“Reality enters our senses as a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions”, linguist Whorf (1897-1941) once said. This flux must be sorted out in our brains and the structure of our language plays an important role in this. It is estimated that over 7000 different languages are spoken worldwide. All of these languages differ from one another and ask of different information from their speakers. The hypothesis of Linguistic Relativity questions to what extent the language we speak shapes the way we think and, consequently, view the world. If the language you speak has no word for a certain object or concept, does that mean that you’re not capable of thinking about it?
As a photographer with a BA in General Linguistics this question grasped the imagination of Desiré van den Berg, since this could imply that one not only listens but also looks in the language one was taught from birth – purely by chance. It brought her through the heart of Russia, a travel by train through frozen tundra, barren plains and bustling cities, spanning six time zones and ten thousand kilometres. All in search of goluboy – a colour that does not exist in her native tongue.
In Russian, goluboy means light blue. Dark(er) blue is siniy. Unlike Dutch (or English), where light and dark blue are two shades of a single colour, in Russian they are separate, each carrying their own associations and implications. As a result, it has been found that this for example affects memory in the way that a non-native Russian speaker is less able to accurately remember the shade of perceived blue. GOLUBOY challenges us to cut our concept of blue in half and maybe even learn to ‘look’ in a different language.
“I followed the path of the Russian language from St. Petersburg, via Moscow to Vladivostok, and captured blue as I know it, all the while exploring the edges and boundaries of my perception. Changing skies and waters along my way showed me blue in all its hues and even the snow adopted a blue glow during twilight hours. It made me wonder: if programming already happens at the unconscious level of language processing, what are the consequences on conscious thinking? What is the role of our language systems in a world of growing polarisation? By using color categorisation in language as an example of the possible underlying process of intuitive thinking, I’m hoping to bring awareness to the subject of subliminal mental boundaries.” (Desiré van den Berg)