The language of seeing

A Reading Note

Manguel comments on the link between language and seeing:

And yet, we can hardly distinguish that which we cannot name. While all languages carry distinctions of light and dark, and most languages have words to denote the primary and secondary colours, not every language is colour-specific. The Tarahumara language of northern Mexico does not have separate words for green and blue; consequently, the Tarahumaras’ capacity to distinguish shades between these two colours is far less developed than that of an English or Spanish speaker.…What the example of the Tarahumara people seems to suggest is that up to a point, what we see will be determined neither by the reality on the canvas nor by our intelligence and emotion as viewers but by distinctions provided by the language itself.

Manguel, Reading Pictures, page 32

Put more simply: what you see is constrained by how you would speak it.

Related books

Reading Pictures

Alberto Manguel

Manguel—author of A History of Reading—turns his eye to how we “read” art. A welcome correlative to Berger’s Ways of Seeing.