Blue is Green II

in other languages besides Korean. Here’s a discussion of an experiment on speakers and color chips.

In contrast to English, the Mexican Indian language Tarahumara does not have one term for ‘green’ and one for ‘blue’, but instead has a single term, siyóname, that covers both. In other words, where English has two concepts, ‘green’ and ‘blue’, Tarahumara has only one. How does this difference affect the perception of colours among speakers of the two languages? In one experiment, speakers of both languages were presented with three colour chips at a time. Each time, all three chips, say, A, B and C, were of different shades of colour on the scale from green to blue, with chip B being somewhere in between chips A and C:…

The subjects were asked to determine whether the distance in colour between chips A and B was greater than the distance between chips B and C or the other way around. It turned out that when the borderline between English green and blue went between chips B and C, the English speakers tended strongly to feel that the distance between chips B and C was greater than that between chips A and B, even when the actual distance between chips A and B, as measured independently, was greater. Speakers of Tarahumara did not make a similar systematic distortion.

The proposed explanation for this is that English speakers solve a difficult problem (that of determining distances between colours) by resorting to a “name strategy”. If chip A and B are both called green, while chip C is called blue, the name strategy prompts the English speaker to decide that chip C is more different from chip B than chip A is, even when the opposite is in fact the case. This strategy is not available to Tarahumara speakers, since their vocabulary does not distinguish between ‘green’ and ‘blue’.

In a second experiment, English speakers were presented with the same triads of colour chips, but in a way that only enabled them to see two chips at a time, either A and B or B and C. When they were shown chips A and B, the experimenter said: “You can see that this chip (points to A) is greener than this chip (points to B).” Everybody agreed. And when they were shown chips B and C, the experimenter said: “You can see that this chip (points to C) is bluer than this chip (points to B).” Again everybody agreed. Thus, all subjects were prompted to use both the terms green and blue to refer to chip B. When they were subsequently asked to judge the relative distance between A and B as opposed to B and C, the systematic distortion found in the first experiment had disappeared. The proposed explanation is that the name strategy was no longer available, since they had already referred to chip B by both terms. This suggests that the use of the name strategy was indeed the correct explanation for the systematic distortion in the first experiment.

To sum up, whether or not a language distinguishes between ‘green’ and ‘blue’ does seem to influence the perception of these colours. To some extent, language influences the way we perceive the world.

I got there from Wayne’s World.

I would like to read the rest of the text but haven’t found it. The clip above takes you to chapter 1, which is 21 pages long. I found it. Linguistics for Students of Asian and African Languages

Previous post on same topic: Blue is Green 12/28/05
Related post on colors: Colors: What they mean, what they do