The Economist has a short article on two recent studies which have examined the theory that our ability to perceive colours is influenced by the way a language labels different hues.
The general idea that language shapes our thoughts and experience is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
For example, some languages don’t have separate names for green and blue, and so this theory might predict that speakers of these languages would be less able to distinguish between the colours.
A less strong prediction might be that speakers of these languages might be able to distinguish between what we label as green and blue, but wouldn’t necessarily make the division at the same point in the colour spectrum as English speakers typically do.
The Economist article discusses two recent experiments which have tested this idea, both in quite ingenious ways – suggesting that colour perception may indeed be influenced by colour naming.
Link to Economist article ‘How grue is your valley?’.