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People worldwide think of colors the same way

Staff writer ▼ | September 11, 2015
Would a color by any other name be thought of in the same way, regardless of the language used to describe it? According to new research, the answer is yes.
Mind and world   How a culture of nomadic hunter-gatherers names colors
A new study examines how a culture of nomadic hunter-gatherers names colors, and shows that they group colors into categories that align with patterns of color grouping evident in 110 other world languages.

This study population - the Hadza people of Tanzania - has relatively few commonly shared color words in its language. During the study, the most common response by Hadza participants to a request to name a color was "Don't know."

However, the way the participants grouped the colors they did name - regardless of what name they used - tended to match color-naming conventions of Somali-speaking immigrants and native English speakers, and of many other cultures around the world.

Scientists know a lot about how the human brain responds to seeing color - and that universality of perception makes color naming a good model for studying patterns in language change.

The finding suggests that color naming is not a matter of nature versus nurture, but a combination of the two.

The result also suggests that both prevailing theories about color naming apply around the world: Cultures create color names, but individuals from vastly different societies (Hadza, Somali and American) share the same perceptions of colors in their mind.