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Your Spoken Language Affects the Things You See

Abstract colors oil painting
Your Spoken Language Affects the Things You See
on December, 19 2014
Abstract colors oil painting

Image credit: Abstract colors by kesu87 / 123RF Stock Photo

A data scientist from Taiwan put together an experiment to test the theory that a person's spoken language affects that way he sees things, in much the same way that people of different nationalities put importance to colors differently.

Taiwanese data scientist Muyueh Lee wanted to test the theory that the language in which colors are described has significant effect on how the colors are perceived and put it to a test using the variety of color names. What he did was to test the names of colors based on their use between the West and China.

Color names

In China, the most popular base colors are green, blue and red, whereas in the West, the most popular are green, blue and pink. Colors in the West could be based on or related to objects such as ruby, gold, pine tree, stone and salmon. There are also colors that pertain to nationalities, like Spanish red and Persian blue. Meanings are also attached to colors. In China red is a very important color in their culture because it is a symbol of joy and good fortune as well as the most favored color by the government.

Mr. Lee said he was fascinated by the legend that the Eskimos have about 50 words for snow. While it was just an urban legend, the Inuit does have several descriptions for different types of snow forms. But his experiment also showed that a particular language actually allows people to see more colors because they have a more extensive vocabulary to describe them. There are also several studies that support the theory.

Other studies

A Pueblo Native American tribe that speaks Zuñi was found in a study conducted in 1954 to have trouble differentiating between yellow and orange. In fact, they could not tell the two colors apart.

Likewise, in a separate study, it was found that Russian speakers were better than people who spoke English because they could pick out various shades of blue. They have different words for dark blue (siniy) and light blue (goluboy).

Color perception

There are some people that perceive colors differently. The medical condition is called synaesthesia wherein a person, called a synaesthete, can feel sounds, taste colors and see smells. Some of those who have this condition include Lady Gaga, Tori Amos, Duke Ellington, Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Marilyn Monroe, Vincent van Gogh, Eddie van Halen, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams.

Scientists believe that this condition can be taught and that the training can contribute to an increase in someone's IQ, based on the study conducted by the University of Sussex that conducted a sample study of 14 people who were taught letter-color associations.

Other associations

It is not only colors that affect the way people see things. For speakers of Guugu Yimithirr, an Australian Aboriginal language, an object is not to your right or left. They would say it was southeast or northwest. At an early age, they were taught to think of cardinal directions and thus their sense of orientation is fascinating to say the least. They learned to commit the direction of the wind and the position of the sun to memory.

French, German and Spanish speakers assign gender to persons and inanimate objects even if the gender assignment differ among languages. For example, "der Tisch" (table) in German is masculine while in Spanish, table or "la mesa" is feminine. To further illustrate, German speakers see some objects, such as bridges and clocks as elegant and slender and use feminine terms for them, whereas Spanish speakers see them as objects with manly properties thus giving them a masculine article.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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