language glass

Language and Colour Boundaries/Perception – blue or green, and how red is your wine?

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The whole “blue/black-white/gold” dress photo that’s been doing the rounds in the last week or so reminded me of a very interesting point about language and perception of color.

As the dress debate went global and multilingual, perhaps not all of the disagreement on the colours may be down to how an individual’s brain is interpreting light information from the eyes. For decades, linguists have gone back and forth over whether the names for colours affect how we perceive them.

“When the orange, orange robin goes bob, bob, bobbin’ along…”

Think about it: red wine, red hair, robin red breast – these are all colour-specific descriptions that are inaccurate at best. Or, at least, they’re inaccurate now. Just a few centuries ago, “orange” as a range on the colour spectrum was simply part of “red” without a named colour category of its own. White wine, black eye… there are many examples in everyday language where the description of colour clearly doesn’t match the reality.

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