English Doesn’t Have a Word for This Color, but Japanese Does

In English, we might call the color above “sky blue,” or perhaps just “light blue.” But in Japanese, it’s not blue at all. It’s its own color: mizu. It's perceived as a unique hue, as GOOD reports, much like we think of red and purple being unique.

Japanese researchers in Tokyo and Kyoto, and Ohio State University researchers in Columbus asked 57 native Japanese speakers to look at color cards and name the colors they saw in order to get a better idea of how many distinct, base colors the Japanese language recognizes. As they write in the Journal of Vision, they found 16 distinct color categories.

The 11 main, base colors named by most participants were equivalent to colors found in the English language: black, white, gray, red, yellow, green, blue, pink, orange, brown, and purple. Others were unique to Japanese, seen as distinct colors in their own right: mizu (meaning “water,” a light blue), hada (meaning “skin tone,” a peach), kon (meaning “indigo,” a dark blue), matcha (a yellow-green named for green tea), enji (maroon), oudo (meaning “sand or mud,” a color we’d call mustard), yamabuki (gold, named after a flower), and cream.

The color terms gathered through the study. The taller the column, the more subjects described the color using that word. (All the colors were named by at least four participants.) Image Credit: Kuriki et. al, Journal of Vision (2017)

Mizu, in particular, stood out as a distinct color. While not everyone in the study identified dark blue as kon, mizu was almost universally recognized by the interview subjects. Because of this, the researchers suggest that it be recognized as its own 12th color category in the Japanese lexicon, added to the language's standard color categories of red, blue, green, etc. (the ones that English speakers would find familiar).

The existence of these colors doesn't necessarily mean Japanese is more sensitive to color differences overall compared to other languages—it doesn’t have names for some colors we can identify in English, such as magenta or lime.

“The study of color naming is fundamentally the study of how words come to be associated with things—all things that exist, from teacups to love,” Ohio State optometrist Angela Brown explains in a press release. “The visual system can discern millions of colors,” she says, “but people only describe a limited number of them, and that varies depending on their community and the variety of colors that enter into their daily lives.”

[h/t GOOD]

Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
The Covers of Jack Kerouac's Classic Titles Are Getting a Makeover
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press

Readers have been enjoying classic Jack Kerouac books like The Dharma Bums and On the Road for decades, but starting this August the novels will have a new look. Several abstract covers have been unveiled as part of Penguin’s "Great Kerouac" series, according to design website It’s Nice That.

The vibrant covers, designed by Tom Etherington of Penguin Press, feature the works of abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline. The artwork is intended to capture “the experience of reading Kerouac” rather than illustrating a particular scene or character, Etherington told It’s Nice That. Indeed, abstract styles of artwork seem a fitting match for Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”—a writing style that was influenced by improvisational jazz music.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of The Dharma Bums, which was published just one year after On the Road. The Great Kerouac series will be available for purchase on August 2.

[h/t It's Nice That]

John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.


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