The importance of language in colour science

Not until relatively recent history, mankind couldn’t see blue. And science suggest that’s because of missing a word for the colour blue. Greek, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese, none of these old languages had a word for this colour. And that can have a big impact on how we see history. 

The seas in Homer’s Odyssey were wine-dark, not blue. No blue in old versions of the Bible, Koran of other sacred texts. According to a study by Lazarus Geiger, the colour blue was last to show up. After black & white came red, yellow followed by green and finally blue. 

Can’t you see a colour if you don’t have a word to describe it? A study by Jules Davidoff seems to suggest this. He discoverd a tribe in Namibia who didn’t have a word for the colour blue. In an experiment they couldn’t spot one blue square among 11 green ones. On the other hand as they have a lot more words for green, the could spot a slightly different green between other green squares, where most of us can’t.

Even in modern languages and cultures, there can still be big differences in interpretation of colours. Dark blue and light blue, dark red and lig… pink. Suddenly it becomes a separate colour, not just a small variation in brightness?

Source: Science Alert.