Basic Color Categories

Every language in the world has a word for the different colors right? We would believe the answer is “yes,” and that’s true for many cultures. However the answer is “no” in many areas as well.

The idea is pretty simple, but the reality is very complex. It really boils down to the language user, as different language speaking people have different numbers in their “Basic color categories.” It can vary rather drastically. Some cultures’ basic color names categories have ten or more while others have as little as three. It is hard to imagine, isn’t it?

“Every language in the world has a word for the different colors, right?”

Now to be clear, it is not just about translations. It is about the colors that get proper names and the process of how it is done. There had been a hypothesis agreed upon by most anthropologists that when it came to colors people were picking the names at random, until 1969, when a new theory was discovered.

Thanks to the team of researchers at Berkeley University, comprised of Brent Berlin and Paul Kay, and the publication of their book we now have a better understanding of people from around the world on this subject matter. They compiled interviews with many people from various places who spoke in different languages asking them to identify scores of colors. These reports were later challenged by some because many were unsure of the universal reliability of the study. The diversity of the study was questioned.

In regards to this mind-blowing theory in the anthropological world, we need to give a shout out to William Gladstone. He’s arguably the father of studying and understanding naming of colors in the ancient world. His book, Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age, which was published in 1858 was revolutionary.

The World Color Survey

W.H.R. Rivers, was another contributed to this field. He reported in 1901 that the lack of words that a group of people have would been in direct correspondence to their “intellectual and cultural development”. Sadly Rivers also used his findings to state that some people were less physically evolved.

“people from various places who spoke in different languages”

Then, in the later end of the 1970’s Berlin and Kay released “The World Color Survey.” This time they used the same process but on a much larger scale. They interviewed over 2,600 people of native tongues, spoke in 110 different languages, and were all from non-industrial societies. The results were not that different from their original findings that were published in 1969.

Color Names Today

The results of these studies conclude that our ability to perceive a color is directly related to our belief that more basic colors exist than we are able to see. When we are hypothetically willing to give names to colors that we can’t perceive, we are that much more likely to see them in the real world.

[via vox]



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