Cultural and Linguistic Issues Affecting Accessiblity
Colours and symbols are the most powerful communication tools. They
contain rich information. They have symbolic meanings. Appropriate use of
colours and symbols can make it easier for audiences to absorb large
amounts of information on content, layout, etc. However, each coin has two
sides. Most colours and symbols have positive associations with them or
negative connotations. For example, although black usually represents
formality, sophistication and sexuality, it can also be a symbol of
mourning. Cultural problems may arise because audiences from different
cultural backgrounds perceive colours and symbols in different ways. It is
possible that designers intend to adopt some colours or symbols to convey
positive connotations but instead audiences interpret them negatively.
Linguistic problems may occur if designers without sufficient cultural
background or linguistic knowledge translate one language into another. If
web designers do not notice these problems, confusion or even failure to
convey the right information will occur.Linguistic problems become a major
obstacle to the success of conveying information to targeted audiences.
An accessible website should be adapted to the special characteristics
of natural languages and the commonly accepted rules for their use, or of
cultures in a given geographic region.
This lab will discuss three aspects of cultural and linguistic issues:
colour symbolisms, animal symbolisms and linguistic problems. Each
interactive exercise is designed to address one aspect. After the lab
activity, answer the questions below.
the Technical Help Page for guidance on
enabling this technology.
Introduction to Colour Symbolism
Colour communicate with an audience in a non-verbal way. In Western
culture, they have symbolism and meaning. For example, dark colours (such as
navy blue) generally represent formality and conservatism, whereas paler
colours (such as pink) are regarded as feminine and informality. Likewise,
Colours have symbolic meanings in other cultures or other parts of the
world. Colours can also be used to trigger certain reactions or define a
However, since colours would have entirely different meaning in other
cultures, people from different cultures react to colours in different ways.
Ignoring colours culturally symbolic meanings would result in a costly
mistake. The appropriate use of colour can make it easier for users to
absorb large amounts of information and differentiate information types and
After the interactive exercise, you will have gained some awareness on
the issue of colour. As you design brochures, logos, and websites, it is
helpful to keep in mind how the eye and the mind perceive certain colours
and the color meanings we associate with each colour.
What to Do:
- To begin, watch the
"Meaning of Southwest 4 direction colors" video.
- Explore various colour symbolisms in different cultures at the
- Take the Colour Symbolism
Quiz and see how much you know about colour
Related Guidelines on How to Use Colour:
Several guidelines on how to use colour  are listed below. You can
use them as a reference on using colour to increase communication
effectiveness, speed, accuracy, and retention. Additional information can
also be found at
- Less Is More Useful and Understandable --- Use no more
than three colours for primary information.
- Create a Colour Logic, Use Colour Coding --- Use a
colour scheme that reinforces the hierarchy of information.
- Context is Everything --- The amount of colour will
affect how it is viewed, as well as the best background choice.
- Contrast is Critical When Making Colour Choices ---
The desired contrast (of colour, size, resolution, etc.) between
what is being read (graphics, photographs, etc) must be clearly and
easily differentiated from the background.
- Quantity Affects Perception --- In the smaller area,
the colour will appear darker, in the large area, lighter and
- Use Colour as a Redundant Cue When Possible --- Call
out the important information, like warning points, with a
combination of colour and a different typeface so that you do not
leave anyone in the dark.
- We Live in a Gobal World, So When in Rome... ---
Respect national and cultural variations in colours, where feasible,
for the target users. Different colours have different connotations
in different culures, religions, professions, etc. For example:
- in the U.S., on February 14th, red means love.
- in Korea, red means death.
- in China, red is used in weddings and signals good luck and
- in many countries, red means revolution.
- in sports competitions, red means first place.
- to an accountant, red means a negative balance.
- to a motorist, red means stop.
- in emergencies, a red cross means medical help.
Introduction to Animal Symbolism
In this interactive activity, your goal is to understand the
explanations of animal symbolism in three cultures and the stories
behind them. This activity will provide you with an introduction to
animal symbolism. The meanings of animals may be similar or very different
in different cultures.
After this interactive activity, hopefully, you can use animal symbols
appropriately while designing websites.
What to Do:
- Watch the video Animal Wisdom by
- Answer multiple choice
questions to be aware of the difference in interpreting animals'
Introduction to Linguistic Problems
Linguistic problems may occur if designers do not have sufficient
cultural background or linguistic knowledge to translate one language into
another. A typical example is Chinglish, an English pseudo-dialect heavily
affected by Chinese grammar and accent.
What to Do:
- To begin, watch the
in Translation" video.
provides additional detailed information about Chinglish, including
its definition, history, and presents examples.
Note: Chinglish is an example of a linguistic problem that exists on
web sites. Linguistic problems also occur when other languages
(such as Japanese) is translated into English. This is called
Engrish. Information can be found at
Engrish.com also posts
humourous English mistakes that appear in Japanese advertising and
- Based on the research on Chinglish, some of the main reasons why so
many mistranslations occur are summarized below:
- Insufficient knowledge of English
Specifically, unfamiliar with the following aspects of
- Idiomatic English: Idioms are phrases or sentences
that cannot be understood by analyzing the meaning of its
individual words, but must be analyzed as a whole unit. For
instance, those fluent in English would describe a person
as "working like a horse", while the expression
would be "working like a water buffalo" for a Chinese
person learning English. The reason for the difference is
that, generally speaking, the Chinese use water buffalo for
farming rather than horses.
- Informal English: Chinese is often translated into an
overly formal, stiff, wordy version with many abstract words.
Unnecessary words make a sentence wordy and undermine its
expressiveness. For example, a magazine says that "The
prolongation of the existence of this temple is due to the
solidity of its construction." What it tries to express
can be put in a simpler way, "This temple endures because
it was solidly built."
- Multiple/shared meanings: An English word may have
different meanings (and many synonyms) and two or more
different words may have similar meanings, both depending on
context. For instance, a store which specializes in selling
jewelry exclusively could be misnamed "Jewelry Jadeware
Monopoly Shop". Although Chinese words for
"monopoly" and "specialty" both share the
meaning of "exclusivity", there is still a subtle
difference between these two words. "Specialty" is an
item of a distinctive kind or of particular superiority.
"Monopoly" is something that is exclusively possessed
or controlled. In such cases, the proper word must be chosen
depending on the context.
- Varieties of English: American usage has adopted some
elements of British English (not just spelling and idioms,
but also different cultural and contextual meanings).
Canadian spelling combines American English and British
For instance, Canadian spellings retain British spellings
(colour and centre) as well as American
spellings (tire and curb). Canadian vocabulary
features American vocabulary, British terms, and local
variations. Designers must "know their audience" and
consistently use the appropriate version, both for spelling
and forms of expression.
- Sheer carelessness or sloppy translation
This unprofessional approach shows itself in the following
- Direct translation: Taking words straight from the
dictionary in the Chinese character-by-character sequence
regardless of the proper word order required in English.
Verbatim translation often fails to convey the intended
meaning because English syntax is different. For example,
Chinese "dou-fu" is literally translated on
restaurant menus as "bean curd". "Tofu" has
become a routine part of English food menus (just like the
French "crepe" or Italian "ravioli"), which
the Westerner finds appetizing. However, "bean curd"
sounds unappetizing to the Westerner because of the
association with curdled (or sour) milk. Sometimes direct
generates humour, for example, "people mountain people sea"
actually means "a sea of people" or "a huge crowd".
- Linguistic habit: Using Chinese-thinking rather than
English-thinking habits but not recognizing, or being ignorant
of, linguistic grammar rules. For instance, "Bob asked
Bob's father to lend Bob money.". According to the
rules of English, we avoid repeating nouns by using
pronouns. Thus, the
correct translation should be "Bob (antecedent) asked
his (possessive pronoun) father to lend him (pronoun)
- Over-generalization: Applying the "rules of
English" without considering their exceptions.
One example is the use of the possessive
"'s". In China, people tend to translate "Bob's
pencil" correctly. However, they tend to
over-generalize the rule and translate "Map of
Canada" incorrectly into "Canada's map".
- Take the Linguistic Problems Quiz
and see if you can identify the causes of certain linguistic
What to Hand In:
Hand-in a report that
- Answers the following questions:
For the Colour Symbolism interactive activity:
- Compared with your personal colour symbolism associations, which
culture/country colour symbolism associations surprised you?
- In the Colour Symbolism Quiz, how many did you get right?
- What are your suggestions on choosing colours for a web site?
For the Animal Symbolism interactive activity:
- Compared with your personal animal symbolism associations, which
animal symbolism association surprised you?
- In the Animal Symbolism Quiz, how many did you get right?
For the Linguistic Problems interactive activity:
- Provide some suggestions on solving the problems mentioned in
- What aspects should website designers check when they review the
- What are some other reasons for linguistic problems besides
the aforementioned ones?
- Is it good or bad to use idioms or colloquialisms on websites?
Justify your answer.
- What were your expectations of this ADE?
- Did this ADE meet your expectations? Provide a rating between 1 and
7, where 1 means not at all, 4 means somewhat, and 7 means
absolutely. Please explain your choice.
- Did you feel that the video(s) for this ADE was appropriate? Why or
why not? Provide a rating between 1 and 7, where 1 means not at
all, 4 means somewhat, and 7 means absolutely. Please explain your
- Do you have any suggestions for other possible videos?
- Did you feel that the questions above got you to think about the
real and serious issues regarding this ADE? Provide a rating
between 1 and 7, where 1 means not at all, 4 means somewhat, and
7 means absolutely. Please explain your choice.
- If you have any suggestions on how to improve this ADE, please
include it here.
 Suzanne Watzman, Visual Design Priciples for Usable Interface,
The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook, Lawrence Erlbaum Association.