Is your language stopping you from seeing reality?

Photo by Jimmy Chan from Pexels

Would you perceive the world differently if your language had only three words for colors? As a graduate student in Japan studying Cultural Anthropology, I wondered how language affects our worldview. Living in Japan, I was particularly aware of the differences in how English speakers and Japanese speakers perceive reality.

If you point to the blue sky and ask a Japanese speaker what color it is, they will say ‘Aoi,’ which is the Japanese word for blue. If you then point to a green grassy field and ask them the color, they will also say ‘Aoi,’ the identical word.

How could this be?

Do the Japanese see green and blue as the same color? If you look at a color spectrum, the frequencies of blue and green are next to each other. While English speakers divide those frequencies into two groups of colors, Japanese speakers look at it as one color, ‘Aoi.’

Who is correct? Both are, and both are not. In reality, there are an infinite number of frequencies on the color spectrum. English happens to divide the blue-green range into two colors. The Japanese language groups the frequencies into one color. The Amazonian language Tsimane divides the color spectrum into three colors: black, white, and red.

The ancient mesoamerican Toltecs believe that we perceive only a tiny portion of reality, and most of reality is unknown. They developed techniques to expand our perception and unlock the world’s mysteries. And that is a story for another day.



Carl Gerber (aka Kristopher Raphael)

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