, 2011

Coloring (haptic-integrated) English vowels

There are traditions and analogous studies related to synaesthesia and vowel symbolism that link colors with vowel quality, both neurophysiologically and metaphorically. How about if were were to combine some of those frameworks, identifying vowel positioning in the visual field with their relative intensity, energy and hue, roughly speaking: high-front=yellow, mid-front=orange, high & mid-back=green, low central and back=blue, and schwa=dark gray. It might look something like this: We linked this 2007 study by Lowrey and Schrum last year in an earlier post on the phonaesthetics of English vowels. (with "gray-ground," of course!) 

In HICP we use something similar, except typically "coloring" only stressed vowels in words and/or phrases and altering hues as appropriate. (The coloring of the previous sentences uses only basic colors.) There are many different pedagogical systems that use colors mnemonically to connect to vowels, such as blue, red, green, etc., to help students remember vowels. One of those three, "red" colored red, actually does, in fact, match the HICP framework, using the intense red/orange for the mid-front (relatively vibrant) vowel felt sense in (at least) some dialects of English, including my own! (Note: This is a pedagogical system that has developed and been tested in the classroom, primarily.) 

The connections to research are intriguing but not the "prime mover" in what has evolved in the last year.) Forgive the vocal singing performance pun, but what your vowel teaching may need is just a little "color-a-tour-a!"


Bill Acton said...

Just realized that I left something important out of this post. The vowel chart that students work with is a mirror image of that used by the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), with front vowels to the right and back vowels to the left. There were three earlier blogposts that explored the rationale for that positioning. In essence, it seems to be more "consonant" with the character of the visual field, what various felt senses the brain seems to be set up for. If you want to discuss that assumption in a thread here, I'd be delighted to respond.

Bill Acton said...

One of the students in our program, Rachael Caunce, has been researching the use of color in teaching the vowel system and is doing her MA Thesis on the topic. Hat tip to her for helping me better understand sound symbolism, especially from a semiotic perspective.

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