As I've mentioned before I am somewhat of an anthropologist. The reason I say somewhat is because I actually specialized in the field of linguistics. Linguistics was a two-part field of study for me. I studied Phonemics, which is the process of taking the sounds in a given language and reducing it to writing. I also studied Grammar. When you talk about grammar in linguistics you are talking about the rules that exist in a language that aren't taught. It's the patterns in a language that you have to know intuitively is order to be able to communicate effectively. While finishing my studies I went to Oklahoma to spend some time with native Cherokee speakers so I could practice what I had learned in the classroom.
Early on in Cherokee I was focusing mainly on getting some nouns. Nouns are a good place to start when doing phonemics. What I'm about to explain to you caught me off guard as I had never considered it. Before my session with a Cherokee speaker I would get a bunch of pictures on my computer for him to tell me what they are called in Cherokee. You have to be careful when you do this because it is easy to get confused. If you have a picture of a man playing guitar, you may be looking for the word for man, but your speaker may think that you want the word for guitar...or playing the guitar for the matter. I figured some non-ambiguous ones would be colors so I got some pictures of just colors on the computer.
When we got to the picture of orange, my helper said nothing. He then broke a smile and said "I can talk all around it, but we don't have a word for that color." He said he could describe it, or say it was the same color as a certain flower...but there is no word in Cherokee for orange. He then volunteered that there was no word for gray either. For the Cherokee there are only 8 colors. It's not that they don't see the other colors, there just aren't words for them. I had always assumed humans everywhere had words for all the same colors. I guess I was wrong.
In case you're wondering, these are the following colors in Cherokee (per my phonemic data):
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