Different languages bear different semantic features. The color spectrum in continuous; language, however, isn’t. Language makes us categorize the color spectrum into discrete areas by the use of color terms: red, yellow, green, and so on.
In the study of linguistics of color terms, the words that different languages use to name colors show many prime linguistic differences between those languages.Since the 50s and the 60s, it is well known that color terms in different languages arise from the different ways of perceiving segmentation in the color spectrum. Studies also show that there are neurophysiological factors about human perception that influence the ways in which we perceive colors. Either way, linguistic studies of color terms and categorizations show that 1) different languages classify and categorize the world in different ways, and 2) man’s non-linguistic perception (color, for this matter) is influenced by these differences in classification and categorization.Languages are comprised of different numbers of color names; they too, categorize the color spectrum somewhat differently. One classic example showing extreme differences in categorization is the case of the Dani people in New Guinea.
Their language categorizes the color spectrum differently from say, English-speaking people—for the Dani, there exists only two basic color terms: mili for cold, dark colors (which include green and blue), and mola for light, warm colors (which include red and yellow).When it comes to naming colors, the range of color terms between languages also vary. For instance, while in the English language, there are terms for “gray” or “brown”, no equivalent words exist in Latin.
In the Navajo language, “blue” and “green” are classified in a single term, while in Russian, the terms for “dark blue” and “sky blue”—sinii and goluboi—are two distinct terms which are as separate as “pink” is to ”red”, or “orange” is to “brown”.In other cultures, color names are also assigned to slightly different areas of the color spectrum. For example, in some Chinese languages, blue and green are given the same name.
On the other hand, the Japanese have two terms referring to the color green; however, although the traffic lights in Japan is the same as that of other countries, the green light is referred to with the same term used for blue (because for the Japanese, green is considered just a different shade of blue).When one color term exists for one language and not for another language, it doesn’t mean that there are differences in visual ability between the people of those languages. For instance, just because the Dani doesn’t have a word for blue or green, it doesn’t mean the Dani can’t see those colors. In a study conducted by cognitive psychologist Eleanor Rosch, a group of Dani and a group Americans were given a task involving memory recognition of 40 colors. Both groups made very similar kinds of errors, suggesting that despite the huge linguistic color-naming differences, both groups are seeing the same colors.Numerous other studies have shown that underlying perception of color relationships are determined by physiological factors, and not linguistic ones. People from different linguistic backgrounds see different colors the same way; it’s just that the perception varies on what range of objects fall under the same word.
In short, the influence of language lies in how humans categorize our world and label it, and not much on what we see or can think about.BibliographyAllott, R. (1974). Some apparent uniformities between languages in colour-naming. [Electronic Version].
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