Color perception

From: Pearce, Chris (
Date: Tue 15 Oct 1996 - 19:24:47 EEST

>> Peter Metcalfe
> James Frusetta
>> But the Romans and Greeks would still be able to distinguish it from
>> red and yellow. There are many languages that have only four color
>> terms ie white, black, red and 'grue'. The last term would cover the
>> english concepts of 'green', 'yellow' and 'blue'.
>Sorry, I appear to have been misleading in my post. I'm assuming that the
>cones n' rods (and other optical gear) is generally similar, and that (for
>humans, at least) the ability to _differentiate_ between colors exists. No
>argument there. What I'm curious about is not whether or not, say, a Lunar
>citizen sees "red" any differently, but if they _identify_ it differently:
>to wit, what're the "grues"? Would, say, the aforementioned Lunar consider
>red, crimson, pink or whatever else to be primary colors? "Why, of course

>there are 10 basic colors: black, white, blue, green and six shades of
>red." Sure, the Lunar can "see" light blue; he just doesn't dignify it
>with it's own distinctive identity. (Isn't light blue a color, like pink
>is a lighter shade of red?" Lunar: "Well, no! Pink is, well _pink_.)
>Thanks for the reference (this is a little outside my field).

When you posted your question, I thought for sure it must be some sort
of leading question. The subject of your question underlies a linguistic
controversy over something called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that language shapes perception and it
arose from an experiment with color perception.

In the experiment, subjects who spoke different languages were given a
set of colored marbles and asked to sort them into piles of the same
color. Subjects who spoke languages with few basic color terms sorted
the marbles into a small number of piles, each corresponding to a basic
color term in their language. Subjects who spoke languages with more
basic color terms sorted the marbles into a larger number of piles, each
corresponding to a basic color term in their language.

So I think it is clear that different Gloranthan cultures would
categorize colors differently, though it might be going overboard to
give Lunars ten shades of red and Orlanthi ten shades of blue. (AFAIK,
the subjects in the experiment sorted the marbles only into a relatively
small set of piles.) But the Lunars might have violet, red, and orange,
while the Orlanthi only have red. However, asked to clarify, the
Orlanthi would probably call an orange object light red, and a violet
object a bluish red.

It's far less clear whether the different categorizations actually
reflect a change in *perception*, and that is the core of the linguistic
controversy. Proponents of the strong hypothesis would say that a
language really does totally change the way people view the world, while
proponents of the weak hypothesis would say that it only influences it.
I think that there has been a backlash against this theory, because in
the past some people have made outrageous claims about the Sapir-Whorf

One claim in particular has been taken to particular extremes, and that
is the adage about the Eskimo having dozens (or hundreds) of words for
snow. Benjamin Whorf used this example in some of his writings, and like
a tall tale, the number of Eskimo words for snow seems to grow with
every telling. Briefly, the problem with identifying the number of
Eskimo words for snow is twofold: "Which Eskimos are we talking about?"
and "What exactly is a word, anyway?"


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