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Why do some languages not distinguish between blue and green?

Image by Arz

We are surrounded by colours. You only have to peek outside the window and to see a red tiled roof, the yellow sun, the green grass, or the blue sky. But although our way of naming colours seems unshakable: the grass is not green in all languages and the sea is not always depicted as blue.

There are languages, Japanese for example, that traditionall do not distinguish between blue and green, or Welsh, whose speakers use the same word for the colour of the see, of grass, and of silver. The opposite phenomenon is also known. Spanish strictly distinhuishes between “celeste” (light blue) and “azul” (dark blue)

Listening to languages around the world quickly shows you that names for colours vary dramatically. But also the number of base colours that have a distinct name, red or yellow for example, differs among the languages. We wanted to know why and thus ask the open question of the month: “Why do some languages not distinguish between blue and green?”

The woman, who can give at least a few answers to this question, is Leonie Anna Mueck. She is a Ph. D. student and co-founder of the Journal of Unsolved Questions.

Listen to the podcast (in German):

Warum unterscheiden manche Sprachen nicht zwischen gruen und blau?

Read more in “Through the language glass” by Guy Deutscher (ISBN 9780434016907)