Russian blues reveal effects of language on color discrimination
The hypothesis of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers’ world view or cognition. Whorf hypothesis” is considered a misnomer by linguists for several reasons: Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf never co-authored any works, and never stated their ideas in terms of a hypothesis. The idea was first clearly expressed by 19th-century thinkers, such as Russian blues reveal effects of language on color discrimination von Humboldt, who saw language as the expression of the spirit of a nation.
From the late 1980s, a new school of linguistic relativity scholars has examined the effects of differences in linguistic categorization on cognition, finding broad support for non-deterministic versions of the hypothesis in experimental contexts. The strongest form of the theory is linguistic determinism, which holds that language entirely determines the range of cognitive processes. The hypothesis of linguistic determinism is now generally agreed to be false. This is the weaker form, proposing that language provides constraints in some areas of cognition, but that it is by no means determinative.
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Research on weaker forms has produced positive empirical evidence for a relationship. The idea that language and thought are intertwined is ancient. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the idea of the existence of different national characters, or “Volksgeister”, of different ethnic groups was the moving force behind the German romantics school and the beginning ideologies of ethnic nationalism. In 1820, Wilhelm von Humboldt connected the study of language to the national romanticist program by proposing the view that language is the fabric of thought.
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Thoughts are produced as a kind of internal dialog using the same grammar as the thinker’s native language. The diversity of languages is not a diversity of signs and sounds but a diversity of views of the world. The idea that some languages are superior to others and that lesser languages maintained their speakers in intellectual poverty was widespread in the early 20th century. It does not seem likely that there is any direct relation between the culture of a tribe and the language they speak, except in so far as the form of the language will be moulded by the state of the culture, but not in so far as a certain state of the culture is conditioned by the morphological traits of the language. Boas’ student Edward Sapir reached back to the Humboldtian idea that languages contained the key to understanding the world views of peoples. He espoused the viewpoint that because of the differences in the grammatical systems of languages no two languages were similar enough to allow for perfect cross-translation. Sapir also thought because language represented reality differently, it followed that the speakers of different languages would perceive reality differently.
No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached. On the other hand, Sapir explicitly rejected strong linguistic determinism by stating, “It would be naïve to imagine that any analysis of experience is dependent on pattern expressed in language. It is easy to show that language and culture are not intrinsically associated. There are many excellent examples in Aboriginal America.
The Athabaskan languages form as clearly unified, as structurally specialized, a group as any that I know of. Sapir offered similar observations about speakers of so-called “world” or “modern” languages, noting, “possession of a common language is still and will continue to be a smoother of the way to a mutual understanding between England and America, but it is very clear that other factors, some of them rapidly cumulative, are working powerfully to counteract this leveling influence. Drawing on influences such as Humboldt and Friedrich Nietzsche, some European thinkers developed ideas similar to those of Sapir and Whorf, generally working in isolation from each other. More than any linguist, Benjamin Lee Whorf has become associated with what he called the “linguistic relativity principle”. Although Whorf lacked an advanced degree in linguistics, his reputation reflects his acquired competence. Detractors such as Lenneberg, Chomsky and Pinker criticized him for insufficient clarity in his description of how language influences thought, and for not proving his conjectures. Most of his arguments were in the form of anecdotes and speculations that served as attempts to show how ‘exotic’ grammatical traits were connected to what were apparently equally exotic worlds of thought.
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We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. Whorf’s illustration of the difference between the English and Shawnee gestalt construction of cleaning a gun with a ramrod. From the article “Science and Linguistics”, originally published in the MIT Technology Review, 1940. One of Whorf’s examples was the supposedly large number of words for ‘snow’ in the Inuit language, an example which later was contested as a misrepresentation. Another is the Hopi language’s words for water, one indicating drinking water in a container and another indicating a natural body of water. Another example is from Whorf’s experience as a chemical engineer working for an insurance company as a fire inspector. While inspecting a chemical plant he observed that the plant had two storage rooms for gasoline barrels, one for the full barrels and one for the empty ones.
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Whorf’s most elaborate argument for linguistic relativity regarded what he believed to be a fundamental difference in the understanding of time as a conceptual category among the Hopi. Whorf died in 1941 at age 44, leaving multiple unpublished papers. His line of thought was continued by linguists and anthropologists such as Hoijer and Lee who both continued investigations into the effect of language on habitual thought, and Trager, who prepared a number of Whorf’s papers for posthumous publishing. In 1953, Eric Lenneberg criticised Whorf’s examples from an objectivist view of language holding that languages are principally meant to represent events in the real world and that even though languages express these ideas in various ways, the meanings of such expressions and therefore the thoughts of the speaker are equivalent.
