Anyone who has gone to a construction store to buy paint to paint the house must have come across an intriguing color catalog. We discovered, for example, that not all eggs are the same. It can appear as ‘ice white’, ‘snow white’, ‘off-white’ (almost white), ‘antique lace white’, ‘vanilla white’, among other forms.
The same goes for other neutrals, like beige, black, and even gray (otherwise, where would the title of “50 Shades of Gray” come from?)
If we only think about these differences abstractly, without looking at them first, we may not be able to tell the difference between them. But when we approach the shades and give them names, we even realize that there are huge differences between the tones.
This ability to see different shades of the same color may be greater for us Brazilians, who speak Portuguese, perhaps for North Americans and English speakers, who speak English, whose vocabulary regarding color differences is smaller.
This is suggested by some scientific research, which has investigated how appearances of color are intrinsically linked to our mother tongue, our educational experiences, and even the cultural influences we receive.
That is, the more entries or expressions we use to name different classes of colors, the more we are able to perceive (and remember) the differences.
An article in The Conversation contains other examples of the same question. The text, published last week, shows how blue can be perceived among different peoples.
People who speak Russian, Greek, and Turkish can distinguish between light blue and dark blue faster—and more confidently—than English and Spanish, who use the same expression to refer to different shades of blue.
The Greek language, for example – like Portuguese itself – has a specific term for light blue – the word “galazio” – and one for dark blue – the word “blee”. “So they are different colors for the Greeks,” the article reads.
This topic has been on the agenda of scientific journals at least since the end of the nineteenth century. Linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf was one of the principal researchers on this topic. He was one of the founders of the theory called linguistic relativity.
According to this hypothesis, the structure of language directly affects the worldview and cognitive aspects of its speakers.
Language can reduce colors to opposite shades
In the middle of the twentieth century, other theories about color perception emerged, further deepening the relationship between language and tones. After studying color vocabulary in more than 100 languages, North American anthropologists have discovered that some people restrict the color lexicon a bit.
In addition to reinforcing the theory that the fewer words there are, the fewer colors available, they also note that expressions follow a hierarchy: starting with black and white and expanding toward the other four primary colors: green, red, blue, and yellow.
And when color vocabulary remains low, chromatic perceptions can be limited to dark/light or cool/warm colours. This is the case in countries such as Papua New Guinea – which speaks the Dani language – and Liberia and Sierra Leone, which speak the Bassa language.
In these languages, where there are only two terms for colors, black, blue, and green are understood as cool tones, while white, red, and yellow are understood as warm tones.
New languages and other colors
More recently, in 2018, a new study, this time published by PNAS, the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, showed that color perception can change from the moment we learn, say, a second language. .
With quick training, anyone can expand their color vocabulary and learn to easily distinguish different shades, because the way we see them depends on how our brain interprets them.
That is, a person learning English can recognize the different types of blue when learning Portuguese or Greek, for example.
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