There Is No “Blue” in Korean

Different Languages Have Different Colors

Kyle Thayer
May 20 · 5 min read

Collecting Color Names

In order to find out how colors vary between languages we created the color perception survey (linked above) on Lab in the Wild. As part of this survey, we ask people to tell us what languages they speak, and we later ask them to name colors in their primary language. We started by only asking people to name random “hue colors.” We used this limited set of colors first since it lets us look for interesting patterns with limited data:

The “hue colors,” that is, the brightest, most saturated colors that can be displayed on computer monitors (basically the rainbow colors + purple).

The Color “Blue”

Researchers (and people who know certain languages) already knew that some languages have two separate color names for what in English is one word: “blue.” We can see this in our data by comparing the hue colors for English, Korean and Russian:

Stacked graph showing the divisions of the “blue” hue colors in English, Korean, and Russian. The area above each color swatch square what color names are used for it. The color name areas sizes are proportional to how often the names are used and they areas are colored with the average color given to that color name.
The color ranges of the English word “blue” and the Korean words “파랑” and “하늘”. We used self-organizing maps based off the full color data to find a representative grid of colors.

English and Korean Divisions of Colors

We collected enough color names to compare the full color range in English and Korean. Doing this let’s us find more differences than just “blue”:

Map of the color divisions in English and Korean. Colors are binned in CIELAB color space. Squares are scaled by the largest percentage of a name given to that square (e.g, “63% of people called this square ‘blue’”). To color the squares, we found that largest percentage name, then used the average color of that name. We found 10 color regions in English, and 16 in Korean.
The color ranges of the English word “green” and the Korean words “연두” and “초록”. We used self-organizing maps based off the “full color” data to find a representative grid of colors.

What Does This Mean for Translations?

We can use our data to suggest color translations, choosing names that have the most similar range of colors. We can compare this with what online translators suggest, often finding our suggestions are different.

The color ranges of the Korean word “청록” and the English words “dark turquoise” and “teal”. We used self-organizing maps based off the “full color” data to find a representative grid of colors.

Explore More

  • Compare the hue colors of many languages here.
  • Compare how Korean and English divide the full color spectrum here.
  • Find color translations and color synonyms here.
  • Discover which skin colors are and which are not labeled by English speakers as “flesh,” “skin,” and “nude” (if you don’t already know).
  • Read our peer reviewed paper from EuroVis.
  • Download our data set and color naming models from our open source project.

Contribute

  • Take and share our color perception survey to get us more data.
  • Help us translate the perception study directions, this blog post (with relevant modifications; just note at the top the that it is a translation of this post and let me know), and translate our visualizations pages (though those would also need technical work to set up).
  • Contribute to our open source project, improving our analysis of the raw data, creating more friendly downloadable color info files, and improving our current visualizations and creating new ones.


HCI & Design at UW

Stories about research and teaching from the Design Use Build group at the University of Washington. http://dub.uw.edu

Kyle Thayer

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I am a PhD student studying programming, culture, and education at the University of Washington. http://kylethayer.com

HCI & Design at UW

Stories about research and teaching from the Design Use Build group at the University of Washington. http://dub.uw.edu