A rose is a rose by any other name . . . but would it still be red in any other language? We all have the same eyes, of course. But different languages classify colors differently, and that influences the way people from different cultures perceive the same color.
Want to learn more? Here are 7 facts about colors in other languages, and how language affects the way we see color.
English has 11 basic color words.
Do you remember making color wheels in art class when you were a child? Those wheels demonstrate how we divide and classify colors. English has 11 basic words for colors: black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, pink, gray, brown, orange and purple.
But a color wheel in another language might look a little bit different. Some languages have more words for colors, while others have fewer.
Some languages have 12 basic color words.
For example, Russian and Greek both see light blue and dark blue as separate colors, in the same way English speakers divide “red” and “pink.” Other languages, like Irish and Turkish, differentiate between different types of reds.
The Pirahã language has only 2 color terms.
The Pirahã language only categorizes colors as “light”” and “dark.” To describe an object’s color in more detail, the Pirahã describe would describe it as being “like” something else.
Other languages notable for having few color terms include the Himba language. According to researchers from the University of Essex (cited in Wikipedia), Himba has only four color terms:
- Zuzu: dark shades of blue, red, green and purple
- Vapa: white and some shades of yellow
- Buru: some shades of green and blue
- Dambu: some other shades of green, red and brown
Other sources say they have five terms and include the word serandu for some shades of red, orange and pink.
As you can see, a Himba color wheel might look quite a bit different! Read more