Lenneberg’s main criticism of Whorf’s works was that he never showed the connection between a linguistic phenomenon and a mental phenomenon. With Brown, Lenneberg proposed that proving such a connection required directly matching linguistic phenomena with behavior. They assessed linguistic relativity experimentally and published their findings in 1954. Since neither Sapir nor Whorf had ever stated a formal hypothesis, Brown and Lenneberg formulated their own. Structural differences between language systems will, in general, be paralleled by nonlinguistic cognitive differences, of an unspecified sort, in the native speakers of the language. The structure of anyone’s native language strongly influences or fully determines the worldview he will acquire as he learns the language. Brown’s formulations became widely known and were retrospectively attributed to Whorf and Sapir although the second formulation, verging on linguistic determinism, was never advanced by either of them.
Since Brown and Lenneberg believed that the objective reality denoted by language was the same for speakers of all languages, they decided to test how different languages codified the same message differently and whether differences in codification could be proven to affect behavior. They designed experiments involving the codification of colors. In their first experiment, they investigated whether it was easier for speakers of English to remember color shades for which they had a specific name than to remember colors that were not as easily definable by words. This allowed them to compare the linguistic categorization directly to a non-linguistic task. Lenneberg was also one of the first cognitive scientists to begin development of the Universalist theory of language that was formulated by Chomsky in the form of Universal Grammar, effectively arguing that all languages share the same underlying structure.
Examples of universalist influence in the 1960s are the studies by Berlin and Kay who continued Lenneberg’s color research. They studied color terminology formation and showed clear universal trends in color naming. For example, they found that even though languages have different color terminologies, they generally recognize certain hues as more focal than others. Other universalist researchers dedicated themselves to dispelling other aspects of linguistic relativity, often attacking Whorf’s specific points and examples. For example, Malotki’s monumental study of time expressions in Hopi presented many examples that challenged Whorf’s “timeless” interpretation of Hopi language and culture. Today many followers of the universalist school of thought still oppose linguistic relativity. For example, Pinker argues in The Language Instinct that thought is independent of language, that language is itself meaningless in any fundamental way to human thought, and that human beings do not even think in “natural” language, i.
Pinker and other universalists have been accused by relativists of misrepresenting Whorf’s views and arguing against strawmen. Joshua Fishman argued that Whorf’s true position was largely overlooked. But to restrict thinking to the patterns merely of English is to lose a power of thought which, once lost, can never be regained. It is the ‘plainest’ English which contains the greatest number of unconscious assumptions about nature. We handle even our plain English with much greater effect if we direct it from the vantage point of a multilingual awareness.
Where Brown’s weak version of the linguistic relativity hypothesis proposes that language influences thought and the strong version that language determines thought, Fishman’s ‘Whorfianism of the third kind’ proposes that language is a key to culture. He concluded that the debate had been confused. The degree and depth of linguistic relativity. Perhaps a few examples of superficial differences in language and associated behavior are enough to demonstrate the existence of linguistic relativity. Alternatively, perhaps only deep differences that permeate the linguistic and cultural system suffice. Lakoff concluded that many of Whorf’s critics had criticized him using novel definitions of linguistic relativity, rendering their criticisms moot. The publication of the 1996 anthology Rethinking Linguistic Relativity edited by Gumperz and Levinson began a new period of linguistic relativity studies that focused on cognitive and social aspects.
The book included studies on the linguistic relativity and universalist traditions. Researchers such as Boroditsky, Lucy and Levinson believe that language influences thought in more limited ways than the broadest early claims. They use experimental data to back up their conclusions. Psycholinguistic studies explored motion perception, emotion perception, object representation and memory. Recent work with bilingual speakers attempts to distinguish the effects of language from those of culture on bilingual cognition including perceptions of time, space, motion, colors and emotion. Lucy identified three main strands of research into linguistic relativity. The “structure-centered” approach starts with a language’s structural peculiarity and examines its possible ramifications for thought and behavior.
The defining example is Whorf’s observation of discrepancies between the grammar of time expressions in Hopi and English. The “domain-centered” approach selects a semantic domain and compares it across linguistic and cultural groups. It centered on color terminology, although this domain is acknowledged to be sub-optimal, because color perception, unlike other semantic domains, is hardwired into the neural system and as such is subject to more universal restrictions than other semantic domains. Space is another semantic domain that has proven fruitful for linguistic relativity studies. Spatial categories vary greatly across languages. Speakers rely on the linguistic conceptualization of space in performing many ordinary tasks. Levinson and others reported three basic spatial categorizations.
