A rose remains a rose however you call it … but is it also red in another language? Of course, we all have the same eyes to look at, but different languages classify colors differently , and influencing how the same color is perceived by members of different cultures. Would you like to know more? Here are seven curiosities about colors in other languages , and how our language conditions the way we see colors.
1. English has eleven words for basic colors. Maybe someone remembers the colored sketches that were made in kindergarten to learn the colors. Patterns like those represent the way we divide and classify colors. English has eleven words to indicate the basic colors: black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, pink, gray, brown, orange and purple. But the same schemino may appear slightly different in another language. Some languages have multiple words to distinguish colors , and others have fewer.
2. Some languages have twelve words for basic colors. For example, Italian, Russian and Greek distinguish blue from blue, just as in English it distinguishes red from pink. Other languages, such as Irish and Turkish, have various words to distinguish different types of red.
3. The pirahã language has only two words to describe colors. The pirahã distinguishes only the “light” colors from the “dark” ones. To describe the color of an object in more detail, in pirahã it is said that the object “resembles” another. Another language famous for having few names of colors is himba. According to a study by the University of Essex (reported on Wikipedia), the himba has only four words: – Zuzu: dark shades of blue, red, green and purple – Vapa: white and some shades of yellow – Buru: some shades of green and blue – Dambu: other shades of green, red and brown According to other sources, the Himba language would also have the term serandu to describe some shades of red, orange and pink. Think how different the same color scheme made in the Himba language could be!
4. Some languages do not distinguish green from blue. For example, Japanese has words to say “green” (midori and guriin) and a word to say “blue” (ao). This distinction, however, is a fairly recent concept (see below for more details). Green is often still considered a shade of blue, and not a color in its own right.
Our language affects our ability to see colors… more or less. Everyone except the color-blind see the same colors. But since different languages classify the same colors into different categories, our language affects the way our brain interprets a certain color. Professor Anna Franklin of the University of Sussex explains the phenomenon in Horizon Magazine: “Russian has two words to say ‘blue’, distinguishing a darker and a lighter tint. This basic distinction makes Russian speakers more receptive to colors in that area of the visual spectrum. We measured this difference by comparing the electrical activity in the cerebral cortex of Russian speakers with that of speakers of other languages when asked to distinguish two shades of blue […]. Language does not change the ability to see colors, but it changes the way we interpret the information received “. In this regard, the New York Times reports an experiment conducted to compare the way in which the Himbas and Westerners see the colors: “The members of the tribe who participated in the experiment found it difficult to distinguish between blue and green, which is not a problem for westerners, but they also easily distinguished shades of green that looked identical to western eyes. ” A post from the Language Log then clarified the results of the experiment, which had an out of control media resonance: the Himbas are perfectly able to distinguish blue from green … only that they do not do it with the same immediacy as the westerners.
6. The names of colors change over time. Nobody knows for sure why different cultures divide the spectrum of visible light in a certain way. But it is certain that these are never fixed categories: like many other names, even the names of colors evolve over time. For example, a study of some Australian Aboriginal languages has shown that languages acquire new color names over time, and lose others. Let’s go back to Japanese, in which green is often seen as a “shade” of blue: both terms used to describe green are relatively young compared to the others. Midori dates back to the year 1000 AD, and guriin was imported from the Dutch. According to an article that appeared in Empirical Zeal, the Japanese began to distinguish midori from ao following greater exposure to western culture. For example, starting in 1917, Japan began to import boxes of colored pencils. Later, during the occupation of the Allies, the difference between green and blue began to appear in the classrooms to follow Allied school standards.
7. In Shakespeare’s time, pink was not “pink”. In English, the term pink is the newest of the color names. The first evidence of the use of pink to indicate pink dates back to 1733, over a century after Shakespeare’s death. Before then, pink was used to indicate a type of carnation.