Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mind-Blowing Connection Between Language and Colour

Here's a very interesting 8-minute clip from the BBC on the connections between language and colour.

In short, there's a strong connection between the words that we learn as children to describe colour, and the colours that we are able to perceive (did you know that infants are born mostly colourblind?).

A key group in this research is the Himba tribe in Africa. While "Westerners" (Brits, North Americans, etc) have about 11 major colour descriptors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, black, white, etc) the Himba tribe has five. When shown 12 squares of green - where one square is a SLIGHTLY different shade - the Himba can immediately detect the unique square, whereas Westerners would struggle and often guess (incorrectly).

However, when the Himba are shown 11 squares of green and one square of blue, they struggle and often guess (incorrectly). A Westerner would be able to immediately distinguish blue from green.


The scientists posit an extremely strong connection between language and colour perception. In the Himba vocabulary, "Western" blue and green are represented by the same word, and they cannot distinguish between "Western" blue and green.

Isn't this mind-blowing? We perceive the world the way we do - in part - because of the vocabulary that we've learned and evolved through language. Awesome!