Monday, June 27, 2011

The band Yellow Floyd liked to listen to the greens

World of Higlet recently shared a post from io9 entitled What color are the sash and bonnet in this painting? Wrong. The post, by Esther Inglis-Arkell, makes the point that our 21st century conceptions of what certain colors are do not necessarily match the conceptions of colors from earlier centuries.

Inglis-Arkell begins with an example of a painting of a girl named Pinkie. And to our eyes, Pinkie is actually wearing pink. But at the time, the color worn by Pinkie was called "rose," and the word "pink" referred to a yellowish color.

Other historical examples are provided in the post, ranging back to the Iliad.

But isn't it good that all of us (with the possible exception of Mark Zuckerberg) now agree that pink is pink, and yellow is yellow?

Um...not exactly:

Some cultures still verbally blend green and blue. The Vietnamese word 'xanh' applies to green and blue, although there is one modification for leaf green and one for sky blue. Given swatches of ambiguous color, or even non-ambiguous color, people from different cultures will identify different shades as 'blue' or 'green' depending on their understanding of the words. Sometimes culture doesn't even enter into it. Many readers will have had an argument with one of their friends, from their own culture and time period, on whether a certain color is primarily blue with hints of green, or primarily green with blueish tints. (Russian-speakers may be more adept at identifying the blue spectrum, since there are Russian words commonly used for both light and dark blue, and tests have shown that Russian speakers are more confident and quick at selecting blue shades.)

Regarding Vietnam, there is a company called Xanh Consulting that uses this language fact to promote its view of environmentally friendly business.

Regarding Russia, see this page for a description of one of the cited studies.

Of course, the comments to the post make the point that even when two people speak the same language, people from England are still unable to spell the word "color" correctly... :)
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