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April 10, 2011

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Someone just pointed me to this fascinating clip from a BBC documentary, in which members of the Himba people of Namibia, who categorize color completely differently than English speakers—I'm going to say, differently than speakers of any Indo-European language—actually seem to see color differently:

http://www.disinfo.com/2011/09/color-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder/

It does seem that Whorf was onto something very real. Too bad he didn't live to see the evidence for his idea grow.

Here's more on the finding that people conceive of "future" and "past" in different spatial dimensions. While speakers of most Indo-European languages conceive of time as moving forward, with the future ahead of ourselves, and the past behind, it's been shown that speakers of other languages may think of time as moving from above (past) to below (future), from east (past) west (future), or from ahead of us to behind us (opposite of the IE-language speaker). And now we find that the Yupno of Papua New Guinea conceive of time as moving from downhill (past) to uphill (future), with reference to the topography of their immediate location:

"The Yupno refer to time not based upon cardinal directions or relative locations. Rather, time is a topographical concept, time winds its way up and downhill. Analyzing films captured of 27 interviewed speakers of the villagers of Gua, the team observed that gestures liked pointing downhill referred to the past, towards the mouth of the local river. The future, meanwhile, was described as pointing upwards towards the river’s source, which lies uphill from Gua."

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