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The Semantics Of Color, Visualized

Do people view color differently based on language? This beautiful visualization by Muyueh Lee tries to get a handle on the semantics of color by using the Chinese and English versions of Wikipedia as a source.

To create his visualization, Lee used data from the entry for ‘Color’ on both the Chinese and English-language Wikipedia pages to compile a list of distinct color. He found that English has a much richer vocabulary of color than China does, which allows English-speakers to name different shades of color with greater specificity than the Chinese. However, China has one word for family of colors that English doesn’t have—a “mysterious color” called 青 which is used as a modifier to describe all sorts of shades ranging from red to blue, but which no one exactly knows how to define.


That’s interesting in its own right, but as it turns out, depending on whether you speak English or Chinese, there are some families of colors you are probably better at identifying than others. In China, for example, there are more names for different shades of red, green, and blue than any other color. In English, though, we’re better at naming different shades of pink than different shades of red.

Of course, the use of Wikipedia as a data set means that one should only go so far trying to draw conclusions from Lee’s visualization. Even so, it makes a convincing argument that the way people perceive and talk about color is substantially influenced by language. Explore the entire color visualization here and decide for yourself.JB