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Color perception and language


Gist – Effect of Native language on color perception

Tags – language, color, color perception, words, linguistic relativity

Is language first and foremost an artifact of culture? Or is it largely determined by human biology? examines some idiosyncratic aspects of particular languages that, in his opinion, cast further doubt on biologically based theories of language… puzzling fact that many languages lack words for what (to English speakers) seem to be basic colors…. strange sequence in which color terms appear in the world’s languages over time — first black and white, then red, then either green or yellow, with blue appearing only after the first five are in place — still has no full explanation, Deutscher’s suggestion that the development of dyes and other forms of artificial coloring may be involved is as convincing as any other, making color terms the likeliest candidate for a culture-induced linguistic phenomenon… demonstrating that the “fact” (attested in countless linguistic texts) that all languages are equally complex has no empirical basis whatsoever… there are no objective, nonarbitrary criteria for measuring linguistic complexity across entire languages… goes on to addresses the relationship between language and thought. Do speakers of all languages think in similar ways, or do different languages give their speakers quite different pictures of the world (a view sometimes referred to as “linguistic relativity”)?… Deutscher does find three areas where a weaker version of linguistic relativity might hold — color terms, spatial relations and grammatical gender. Ever since Mark Twain mocked the pronoun confusions of “the awful German language” — a young girl is an “it” while a turnip is a “she” — most people, including linguists, have treated gender assignment as largely arbitrary and idiosyncratic, devoid of any cognitive content. But recent experiments have shown that speakers do indeed, on a subconscious level, form associations between nonliving (“neuter”) objects and masculine or feminine properties. As for spatial relationships, we English speakers relate the positions of objects or other people to ourselves (“in front of,” “behind,” “beside”) or to each other, but some languages use compass references (“east of,” “southwest of”) for identical relationships….t he facets of language he deals with do not involve “fundamental aspects of our thought,” as he claims, but relatively minor ones… possible exception of color terms, cultural factors seldom correlate with linguistic phenomena, and even when they seem to, the correlation is not causal. For instance, languages of small tribes tend to have words with multiple inflections, while those of complex industrial or post­industrial societies do not…

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