[I]t highlights a powerful idea about how we might see the world. After all, what really is a color? Just like the crayons, we’re taking something that has no natural boundaries – the frequencies of visible light – and dividing into convenient packages that we give a name.
Something eerily powerful is at work here. These cultures have largely independent histories, yet they somehow gravitate towards the same choices for how to slice up the visual cake. So you might ask, is there something special about the colors that they choose?
Part II is also online:
The way that languages carve up the visual spectrum isn’t arbitrary. Different cultures with independent histories often end up with the same colors in their vocabulary. Of course, the word that they use for red might be quite different – red, rouge, laal, whatever. Yet the concept of redness, that vivid region of the visual spectrum that we associate with fire, strawberries, blood or ketchup, is something that most cultures share.
_ If you have a word to distinguish two colors, does that make you any better at telling them apart? _ More generally, does the linguistic baggage that we carry effect how we perceive the world? This study was designed to address Whorf’s idea head on.
As it happens, Whorf was right. Or rather, he was half right.