Thursday, January 19, 2012

Who knew we were playing with so much power?

Well, okay. Probably us. We know the power words have. I watched a youtube video months ago that showed the power words have in such a different way than I've ever thought, and it's fascinated me ever since. This video really spoke to the writer me.

It's eight minutes long. I know not everyone wants to watch a clip that long, so I'll paraphrase.

Basically, it says that the words you learn could have an impact on the colors you see. Fascinating already, right? They talk about tests they do on babies and toddlers to see how the brain processes color before language and after language, which is in itself interesting, but the part that really got me was about the Himba tribe in Northern Namibia.

The English language has eleven color categories. Reds, blues, greens, browns, yellows, etc. In the Himba tribe, they have FOUR.

Zoozu= dark colors, including red, some blues, some greens, and purple
Vapa= white and some yellows
Borou= some greens and blues
Dumbu= different greens, reds, and brown

Why is this weird? They did a test, showing participants a ring of squares where all but one of the colors were the same. When the colors were all green, with one very slightly different, English-speakers had a hard time figuring out which green was different. With the Namibia, the other green had a different NAME, so they picked it out instantly. When the ring of colors were all green with one blue, English-speakers picked it out the second it was put on the screen. Easy peasy, right? The two colors had the same name among the Himba, though, so they couldn't tell the difference.

So the words we use to categorize things really changes the way we SEE things. Isn't that fascinating? (If you want to just watch the Himba tribe part, skip to the 3 minute mark. I promise it's worth it.)



When I first saw this video, I thought, Wow! It would be so cool if someone wrote a fantasy using some of these elements! But then I realized that its implications are far greater. This talks about how we categorize colors. That by having categories to put them in, we quickly order what we see.

Characters and setting are the same way. When you read about someone or some place, your mind immediately categorizes them (not always in the right category, of course). The brain orders what it sees. And that, my friends, can be used to our advantage or our disadvantage. A reader WILL do it, whether we want them to or not. If we're aware of it when we first introduce a scene, it can be to our advantage. A few carefully chosen words can set a scene by placing it in a well-known category, which is especially helpful when it's a part you don't want bogged down by description. If we're aware of it when we're introducing a character, helping the reader put them into a category with the words we choose can get them thinking exactly what we want them to think about that character (whether it's a correct assumption on their part, or whether we want them to learn it's incorrect later).

Pretty powerful stuff, words. Kinda makes you feel like a superhero, doesn't it?

19 comments:

Ruth Josse said...

Fascinating! I truly believe in the power of words.

Jessie Humphries said...

Super deep post today Pegs! My mind is reeling...I absolutely love this stuff.

Delia said...

I'm with Ruth, that was fascinating!

Tasha Seegmiller said...

This is fascinating. And I already have a cape, so I'm well on my way to being a superhero. Coming back to re-read this in a bit - let it marinate for a while :)

Cortney Pearson said...

Very interesting stuff!! Words definitely do have a power all their own!

Katie Dodge said...

That's awesome! That is some powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing. :)

S.P. Bowers said...

Very interesting! It's a balancing act really. Using the words that will tell the readers what we want them to think but not allowing ourselves to rely on stereotypes or cardboard characters.

Laura Josephsen said...

Oh, wow! That's really neat.

Words ARE so powerful. And I love that you said we can use them to make a reader think something about a character whether it's correct or not--because how a character comes across varies with what we know about them and with what other characters think/know about them.

Iain said...

This was used in Orwells book 1984. The government introduced "Newspeak" which was the new language that they wanted everyone to use. Basically, it consisted of a reduced vocabulary with the concept that if they didn't have a word for revolution, then they couldn't think of and plot a revolution.
Can I also just mention, that my word for black and for white is the same word. Therefore when I tried reading your entry, all I could see was Snargle :o|

cherie said...

Very cool! Words are indeed powerful.

Leigh Covington said...

This is awesome. All things like this fascinate me. I'm going to zoom back here tonight to watch that clip. My girls won't let me have a moment of peace right now. *sigh* It's all good. Glad you shared!

Angela Brown said...

When it comes to the power of words, it's interesting and scary actually. Think of how the knowledge of how to properly place or use words to stir an emotion has been used horribly (think Hitler) and in a way for change (think ML King). As writers, it is important to be aware of this. Interesting that this was just for colors. Imagine the other tests this could apply to?

prerna pickett said...

A word superpower? I'll take it.

Imogen said...

I've never ever thought about how we categorise colours before. I have considered what would happen if a new colour was invented though. I mean apart from the generic blues and greens and mixes of colours, what would happen if a whole new colour was invented?

Anyway, I definitely feel like a superhero now. I'd better go out and get my cape, though I'll give the Lycra suit a miss. So unflattering!

Lynn(e) Schmidt said...

8 minutes is a bit too long for me (see shiny objects in the corner :) ), but that is really, really cool.

Also, I feel like it's part of the reason why I don't go through and add a lot of detail to my character's physical appearance. I want my readers to see them rather than me to pick out who they see.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

This is fascinating! I love stuff about how the brain works! I don't have time to watch the video right this second, but you can bet I'm going to! Thanks for sharing!

Tara Tyler said...

wow. unintentional (or well placed) pigeon holing? amazing! i guess i do it too, and i love when the author proves me wrong!

great post! never thought of it that way.

Taffy said...

interesting! I had no idea about colors except when I talk to someone about their color blindness.

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks for sharing, Pegasus! :)

(I hope the world doesn't hold you accountable for me running around in a cape...)