4.30.2007

Different Words for Different Colors

This is a bit of a departure from the regular sports/auto-related content found within this blog, but there's no need to be pigeon-holed.

An article found today on Nature indicates that the language you speak (and specifically, the vocabulary contained within said language) could change how you perceive colors.

American linguist Benjamin Whorf predicted (in the 1930's) that our language decides how we categorize things in our lives. The Nature article describes an experiment performed in which English and Russian-speaking test subjects were shown pictures of 3 blue blocks, 2 of which were identical. The Russians, who have different words for light and dark blue ("goluboy" and "siniy", respectively), had an easier time separating the different colored block from the two identical ones, especially as the difference between the shades was lessened.

Once the Russian-speakers were asked to recite numbers as they picked the colors (thus negating the language part of the experiment), their advantage was eliminated.

Angela Brown, a color-perception researcher (really?) at OSU has stated a case for a more physiological reason behind these results. She states that the cultures which have languages that separate "dark" and "light blue" are found at more northern climates. Apparently many tropical cultures cannot distinguish between blue and green, due to the retinal damage sustained from increased sun exposure (hypothetically). So, as you move further away from these tropical climates (and therefore have less exposure to the sun), there may be an increased ability to distinguish between blue and green. There was no rebuttal to the decreased abilities of the Russian-speakers when their linguistics were negated.

Regardless of whether the Russian-speakers were better able to distinguish between the colors due to language or due to physiology, it's incredibly interesting information. I'd like to see if an individual who spoke Russian as a second (or 3rd) language were better able to differentiate the blue colors. I believe this would determine whether the effects were linguistic or physiological.
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