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Does Language Affect Colour Perception?


Majority of children likened navy blue with purple at age 3 ... categories of Linguistics, Psycholinguistics, Psychology, Perception, Cognition, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Does Language Affect Colour Perception?

Does Language Affect Colour Perception?
  • Miscal Avano-Nesgaard
  • Thursday October 27, 2005

  • Franklin, Clifford, Williamson and Davies (2004)
  • Studied colour perception at ages 3 and 5
  • Majority of children likened navy blue with
    purple at age 3
  • At age 5, English speaking children found navy
    closer to blue and Himba children found navy
    closer to black

Franklin et al. (2004)
  • These results support the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • What is the SWH?

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
  • Sapir (1884 - 1939) was a linguist and Whorf
    (1897-1941) was a student of Sapir at Yale
  • The theory is based on two principles
  • Linguistic relativity people who speak different
    languages perceive and think about the world
    differently as thought is encoded linguistically
  • Linguistic determinism our thinking is
    determined by our language

  • Strong determinism suggests that translation
    between one language and another is impossible
    and that translation of nonverbal thought into
    language may be impossible
  • This is not supported today as it is possible to
    translate from language to language

How Does this Study Support the SWH?
  • If the process of naming colours is driven
    perceptually, purple should be the most frequent
    choice for speakers of both English and Himba
  • This was only the choice of young children in
    both languages before acquiring colour terms

  • Berlin Kay (1969) Colour Hierarchy
  • Languages may have a different number of colour
    names or terminology, however
  • They do not divide the colour spectrum in
    different ways (i.e. all languages group similar
    colours together)

How Does the Hierarchy Work?
  • Upper levels of the hierarchy must be fulfilled
    in a language in order for that language to have
    colour names in a lower level.
  • Examples
  • If a language has only two colour names, they
    will be black and white.
  • If a language has three colour names they will be
    black, white, and red.

What does this show us?
  • The colour hierarchy demonstrates support for
  • What is universalism?

  • Universalism is based on the idea that thoughts
    can be expressed in many different ways, or in
    many different languages. An idea in one language
    can be translated into another.
  • Linguistic coding is universal and does not
    differ by language

How Does the Colour Hierarchy Support
  • Universalism is inconsistent with the Whorfian
    view that language interacts with colour
    perception, the hierarchy demonstrates similar
    colour categories across languages (categorical
  • Colour is determined by the nervous system and
    thus main colour names in a language will be
    determined by the nervous system without respect
    to language (biological determinants)

Drawbacks to Looking at Colour Perception in
Terms of SWH
  • Colour coding can be a poor measure for the SWH
    because the outcomes relate more to how the
    visual system works than to how linguistic coding
    affects colour naming
  • Example
  • The first six colour names in the colour
    hierarchy correspond to the place in the spectrum
    where discriminations are most easily made by the
    human visual system (i.e. yellow-green colours or
    teals and turquoises)

Further Support for the SWH
  • Robertson, Davies Davidoff (2000)
  • The language Berinmo (from New Guinea) has five
    colour terms (Black, White, Red, Yellow,
    Green/Blueconsistent with colour hierarchy)
  • Robertson et al. (2000) presented three colour
    chips to speakers of Berinmo and English, and
    asked for subjects to select the two most similar

(No Transcript)
Berinmo Colour Division
  • Berinmo colour division differs from English
    colour division (of a colour spectrum).
    Distinctions are made in the spectrum where none
    are made in English
  • wor somewhat green
  • nol green, blue, blue/purple
  • wap all light colours
  • kel all dark colours
  • mehi pink/red
  • nol is roughly what is called green in English
    and wor is roughly is called yellow in English

  • Berinmo colour names do not distinguish between
    green and blue. There are two greens and one
    blue, but all are nol in Berimo.

  • English colour names do not distinguish between
    nol and wor. There are two nol and one
    wor, but all are yellowy-green in English.

How does this support the SWH?
  • According to SWH if the two colours belong to
    different (linguistically coded) colour
    categories the task should be easier than if they
    belong to the same categories
  • English speakers do well when tested in the
    green-blue boundary and Berinmo do poorly
  • Berinmo speakers do well when the tested in the
    nol-wor boundary and English speakers do

Further Support for Universalism
  • A study by Davies, Swoden, Jerret, Jerret and
    Corbett (1998) similar to the Robertson et al
    (2002) study showed that when English speakers
    and Setswana speakers made choices in various
    colour triads as to which two were most similar,
    results were similar for both language groups.

Beyond Colour Applying Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
and Universalism Elsewhere
  • Boroditsky (2001) - Telling time (in terms of
    months/events) Chinese speaker vs English
    speakers (English is horizontal in front,
    behind) (Chinese is vertical (up, down)
  • Whorfs theory of the number of names for snow
    in Inuit as viewed differently (support for
    Sapir-Whorf) vs. specialisation with increased
    exposure (Universalism)

How Does This Support Universalism?
  • If the SWH was supported, it would be assumed
    that the English speakers performance on the
    colour triads would differ from that of the
    Setswana speakers. As this did not occur, it
    supports a universal colour classification scheme.

Beyond cont
  • Li and Gleitman (2002) Frames of reference
    (certain languages do not use viewer-centred
    frames of reference as in English/Dutch, some
    like Tenejapans may use object-centred frames of
    reference) supports SWH
  • Matsumoto (2004) Paul Ekmans universality of
    emotions (body language)
  • Death (certain languages do not have a word for
    death, but may describe it metaphorically)
    Universality of categories

Graduate Studies
  • Sapir-Whorf falls into categories of Linguistics,
    Psycholinguistics, Psychology, Perception,
    Cognition, Anthropology, Philosophy, Language and
    Communications (Media)

Graduate Studies cont
  • Paul Kay - Department of Linguistics, University
    of California, Berkeley
  • Brent Berlin - Department of Anthropology,
    University of California, Berkeley

Graduate Studies cont
  • Jules Davidoff - Department of Psychology,
    Goldsmiths College, University of London, United
  • Ian R. Davies - Department of Psychology,
    University of Surrey, England, United Kingdom

Graduate Studies in Canada
  • Brian Funt, Department of Computer Science, Simon
    Fraser University Interest Colour Perception
    and colour constancy
  • Thomy H. Nilsson, Department of Psychology, UPEI,
    - Interest Colour perception and neurophysiology
  • Anthony Synnott, Department of Sociology and
    Anthropology, Michael Bross, Department of
    Psychology, Charles Davis, Department of
    Religion, David Howes, Department of Sociology
    and Anthropology, Concordia University
    Interest Influence of Culture on the Senses