So what color do you see in the main graphic for this podcast today? If you lived a very long time ago, you probably didn’t say “blue.” Why? Because blue is not mentioned in ancient texts. Does that mean their eyes couldn’t see it? Well, that was what scientists and historians thought until the works of Jules Davidoff, a psychologist from London. Working with a tribe in Namibia they gave them tests involving colors.

No word for blue

Like the ancient peoples—and even not-so-ancient peoples—the Namibian tribe had no word for blue. They did, however, have a lot of words for the various shades of green. A test that involved a lot of green squares and only one blue one, the tribe had a lot of difficulty in finding the blue one. They did not, however, have any trouble finding a slightly different green square among other green squares. Hmmm.

Pretty in Light Red

If you are a native English speaker you will instantly see a specific color if I say “pink.” But pink is simply light red. Our language—for one reason or another—has separated light pink as an entirely separate color. If I show you a square that is light blue, you will say it is “light blue.” If you are a native Russian speaker that’s not true—because you have a seperate word for light blue just like we have a seperate word for light red.

So, guess what happens when you ask native English speakers to find the slightly different red among reds? Guess what happens when you do the same with the native Russian speakers? And if you reverse things? Both groups have more trouble.

Because they don’t have a word for it.

What does that mean?

So if we don’t have a word for it it makes it harder (or impossible) to see or differentiate, and if we do have a word for it it makes it much easier to see and understand, I have a question:

Is there something in your world you can’t see simply because you don’t have a word for it?

Think about that.