Links to Think

Links to Think: 13.01.14

January 14, 2013

Why Johnny Can’t Name His Colors – Scientific American has an fascinating article on how English word order plays into children learning colors.

(Of course, the subjects being tested were two-year-olds, so I’d be interested to know if further testing has been done to see what role (or, if) this dynamic plays into in long-term cognitive development. Because, is it really important that a child knows colors at age two? Not to mention, two is a very long age-range–is this the beginning of age two or just-about-to-turn-three-age-two? But I digress…)

“As ever, just because something seems easy, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. For one thing, knowing which range of hues counts as which color is something that can’t be purely innate, since color categories are not universal across human cultures. Different languages vary both in the number of basic color distinctions they make (ranging anywhere from two to over twenty) and in the ways they draw those distinctions on the spectrum. Comparing how Himba speakers and English speakers distinguish colors on a map is a bit like comparing how Democrats and Republicans might gerrymander the same district: there’s just not much overlap. In Himba, a northern Namibian dialect, the color “zoozu,” cuts straight across what we would think of as black, green, blue and purple, while “serandu” encompasses much of pink, purple and red. Even in languages with highly similar color vocabularies, a given color won’t necessarily pick out the exact same set of hues in one language as it does in the other (check out Korean and Russian for starters).”

“As it happens, English color words may be especially difficult to learn, because in English we throw in a curve ball: we like to use color words “prenominally,” meaning before nouns. So, we’ll often say things like “the red balloon,” instead of using the postnominal construction, “the balloon is red.””

“Why does this matter? It has to do with how attention works. In conversation, people have to track what’s being talked about, and they often do this visually. This is particularly so if they’re trying to make sense of whatever it is someone is going on about. Indeed, should I start blathering about “the old mumpsimus in the corner” you’re apt to begin discretely looking around for the mystery person or object.”

“We found that the kids who got the postnominal training improved significantly over their baseline test scores, whereas the ones who got the prenominal training still looked just as confused as ever. Given that previous studies hadn’t found much improvement after hundreds of explicit training trials, it was hard to believe that such a simple manipulation could make such a clear difference—and yet, it did!”

Why I’m Not Reading in 2013 – Josh King made an interesting reading resolution for 2013. As an avid reader, he decided not to read as much this year. (Although the title of the article is confusing; he’s still reading–just not reading new books for 2013.) As a reader myself, I have considered setting a goal like this in the future, especially in thinking that I have a good number of books I’d simply like to re-read.

“Those who know me know that I am an avid reader. I love books – especially eBooks. There is something mind blowing about someone that I have never met packing up his mind and transferring it to me. I love the experience and the possibilities. But over time it has waned from learning and growth to acquiring and flaunting. To me, reading books has been no different than someone who might collect cars, watches, or electronics. I read to “stay in the know” and to let others know that I was. I was devouring without contributing.”

“I am clearly not against books or new books. I am sure this year will be filled with great works by great men; all of which I can read… next year.”

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