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Off topic: Colour blindness - a potential translation problem
Thread poster: jmadsen

jmadsen  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:23
Sep 23, 2004

Eight per cent of the male population and a mere .5 per cent of the female population suffer from red-green colour blindness. The sexual difference is due to the fact that genes for red and green colour perception is located on the X chromosome. Men thus may inherit the condition from either parent (including a mother with normal colour vision, as in my case), whereas women must inherit it from both parents.

So much for science. What possible relevance does this have for the translation business?
Well, in my personal experience, this condition suffers under widespread ignorance in practically all human environments, including the translation business. Why? My theory is that since most people affected by the condition are men, there is a clear tendency to suppress the problem in ordre not to admit having a problem - "me handicapped? no way!"

First, let me eradicate a few myths: We actually DO see the world in full colour, though possibly a little different from others. And no, we do NOT run red lights... The typical problem is distinguishing different shades of green and red when mixed together. Personally I have problems finding e.g. small red objects left in tall grass or in the brush. A few more examples might illuminate the problem even further:

During my studies I lived at a residence hall or dormitory, and one day I was peeling potatoes. I got somewhat suspicious and asked one of the other students if the potatoes seemed a little green to him. He nearly died with laughter, but mananged to stutter out that the potatoes were almost luminous. Anyway, potatoes may turn green when exposured to sunlight, which renders them quite poisonous. My grandfather (who I have inherited it from) used to eat bright green strawberries with great pleasure not knowing they weren't ripe.

Another problem for me is public lavatories, especially those with small (almost dot like) markings to indicate whether the toilet is taken or not. I either have to examine the marking extremely up close from about an inch or so (thus risking to end up with a permanent door-handle shaped scar on my forehead) or simply test the vacancy by trying to open the door (thus risking stumbling in on someone not locking the door). As a child one of my family's favourite pastimes was looking at colour plates and laughing at my grandfathers and my own helpless attempts to decipher them.

As for the translation business, the condition has given me a few problems over the years as well. Working as an in-house translator, I tried a few times to convince proofreaders to use a blue pen instead of a red, since I can very easily miss added (red) commas or full stops, though I see larger corrections without problems.

Another example is the colour markings in CAT tools like SDLX. I always change the colour settings to clearly distinguish different types of segments. Shades of light green and yellow are particularly perceptive to me.

Ever so often I notice that graphics used as an illustration e.g. on T.V. seem confusing to me at best, since the graphic designer has chosen to use colours less contrasting to me. Over the years, I have accustomed myself to the condition, but once in a while it annoys me greatly that people can be SO ignorant about a condition shared by eight per cent of the male population and .5 per cent of the female population.

So, how do you know if you're colour-blind? Well, that's quite easy: Go to one of the numerous websites where you can find online colour-blindness tests using colour plates:

And remember: The condition is neither dangerous nor crippling. Some actually regard the condition more as an alternate colour perception. If others have experience on this subject, I'm eager to hear about it.

Best regards,

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Catherine Bolton  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:23
Member (2002)
Italian to English
+ ...
Interesting forum posting! Sep 24, 2004

I hadn't really thought about the problem in relation to translating, so I found your comments quite interesting.
My father is red-green colour blind, and he says that he can't see traffic lights. He looks at which one is brighter (red is on the top, green on the bottom) to see if he should stop or go. As a young man, he wanted to be a pilot, but obviously got rejected there! I'll have to ask him about the red pen, as he ended up working as a journalist.
A funny story. We took a picture of my daughter (about 5 at the time), who was wearing a burgundy dress with flowers and was standing in front of some bushes. Dad said the picture looked like shrubbery with a head and feet: he couldn't distinguish anything in between!

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Kit Cree  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:23
Member (2003)
French to English
+ ...
how early can you spot it? Sep 24, 2004

Do you know how early clour blindness can be diagnosed? I'm convinced my toddler is colour blond - he fits the male + left handed criteria and bright though he is, his colours are completely random. he can't even say when two colours are the same or different within the red/green/yellow range. Obviously, I know it's not the end of the world but I'd like to know that I'm not totally over-reacting.

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Gary Daine
English to Spanish
+ ...
Maps and graphs are also problems Sep 24, 2004

I'm also a would-have-been pilot. I can distinguish red from green, but I have problems with green/yellow/brown, and especially reds and blues in some combinations.

I have had a jacket which was brown to me, green to everyone else, and I remember I once mended a shirt with green thread, to everyone's amazement/amusement, since it turned out to be grey. So I do see colours, it's just that my reality is not the same as everyone else's. I also have no 'colour sense' at all, except what I have learned (this tie goes with that shirt).

What I find particularly annoying are the scales often found on maps and/or graphs which use a running scale of different shades of red/purple/blue (e.g. for temperature) or green/blue (e.g. for ocean depth). Although I can often see a difference between the colours at each end of the scale, trying to match a blob on the map to a section on the scale is simply impossible. The same goes for line graphs where the only difference is colour.

Another practical problem in translating: very frequently, colours do not map directly between languages. So if I have to translate 'mauve', 'khaki', 'bottle green', etc., I simply have to trust a dictionary. I have tried asking friends, but the conversation always goes along the lines of 'is it this colour /darker than .../ similar to...?' and I am no better off than before.

And finally, I once left a few words untranslated in a Powerpoint translation. Can you guess why?


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jmadsen  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:23
Diagnosis Sep 24, 2004

Kit Cree wrote:
Do you know how early clour blindness can be diagnosed?

I'd say as soon as he can communicate his colour and visual perceptions to others reliably. Most colour plates are based on numbers, but there are also some especially for kids using e.g. pictures of animals. I would see a doctor or an ophthalmologist (great word!) to have his colour vision checked.

If he is very colour blind, he may suffer from tritanopia (violet or blue colour blindness) or achromatopsia (total colour blindness), but these conditions are very rare.

But you have nothing to worry about: He will have a perfectly normal and happy life. He may not become a policeman or airline pilot, but who wants to these days?

Good luck!

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