Whorf and His Critics: Linguistic and Nonlinguistic Influences on Color Memory



The current state of research on language and thought using color as a stimulus is reviewed. Five related experiments that integrate and expand the findings of this previous color research are reported. The relationship between memory and (1) color stimuli discriminability, (2) focality, (3) two-person communication accuracy, (4) group communication accuracy, and (5) referential confusability is assessed. What we discover is that the color array previously used to demonstrate the influence of focality on memory is discriminatively biased in favor of focal chips. Results show that when perceptual discriminability is controlled for, the various linguistic indices are better predictors of memory accuracy in both short-term and long-term recognition memory tasks than is focality. Memory for color stimuli seems to be mediated by basic color descriptions, which may include, but are not restricted to, basic color terms. The discussion takes up the implications of the findings for previous research and for Whorf's hierarchical view of the relationship between language and sublinguistic universale. [Whorfian hypothesis, language and thought, color terminology, memory, culture theory]