There is no word for this colour in English - but there is one in Japanese

Rob Waugh

How would you describe the colour at the top of this page – perhaps sky blue? Or light blue?

In Japanese, it’s an actual colour, not a shade of another one – and it’s called ‘mizu’.

The discovery – in Ohio State University research – offers insight into how speakers of different languages perceive colours differently, due to the words on offer.

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It’s similar to how English speakers might use ‘magenta’ rather than ‘purplish red’ – but ‘mizu’ has evolved only recently, as a new shade in the Japanese lexicon.

Researchers from Japan and The Ohio State University asked 57 native Japanese speakers to name the colors on cards placed before them.

Some unique and commonly described color terms in one language are missing in the other.

In Japan, “mizu” is one, as is “kon” (dark blue.)

In the U.S., native speakers often use the words ‘teal,’ ‘lavender,’ ‘peach’ and ‘magenta,’ none of which has a commonly used Japanese equivalent.

‘Like animal species, language is constantly evolving,’ said Ohio State’s Delwin Lindsey, a professor of psychology who worked on the study with optometry professor Angela Brown and Japanese colleagues from several institutions.

‘In America, we don’t have a single unique word for light blue. The closest thing we have is “sky,” but when we ask, we don’t elicit that very often,’ Brown said.

‘In Japan, ‘mizu’ is as different from ‘blue’ as ‘green’ is from ‘blue.’’

Brown , ‘The study of color naming is fundamentally the study of how words come to be associated with things – all things that exist, from teacups to love.’

Humans mostly see color in exactly the same way. But how we describe it varies widely and it tells researchers about more than just whether that pretty blouse is “mizu” or “light blue.”