Research & Insights

By Dave Oleson, August 30, 2012

What Color is this? in 9 languages

I’ve always wanted to re-do some of the scientific studies of the past, like the World Color Survey. While I don’t have plane tickets or time to travel the world, I do have access to CrowdFlower’s 4 million contributors to re-test hypotheses about the universality of color-naming.

Four years ago, we showed English language speakers random colors and asked for the color names. Four years later, with CrowdFlower contributors now in every country of the world, the experiment becomes much richer. The question is not only “Where does blue end, and red begin?”, but do people from different countries have different concepts of color boundaries?


The color-wheel above (thanks D3 and Dawn) contains 4,000 colors (we collected many more, but didn’t want to crash everyone’s browsers). Mouse-over the color-wheel to see the names of the colors in nine different languages, with translations into English. You can also filter by language using the search box and country flags, so you can see the differences between where Russians vs. Chinese vs. Japanese see red.

On the whole, it looks like countries have extremely similar conceptions of color. Type “blue” into the search box, click on the different countries, and you can see the overlap. There are outliers though. Some narrower colors – such as “purple” – are used much more in Japan than in Russia. The use of certain modifiers such as “light” are used pretty uniformly across the color spectrum in English, but much more prevalently in the Blue-Green region in Japanese.


The CrowdFlower task seen by contributors in the U.S., France, Germany, and China: