Date: Fall 2019
Skills: Design Research, Color Theory, Color Typology, Data Visualization, Linguistics
Research how color associations impact the way colors appear in the lexicon. Do color values impact language? Or does language impact color values?
01. METHODOLOGY
To explore these research questions, I interviewed native speakers of English (3), Mandarin (2), and Spanish (5). I asked these speakers to provide me with tokens from their language that used color terms. These phrases could be metaphors, idioms, or anything else they could think of.
02. DATA
English
caught red-handed
red tape
red in the face
green with envy
give the green light
green thumb
the grass is always greener on the other side
out of the blue
blue in the face
once in a blue moon
feeling blue
black sheep
black and white
white lie
gray area

Mandarin
红红火火
red red fire fire (thriving and rich, best luck)
面红耳赤
red face and red ears (blush from embarrassment)
唇红齿白
lips red teeth white (beautiful)
面黄肌瘦
yellow face, skinny body (someone looks sick)
人老珠黄
people get old, pearls become yellow (people become old and undesired)
戴绿帽子
wear a green hat (partner was unfaithful)
炉火纯青
stove fire becomes bright blue (perfect skills)
鼻青脸肿
black and blue face (bruised)
黑白分明
black and white clear (clear right and wrong)
白璧无瑕
white as jade without imperfections (perfect)

Spanish
ponerse rojo
to put on red (to blush from embarrassment)
encontrar tu media naranja
to find your half orange (to find your better half)
poner verde
to put on green (to criticise someone)
estar verde
to be green (you’re not very good at something)
tener sangre azul
to have blue blood (belong to a royal family)
ponerse morado
to put on purple (overeat)
ojo morado
purple eye
tener la negra
to have the black (to have bad luck)
de punta en blanco
on white tip (well dressed)
estar sin blanca
to be without white (to be broke)
From these tokens, I found that there were four reasons these color words were being used.
1. related to color of body
2. related to color of thing
3. related to color theory
4. related to cultural values
I resized the language tokens based on the reason for using the color word. If the reason would have less of an impact on the value associated to that color, then the circle was made smaller and vice versa. This allowed me to visualize the impact of the token on color values.
03. UNDERSTANDING THE DATA
Through analyzing my data, I came across some interesting universals. Although certain cultures differed on the direction of positivity or negativity in relation to a particular term, there was some consensus about its general meaning. For example, red is viewed as both positive (good fortune, passion, love) and negative (violence, anger), but in both cases it as viewed as an extreme or something with intensity. This universal was found in a couple of the colors that I studied. What I found very challenging was limiting the value of a color to one word. I did my best to articulate what values these phrases imposed on the colors, but sometimes a single word is not enough. Additionally, I found it challenging and maybe even wrong to describe these values only in English.

I also found that there is an interplay between language and culture when it comes to color meanings. Some color meanings are derived from the state of the world, while other color meanings have been imposed based on the language we use.