The “behavior centered” approach starts by comparing behavior across linguistic groups and then searches for causes for that behavior in the linguistic system. Whorf attributed the occurrence of fires at a chemical plant to the workers’ use of the word ’empty’ to describe the barrels containing only explosive vapors. Bloom noticed that speakers of Chinese had unexpected difficulties answering counter-factual questions posed to them in a questionnaire. A study published by the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology claimed that language can influence how you estimate time.
The studies showed a correlation between color term numbers and ease of recall in both Zuni and English speakers. Researchers attributed this to focal colors having higher codability than less focal colors, and not with linguistic relativity effects. Kay found universal typological color principles that are determined by biological rather than linguistic factors. Linguistic relativity inspired others to consider whether thought could be influenced by manipulating language.
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The question bears on philosophical, psychological, linguistic and anthropological questions. A major question is whether human psychological faculties are mostly innate or whether they are mostly a result of learning, and hence subject to cultural and social processes such as language. The contrary constructivist position holds that human faculties and concepts are largely influenced by socially constructed and learned categories, without many biological restrictions. Another variant is idealist, which holds that human mental capacities are generally unrestricted by biological-material strictures. Another debate considers whether thought is a form of internal speech or is independent of and prior to language. In the philosophy of language the question addresses the relations between language, knowledge and the external world, and the concept of truth. Another question is whether language is a tool for representing and referring to objects in the world, or whether it is a system used to construct mental representations that can be communicated.
Whorf contemporary Alfred Korzybski was independently developing his theory of general semantics, which was aimed at using language’s influence on thinking to maximize human cognitive abilities. Korzybski independently described a “strong” version of the hypothesis of linguistic relativity. We do not realize what tremendous power the structure of an habitual language has. It is not an exaggeration to say that it enslaves us through the mechanism of s r and that the structure which a language exhibits, and impresses upon us unconsciously, is automatically projected upon the world around us. In their fiction, authors such as Ayn Rand and George Orwell explored how linguistic relativity might be exploited for political purposes. Others have been fascinated by the possibilities of creating new languages that could enable new, and perhaps better, ways of thinking.
Examples of such languages designed to explore the human mind include Loglan, explicitly designed by James Cooke Brown to test the linguistic relativity hypothesis, by experimenting whether it would make its speakers think more logically. APL programming language originator Kenneth E. The essays of Paul Graham explore similar themes, such as a conceptual hierarchy of computer languages, with more expressive and succinct languages at the top. Ted Chiang’s short story Story of Your Life developed the concept of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as applied to an alien species which visits Earth. The aliens’ biology contributes to their spoken and written languages, which are distinct. In his science fiction novel The Languages of Pao the author Jack Vance describes how specialized languages are a major part of a strategy to create specific classes in a society, to enable the population to withstand occupation and develop itself. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: A Preliminary History and a Bibliographical Essay”.
This usage is now generally seen as a misnomer. Gorgias and the New Sophistic Rhetoric. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 40. Eine Bilanz und Neuinterpretation der linguistischen Relativitätstheorie.
Lee 1996 Lee 1996 Leavitt 2011, pp. Individuation, relativity, and early word development”. In Melissa Bowerman and Stephen Levinson. Covariation between spatial language and cognition, and its implications for language learning”. Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left”.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The relativity of motion in first language acquisition”. Space in Languages: Linguistic Systems and Cognitive Categories. Linguistic Relativity in Japanese and English: Is Language the Primary Determinant in Object Classification? Eyewitness memory in late bilinguals: Evidence for discursive relativity”. Classifier effect on human categorization: the role of shape classifiers in Chinese Chinese.
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Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Yeli Dnye and the Theory of Basic Color Terms”. From Brightness to Hue: An Explanatory Model of Color-Category Evolution “. Color and Cognition in Mesoamerica: Constructing Categories as Vantages. Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.
UTOPIAN FOR BEGINNERS: An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented”. A Million Words and Counting: How Global English Is Rewriting the World, Paul J. Archived from the original on 10 July 2011. Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. What is universal in event perception? Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Whorf? Positive bilingualism: Some overlooked rationales and forefathers”, in J.
International dimensions of bilingual education, Washington, D. Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age. The Whorf Theory Complex: A Critical Reconstruction. Levinson, Stephen, Rethinking Linguistic Relativity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. Vygotsky and Whorf: A comparative analysis”, in Hickmann, M.
Social and functional approaches to language and thought, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Hopi Time: A Linguistic Analysis of the Temporal Concepts in the Hopi Language”, Trends in Linguistics. Can quirks of grammar affect the way you think? Grammatical gender and object concepts”, in R. The neutrality of this section is disputed.
Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Boroditsky, Lera, “How Does Our Language Shape The Way We Think? Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought, pp. Does Your Language Shape How You Think? Which comes first, language or thought?
