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The 99% Invisible City


Rex Waygood
 

The 99% Invisible City by Roman Mars & Kurt Kohlstedt is a book I got for Christmas. I am into photographing Found Art and this book shows some plus some other hidden details in cities. There is part of a chapter about traffic lights (NY has an upside down set) which may interest forum members: I recommend the book :-) 

Halfway around the world in Japan, traffic signals have also been shaped by cultural factors in a highly visible way: many go signals there are a bluish green. "Historically, there has been significant overlap in the Japanese language as it pertains to green (midori) and blue (ao)," writes Allan Richarz in an article for Atlas Obscura. "Blue-one of the four traditional colors originally established in the Japanese language along with red, black and white-historically encompassed items that other cultures would describe as green," he explains, which resulted in a kind of "grue" or "bleen." Objects like apples that would be green in English are referred to in Japanese as being blue-and this includes traffic lights. 

Notably, Japan is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, a multilateral treaty systemizing road signs, markings, and lights across dozens of countries. Instead, Japanese stoplights have been labeled blue in official documents for nearly one hundred years despite clearly being what in many lan­guages would be called green at the outset. Col or vision tests for Japanese drivers even use red, yellow, and blue. For decades, there was debate over whether to make the lights a truer blue to reflect the language or convert them to green to reflect international standards. They split the difference instead. 

"Ultimately," writes Richarz, "a novel solution was employed. In 1973, the government mandated through a cabinet order that traffic lights use the bluest shade of green possible=still technically green, but noticeably blue enough to justifiably continue using the ao nomenclature." Even now, "while modern Japanese allows for a clear delineation between blue and green, the concept of blue still encompassing shades of green still remains firmly rooted in Japanese culture and language." 

Regardless of what "grue" or "bleen" says about a place and its people, the lines humans draw on col or wheels are not fixed, inevitable, or universal. It may seem surprising that Syracuse and Japan would flout the usual red, yellow, and green convention when it comes to their traffic lights, but from another perspective, it's more surprising that there is any conformity at all. 

I recommend the book :-) 
Rex


Kenneth Harris
 

Guy Deutscher covers this in "through the language glass,"  making a strong argument for limited linguistic relativity.  Another interesting demonstration of this is the Russian notion of blue, which he goes over.  There's a longstanding issue in the anthropology of color terms regarding what color the sky is, which Deutscher amusingly tests on his infant daughter.  I remembering being at a light booth in 1997 with a scanner operator, a pressman, and an paintbox (RGB) retoucher, this at time when I had decided to retouch everything in Lab, and it was a a marvel to hear the miscommunication resulting same words tagged to different colors, and the disparate ideas of what the borders were for a given color were.  None of us were thinking of red in the same way.

Ken Harris


Dan Margulis
 



On Jan 11, 2021, at 12:31 PM, Kenneth Harris <reg@...> wrote:

Guy Deutscher covers this in "through the language glass,"  making a strong argument for limited linguistic relativity.  Another interesting demonstration of this is the Russian notion of blue, which he goes over.  There's a longstanding issue in the anthropology of color terms regarding what color the sky is, which Deutscher amusingly tests on his infant daughter.  I remembering being at a light booth in 1997 with a scanner operator, a pressman, and an paintbox (RGB) retoucher, this at time when I had decided to retouch everything in Lab, and it was a a marvel to hear the miscommunication resulting same words tagged to different colors, and the disparate ideas of what the borders were for a given color were. 

Some colors have seemingly universal meanings—red for anger, for example. When I lecture to non-English speakers I ask them to translate “the boss is seeing red today” and they always get it right. Or rose, for optimism. The French live the life in rose, several Latin American countries say that optimists live in a world of rosy light, and both American and Russian optimists see the world through rose-colored glasses.

Blue, however, is another story. An American who is blue is feeling sad, while a German who is blue is drunk. Russian indeed is a good example, because they have two words that both translate as blue where we have one. They consider light blue (goloboy) and dark blue (sinye) to be different colors, as do my Italian friends, who use respectively azzuro and blu.

One study finds that Russians do have language-related differences with the rest of us non-Italians in perception of colors in this range,

The question can be a source of animosity. From my sordid past as a card hustler, I can tell you that the greatest team in bridge history, by far, was the Italian Blue Team, which dominated world bridge for nearly two decades,

Nowadays when teams of four or six or formed they usually name themselves after their captain. Before the Blue Team won its first world championship it first had to beat another strong team to win the Italian championship. Since neither team had chosen an official name, the playoff organizers called them the squadra rossa and the squadra azurra—the red team and, er, the blue team.

The victors liked the name, kept it, and made lots of money marketing Blue Team products in English-speaking countries. Some other Italian players were incensed: how can you illiterate Americans call them the “Blue” team? They are not the squadra blu, they are the squadra azzurra!

Dan


John Bongiovanni
 

There are other things involved other than color perception, more linguistic and cultural. Ancient Greek is an interesting example, as the color descriptions in Homer confounded modern readers, including Goethe. In Homer's classic works, he names only four colors: the white of milk, the red-purple of blood, the black of the sea, and the yellow-green of honey and the fields. Homer clearly didn't see colors, or anything else, but did the Greeks really see only those colors, or view the see as black (all the time, anyway)?

There's an argument that they saw colors just as we do now, but they interpreted and described them differently, not as objective characteristics, but as something more contextual.

Something like this is going on in Dan's Italian example, I think.

John