19 June 2012

Naming colours

At first glance one might imagine that the question of assigning names to colours in different languages then establishing equivalents between languages might be relatively simple. To help you think again and appreciate that in many cases, especially between languages from widely differing cultures and times in history, you might like to explore:
Read, for instance, WERE THE GREEKS BLUE-BLIND? on p14 of Hoeppe's book here.

Some quotes from The crayola-fication (in the UK and parts of the Commonwealth that should probably read The crayonification):
  • ... like most world languages, the Tarahumara language doesn’t distinguish blue from green.
  • As it happens, Whorf was right. Or rather, he was half right.
  • It’s easier to tell apart colors with different names, but only if they are to your right. (Keep in mind that this is a very subtle effect, the difference in reaction time is a few hundredths of a second.)
  • Koreans are familiar with the colors yeondu and chorok. An English speaker would call them both green (yeondu perhaps being a more yellowish green). But in Korean it’s not a matter of shade, they are both basic colors. There is no word for green that includes both yeondu and chorok.
  • ... when you’re verbally distracted, it suddenly becomes harder to separate blue from green ...
  • The conclusion is that language is somehow enhancing your left brain’s ability to discern different colors with different names.
  • Oddly enough, Whorf was right, but only when it comes to half your brain.

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