How come silence is sweet but sweetness is not silent: A cognitive account of directionality in poetic synaesthesia

Yeshayahu Shen*, Michal Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Synaesthesia (e.g. 'sweet silence') consists of the mapping of properties from one modality to another. The present article introduces a cognitive account regarding the directionality of the mapping in poetic discourse. Firstly, we suggest that mapping from lower modalities onto higher ones (e.g. from 'touch' onto 'sight') is more frequently used in poetic discourse than the opposite mapping (i.e. from higher to lower modalities). The findings of a textual analysis of a large-scale poetic corpus are introduced, which support this proposal, and reveal that the 'low to high' mapping is more frequently used than its inverse, and that this tendency is a universal one (across national boundaries and historical periods). Secondly, we propose a cognitive account for this universal tendency according to which the 'low to high' mapping conforms to (while its inverse violates) the following cognitive constraint: mapping from a more accessible concept onto a less accessible one is more natural than its inverse. The findings of an interpretation experiment are introduced, which provide some support for this account by suggesting that the more frequently used structure (i.e. the mapping from the more accessible to the less accessible sense) is easier to comprehend than its inverse. We conclude by proposing that aspects of poetic language are themselves constrained by general cognitive constraints.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-140
Number of pages18
JournalLanguage and Literature
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998


  • Cognitive constraints
  • Cognitive linguistics
  • Cognitive poetics
  • Empirical study of literature
  • Figurative language
  • Metaphor
  • Metaphor compreherrsion
  • Poetic figures
  • Poetic synaesthesia
  • Synaesthesia


Dive into the research topics of 'How come silence is sweet but sweetness is not silent: A cognitive account of directionality in poetic synaesthesia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this