3It Makes People Who Speak Russian See More Colors Than You
Everyone's perception of colors should be the same. We have the same retinal structure due to evolution and the same wavelengths of light shooting at us.
Illustrated here, probably.
Yet somewhere, right now, there is a young couple at Home Depot looking at little cards with paint colors on them. The woman holds up four cards to her husband and says, "Do you like the eggshell, ivory, cream or bone?" at which point he looks at the cards, all of which are white, and says, "You're messing with me, right?"
"And what's all this 'taupe' bullshit?"
She's not. Experiments have found that whether or not you can register a color depends on whether or not you have a name for it in your language. You can see the color, it just doesn't register in your mind.
One study compared some young children from England with kids from a tribe in Nambia. In the English language, young kids usually learn 11 basic colors (black, white, gray, red, green, blue, yellow, pink, orange, purple and brown) but in Himba it's only five. For instance, they lump red, orange and pink together and call it "serandu."
We don't know what they call that hairstyle, but we call it "awesome."
If you showed the Himba toddler a pink card and then later showed him a red one and ask if they're the same card, the kid would often mistakenly say yes -- because they're both "serandu." Same as if you showed you "Eggshell" and an hour later showed you "Bone" and asked if it was the same card from before. Now, again, they can see the colors; if you hold up a pink card and a red card next to each other, the English kid and Himba kid both would say they're different. But not when they see them one at a time.
But if you teach him the new names for the colors, that one is "pink" and the other is "red," from then on he can identify them when seen by themselves, without the other one for comparison. Same as the girl or interior decorator who can immediately identify "eggshell" as distinct from "ivory" the moment she sees it on a wall, while her boyfriend couldn't do it with a gun to his head. The ability to recognize the color comes with having a name for it.
Also, with giving a shit.
Likewise, Turkish and Russian both split what we call "blue" into two different colors, for the darker and lighter shades. Therefore they consistently do a better job than English speakers when given the same "is this blue card the same as the last blue card" test. Even weirder, when testing the Russians they found that by giving them a verbal distraction (making them try to memorize a string of numbers while doing the color test) the advantage disappeared. It was the language part of their brain that was helping them "see" the color.
2It Skews Your Perception of Time
Picture, in your head, a timeline of your life. Your birth at one end, your death at the other, today somewhere in the middle.
The night you burnt that clown's body, buried safely behind you.
We're going to take a wild guess and say that you imagined that line running horizontally, your birth on your left, your death on your right. Most English speakers imagine time that way, and then when we talk about events we picture ourselves moving along it like we were walking down a path. We talk about how we've put that terrible relationship "behind us," about that miserable physics exam we have "coming up" and how in few years "down the road" no one will care that we failed that exam just because a hasty drawing of a swinging dick does not, as it turns out, qualify as an answer to all 20 multiple choice gravitational rotation problems.
It might be enough to get you through freshman philosophy though.
Mandarin speakers, on the other hand, imagine time in a vertical sense. They'll sometimes talk about whether an event was "up" (already happened) or "down" (coming up in the future). The difference appears to relate back to how their text runs -- English reads from left to right, but Chinese text used to read vertically from top to bottom (and still does in some parts of the world). So it became second nature in the language to picture events unfolding in the same direction as in a story they were reading.
Now here's where it gets weird: They did an experiment at Stanford where they'd try to trip up this process by taking Mandarin speakers and having them arrange objects horizontally in a certain order, then asked them a series of time-based questions ("Does April come before or after March?").
The act of getting them thinking horizontally with the object puzzle made it harder for them to answer the time-based questions. Take an English speaker and make them do a puzzle where they have to stack objects vertically, and they'll then find it harder to answer the same questions having to do with chronology. In other words: Make them think in the wrong physical direction, and they find it harder to think about time.
Perhaps weirder than that, Indonesian people often don't use terms to explain the passage of time at all. That is, in English if you're reporting a crime, you're either going to say, "Mel Gibson shot my dad," "Mel Gibson is shooting my dad" or "Mel Gibson is about to shoot my dad." There's no way to relay that information without giving away where in the shooting process we currently are chronologically. But in Indonesia they have a way to just convey that without any tense at all, and they often do it.
They also often do this, whatever it is.
In experiments they were told to describe three photos of a guy approaching a soccer ball, kicking it and then watching it sail away. The Indonesians would often use exactly the same terms to describe all three, something like "man ball kick." Quiz them later on what was different about the three photos and they often can't tell you. Because their language doesn't require them to state the time sequence, they tend to not notice it. The language drives their thinking.
How does this affect everyday life in Indonesia? Science is just beginning to understand (one researcher joked that Indonesians always seem to be running late).
"Late again, Sue? How Indonesian of you."