What the Color Grue Means About The Impact of Language

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Color names are some of the first words you learn in any language, whether you're a native speaker or picking up a new tongue. But unless you've spoken Zulu, Old Welsh, or an East Asian language, you may have never had to wrestle with the concept of "grue": the composite of green and blue that these cultures consider a single basic color. It gets stranger: certain tongues spoken in West Africa pile black into the "grue" category, and in some Native American languages, green and blue are separate but red and yellow are a composite. Even the ancient Greeks thought of colors differently by differentiating light shades from dark ones, rather than treating each as two versions of the same color. In reality, a language can split up the color spectrum any way they see fit. But what does this mean for the people who speak those languages? Would you see water differently if it was "ocean grue" instead of blue? Do the words we speak reflect the way we see the world, or do they change it? These are the questions linguists and psychologists have been trying to answer for decades.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Vietnamese uses the same basic word for both blue and green -- literally translated, they're "leaf grue" and "ocean grue." 00:25

  2. Russian has two completely different words for dark blue and light blue. We do the same with dark red and light red (red and pink). 01:03

  3. The deeper debate is whether the words and languages we learn influence the way we interpret the world, or whether they reflect our existing interpretations. 02:10

Written by Ashley Hamer June 10, 2016

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