When it comes to color perception, Navajo is one of many cultures that traditionally have one name for a grouping of distinct colors.

Dootł’izh is one example. It is the Navajo word that references the color of turquoise. Since turquoise is not exactly blue nor is it exactly green (in the way English discriminates them), it can mean both.

Distinct words for blue include yágo dootł’izh (yá meaning sky). Green can be said to be tátł’idgo dootł’izh (a kind of grassy/mossy green). You’ll notice that, in Navajo, to be specific is to add to the description.

We’ve talked about nominalizers before, which is lingo for making an object out of an action (colors in Navajo are considered verbs). Dootł’izhii is “that which is turquoise colored,” so it is used to refer to the actual turquoise mineral.

If you’re just starting out with Navajo, keep in mind that most advanced speakers describe complex objects using characteristics found in them, such as color, size, position, material, the way it moves, etc. Take Monument Valley as an example: it approximates to “the white stripe that goes around in the rock”. Getting an ear for simple words (like those we feature here) can go a long way in breaking down intimidating descriptions.