Does Language Affect Colour Perception? Miscal Avano-Nesgaard Thursday October 27, 2005
Activity 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 (SWH) 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
Determinism 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
Activity 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 universalism What is universalism?
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? Universalism is inconsistent with the Whorfian view that language interacts with colour perception, the hierarchy demonstrates similar colour categories across languages (categorical perception) 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
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 poorly
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 Kingdom 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