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Claire Ceriani's picture

Differences in Perception

I just read something the other day that was relevant to our questions about how different people may have different perceptions of the same thing.  Languages may have very different ways of categorizing and naming colors.  They may, for example, consider blue and green to be different shades of the same basic color, whereas English-speakers tend to think of them as totally separate colors.  We tend to group varying shades of blue together and call them "light blue" or "dark blue," but other languages have individual words for these colors.  Some cultures put more emphasis on the brightness of a color when they're naming it and consider the hue second, but English tends to classify a color by the hue first.  Such differences in language may change the way things are commonly described.  In the Iliad, Homer describes the sky as "bronze" rather than "blue," referring not to its color, but to its clarity and brightness.  There is  no evidence that the Ancient Greeks had a word for blue.  We tend to think of the sky as the perfect example for "blue," but they didn't classify its appearance that way.


This made me wonder how much language influences the way we perceive things.  Even if we all literally see the exact same colors, we still might interpret them differently based on the way our language groups and names them.  English speakers might think of pink and red as two different, but related colors, but someone else may think of them as just different sorts of red.  Can this different way of thinking about colors actually change the way we perceive them?  I googled this idea and found that there is a theory called linguistic relativity that says just that.  I personally think the theory takes the idea a little far, but it's interesting to consider:


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