Does language modulate color perception in Greek-english and Russian-english bilinguals?

Open Access
Tomoschuk, Brendan Robert
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Adriana Van Hell, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lisa Reed, Honors Advisor
  • color perception
  • linguistic relativity
  • Greek
  • Russian
  • ERP
Can the language you speak affect your perception of the world? Thierry, Athanasopoulos, Wiggett, Dering, and Kuipers (2009) showed that the Greek language affects how native Greek speakers process the color blue (two terms in Greek: ghalazio – ‘light blue’ and ble – ‘dark blue’). Using the visual Mismatch Negativity (vMMN) component of Event Related Potentials (ERPs) as an index of perceptual change, they found that native speakers of Greek perceived the switch between these two shades more saliently in an oddball paradigm than the switch between two shades of green (one term in Greek - prasino). We sought to examine whether color perception could be modulated by the alphabetic (Experiment 1) or language (Experiment 2) context in the task at hand. Greek-English (Experiment 1) and Russian-English (Experiment 2) bilinguals were subjected to a go-no go judgment task while ERPs were recorded (Russian also has two color terms for blue, siniy and goluboy). Participants were presented with letters from the Greek or Roman alphabets in Experiment 1 and words in Russian or English in Experiment 2. They pressed a button for deviant stimuli (5%) and ignored lower case ones (95%). Letters were surrounded by peripherally perceived color circles in light or dark blue and light or dark green. The probability of occurrence of the circles conformed to an oddball paradigm and participants received no instruction regarding color. Findings show that language context did not affect color perception. As such, it may be the case that language processing in one of a bilingual’s two languages does not affect their perception of color. However, one possible interpretation of the data is that movement of the color stimuli from foveal to parafoveal view and a focus on the language task may have created an attentional difference between the present experiments and the experiment by Thierry et al. (2009).