Pinker, 1994

Please send this to me over email (colunga at colorado dot edu), no more than one page, plain text is fine.

Pinker dismisses the research on language effects on color perception and memory by alluding to two memory systems that interact -- a non-verbal visual image and a verbal label. Colors that have a name will have the advantage of being remembered through two memory systems and thus will be better remembered than colors without names, and that is what give rise to the cross-linguistic differences in color memory.

Kay and Kempton (1984) showed participants triads of color chips. These triads were made with a clear example of blue, a clear example of green, and an in-between color. People then had to decide whether the in-between color was closer to the green or closer to the blue chip. When English speakers are asked to do this task, they show categorical perception. That is, they show hightened discrimination between chips that lay on either side of the English color boundary. In other words, they have an easier time determining whether two colors are the same or different when the two colors fall in different sides of the color-name boundary than when they fall on the same side. (For example, the two colors in A will be more easily discriminated than the two colors in B.) Kay and Kempton did this experiment with people who spoke Tarahumara, a Mexican-Indian language that does not have different words for blue and green, and they did not show a categorical perception effect.

categorical perception figure

Can Pinker's two-memory-systems explanation explain this effect. Why or why not?


BONUS: Find an example of the Straw Man fallacy in Pinker's chapter.