Why Johnny Can't Name His Colors

Stanford University has an ongoing study of how children learn language. Part of that study is how they learn color names. They found it to be difficult for a lot of children -in fact, their parents worried that they might be colorblind!
As it happens, English color words may be especially difficult to learn, because in English we throw in a curve ball: we like to use color words “prenominally,” meaning before nouns. So, we’ll often say things like “the red balloon,” instead of using the postnominal construction, “the balloon is red.”

Why does this matter? It has to do with how attention works. In conversation, people have to track what’s being talked about, and they often do this visually. This is particularly so if they’re trying to make sense of whatever it is someone is going on about. Indeed, should I start blathering about “the old mumpsimus in the corner” you’re apt to begin discretely looking around for the mystery person or object.

Kids do the exact same thing, only more avidly, because they have much, much more to learn about. That means that when you stick the noun before the color word, you can successfully narrow their focus to whatever it is you’re talking about before you hit them with the color. Say “the balloon is red,” for example, and you will have helped to narrow “red-ness” to being an attribute of the balloon, and not some general property of the world at large. This helps kids discern what about the balloon makes it red.

When the researchers switched the color and noun, they found a significant improvement in performance over the children's baseline performances, compared to the children who received prenominal training. Link -via TYWKIWBI

(Image credit: Flickr user wine me up)

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Yes fine so in some languages the adjective comes after the noun. Anybody who watches the grand boucle can tell you that the french say the jersey yellow rather than the yellow jersey. But so what?

Kids don't have trouble learning other adjectives do they? Can they not tell the difference between rough and smooth? As examples we say the rough rock and the smooth glass, we don't say the glass smooth or the rock rough and yet kids don't have problems learning those.
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Fascinating article. It seems to say that the French way of putting adjectives after the noun fits better with the way our minds work.

I was also amused by the complete lack of understanding of the point of the research expressed by many of the commenters (as typified by those on the first page of comments). Sheesh!
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I'm going to mess with my child and teach it the wrong names to colors just to mess with it's teachers later in life, hopefully, scarring my child in the process.
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