Friday, November 27, 2009

Purplish Blue

I just completed a nifty little online color naming experiment that is being conducted by The Colour Imaging Research Group at the London College of Communication. I'm a fan of using the web for linguistic experiments so I'm always looking for these kinds of things (see a related post here). The experiment is being conducted in four languages: English, German, Greek, and Spanish (and they are adding more). Try it for yourself here.

As you see from my responses above, I'm lacking in nuanced color naming skills. Apparently my world is a giant purplish nightmare. I had two impressions from my own responses:

1. I tended to want to blend names. Partly this was my own lack of lexical items (who knew there was a color named catawba?), but it was equally due to my visual perception. I perceived the colors as blends. Now, is this because I only had a few color names and language constrained my thinking about what I was seeing? Not sure and I ain't goin' there.

2. I tended to use a basic level term like blue when I first encountered a variation, then I was forced to come up with an adjectival variant like purplish blue when I encountered the next variation. However, the original color was not necessarily what I actually think of as basic level blue when given the colors together. I could imagine a second version of this experiment where all colors are given together and visual comparisons are made. I believe I would have assigned the color names differently. I do have a sense that there is such a thing as basic level blue, but I can't make that distinction in isolation.

BTW, there are thousands of color names. Check out this extensive site of various color name dictionaries: Color-Name Dictionaries.

And here's a nice Wikipedia page on the classic work by Berlin and Kay that started a revolution in cognitive linguistics: Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution.

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