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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/378

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368
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

At this point we come across an interesting and once warmly debated question. It was maintained some twenty years ago by writers who had been impressed by the defectiveness of the color vocabulary at the short wave-length end of the spectrum, that primitive man generally, and early Hellenic man in particular, were insensitive to the colors at that end of the spectrum, and unable to distinguish them. On investigation of individuals belonging to savage races it appeared, however, that no marked inferiority in color discrimination could be demonstrated. Hence it became clear that the vague and defective vocabulary for blue and green must be due to some other cause than vague and defective perception, and that sensation and nomenclature were not sufficiently parallel to enable us to argue from one to the other.

That, in the main, is a conclusion which still holds good. In all parts of the world it has been found that color discrimination, even amongst the lowest savages, is far more accurate than color nomenclature. Thus of an African Bantu tribe, the Mang'anja, Miss Werner states that they can discriminate all varieties of blue in beads, but call them all black. The sky is black: so is any green, brown or grey article, though a very bright grey counts as white. Violet or purple is black. Yellow is either red or white. A word supposed sometimes to mean green really means raw, unripe or even wet. Thus the Mang'anja only have three colors—black, white and red. In quite a different region, the Zulus, more advanced in color nomenclature, have not only black, white and red, but a word which may mean either green or blue, and another which means yellow, buff or grey, or some shade of brown. At the same time it now appears that the earlier scientific writers on this subject were not entirely wrong in stating that among savages there is some actual failure of perception at the short wave end of the spectrum, although they were wrong in arguing that it was necessarily involved in the defects of color vocabulary, and in imagining that it could be as extensive as that hypothesis demanded. It now appears that the conclusions reached by Hugo Magnus of Breslau, as expressed in 1883 in his study 'Ueber Ethnologische Untersuchungen des Farbensinnes,' fairly answer to the facts. In large measure relying on the examination of 300 Chukchis made by Almquist during the Nordenskiold Expedition, Magnus concluded that although the color vision of the uncivilized has the same range from red to violet as that of the civilized and all the colors can usually be separately distinguished, there is sometimes a certain dullness, a diminished energy of sensation, as regards green and blue, the shorter and more refrangible waves of the spectrum, while the colors at the other end are perceived with much greater vividness. Stephenson, more recently, among over one thousand Chinese, examined at various places, found only one case of color blindness, but a frequent tendency to confuse green and blue and also blue and purple, while