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Guidelines for color design are at the heart of artistic color theory. But are those guidelines any more reliable or useful than an alert artistic judgment? Can we find better guidelines than those handed down from the 18th century? All that is too conceptual and abstract. So to start the discussion I use a painting by Paul Gauguin to illustrate basic issues in color design, to show how an artist’s color choices might be guided by “color theory” as it is commonly taught to artists, and why “color theory” fails to answer many important and specific design problems. I describe the traditional hue harmonies, which provide a widely accepted color terminology for types of hue groupings or hue contrasts.
Based on this historical review and contrast examples, I present my own natural color harmony and explain how it provides many straightforward design principles in specific situations. I am skeptical of any artistic “system”, even my own. So I conclude with some commonsensical advice from the Victorian English critic John Ruskin, who reminds us to use color by following our personal artistic judgment. We start with flyover of the color design process, to illustrate the “color theory” approach to color design and to clarify some color design problems. First, we need a concrete example of a finished color design. I suggest you choose your own favorite painting as an example, a painting you enjoy or love for its color or overall impact. I visited one rainy summer morning many years ago.
This painting is composed primarily of warm scarlets and golds, contrasted starkly against dark browns and greens, with color variety provided by small accents of blue and green and the large area of greenish grays at bottom. The image is animated by the scattered red blossoms and floral clutter, which contrast with the rounded fruit and vase and the flat areas of wall and table top. All the normally bright or light valued colors, such as whites or yellows, have been darkened or muted toward grayish greens and blues, to emphasize this effect. The variety of paint impasto and brushstroke textures also contribute to the overall impact. To clarify our color analysis, we first require a framework that permits the hue and chroma, or hue and lightness, in any painting to be accurately described. This framework would also allow the colors in different paintings, or in a visual style, to be summarized and compared. My solution is a color map.
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This is made by measuring the hue and lightness of a large, systematic sample of single pixels from an electronic image of the painting, then plotting the location of these values inside a palette scheme. Lightness is more accurately recorded than chroma in an electronic image. The main distortion that is introduced here is that the image content has been discarded. All the poetry of the original image has been chopped away: the bouquet has been shredded into compost. And this is the first insight into color design assumptions: most “color harmony” schemes adopt the Frankenstein premise that you can make a lively painting by stitching together bits and pieces of color. These are visibly important aspects of the Gauguin work, yet color design implies you must focus on the inherent qualities of colors in order to work out their “color harmony”.
The natural next step is to the inherent quality of paints. The color map is useful because it outlines the color space or gamut of the painting. In any gamut, the most saturated, pure pigments or paints will appear at the extreme points or “corners” of the distribution of mixtures. Two new, important distortions are added here. First, paints colors are treated as abstract hue categories rather than as specific kinds of materials.
Note that the concept colors used in color theory are typically hue labels that do not specify anything about the saturation, lightness or darkness of the color. The palette scheme cannot tell us if Gauguin used his paints as pure colors or “broke” them in various mixtures with each other. The second distortion is that the color proportions have been discarded. We have no way of knowing, from the palette scheme, how much of each paint color was used in the original painting, or even what are the proportions among these colors that would give the best overall effect.
We have the color ingredients, but no instructions for how to combine them in an image. These omissions are potentially more serious than shredding up the image content to make a color map, because materials and proportions significantly affect our reaction to color, even when color appears in abstract textile designs or in the choice of wall, carpet and furniture colors in interior design. Now, how did Gauguin arrive at his specific selection of paints? The standard color theory answer is that he chose a color design for the painting based on color harmony and contrast, used this design to guide the choice of paints, and then applied these paints in ways that preserved the intended harmony and contrast while matching his intended visual design and the appearance of the still life he was painting.
OK, so how did he get the color harmony? So long as you talk about these color relationships, it does not matter which specific hues they refer to. A perennial expression of this disregard for specific hue relationships is the circular color calculator, which shows the harmonious or contrasting color combinations for any specific key color or anchor color you might choose. The general idea is that the painter can spin the dial to find appropriate combinations of colors for the specific key color under consideration.
Note that the windows in the card, the relationships among abstract color categories, are the actual “color harmony”: the hues that appear through the window are just interchangeable tokens. These color calculators always remind me of the circular slide rule wielded to hilarious effect by Dr. They are, incidentally, an idea first proposed by J. But what happens if we apply this color dial logic and “spin the hues” of Gauguin’s painting? The illustrations below shows what happens if we rotate all the color relationships on the “color calculator” by a single step toward magenta or toward green. By shifting the colors farther toward red, we’ve traded the potent contrast between scarlet and umber for the much weaker contrast between red and maroon, collapsing the color depth as a result.