Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Did You Know the Sky Wasn't Always Blue? (Sort of)

It's Technology Tuesday, but the tech world has been kind of quiet recently. (Or is that just because I've been on vacation and not paying attention to it as much. Could be.) However, I came across this awesome podcast, and . . . podcasts are technology, right? Right? And they interview a librarian, which makes it even more relevant. Right? And anyway--I'm the one with the blog here, and I get to decide what goes on it.


I'm a bit of a linguistics nut. I was a linguistics major in my undergrad years, and language fascinates me. This podcast episode from Radiolab is focused on how languages develop the words for colors, and how the development of those words in turn affects how cultures perceive colors. Cyclical awesomeness. Give it a listen--or I'll tell you a bit more about it after the link.

In a nutshell, it appears that linguists have shown languages only come up with the word for a color when they can reliably make that color. Black and white come first, then red, and blue almost always comes last. Homer had no words to describe blue. Neither did any of the other Greeks. Isn't that crazy?

And of course, if you're anything like me, you immediately wonder how that's possible, since every sunny day, we're all looking up at a blue blue sky. With all that blue all around the heavens, how can people just not see it?

Here's where it gets even crazier. Until we decide as a society that the sky is blue, it isn't. Did I just blow your mind? I know I'm still stumped, but it seems to be true. The sky--until it's labeled--is just a blank emptiness. It's nothing.

If this makes no sense to you, but you'd like to learn more about it, listen to that podcast. I love love loved it. (Though it takes it a minute or two to really get into it.)

Anyway--thanks for bearing with me from this temporary divergence from our normal tech subject. I'll try to be more on task next week. Promise.

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting, because I was familiar with Berlin and Kay's work on basic color terms in a culture ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Color_Terms:_Their_Universality_and_Evolution ), but I'd never heard an explanation for why colors appear in a culture in the order that they do. (Also, I'd guess that the physiology of our eyes plays into it, because colors like purple and orange aren't primary or secondary colors in an RGB color system.)