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Is the sky really blue? It depends on what language you speak

What color is the sky? What about the ocean? Or the grass? These may seem like simple questions with easy answers. The sky is blue. So is the ocean. Grass is green. Bananas are yellow.

If you speak English, this is all very obvious. But what if you speak a different language? Your answers to these kinds of questions may change in surprising ways — and not just because the words you use sound different.

In Kyrgyzstan, a country in Central Asia, a traditional song opens with a line about mountains touching the blue sky. The Kyrgyz word kok (pronounced like cook) means blue. Yet people also walk through kok grass. “We use kok for green color,” says Albina Ibraimova, a former English teacher in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz has another word for green, but it’s not as common.

Like many Kyrgyz people, Ibraimova also speaks Russian. In Russian, the sky is goluboy (GOL-uh-boy). That means “blue.” However, Russians would not call the ocean goluboy. That color is siniy (SEE-nee). Goluboy and siniy are usually translated as light blue and dark blue. But to a Russian speaker they are as different as pink and red are to someone who speaks English.

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