Alan Kennedy’s Color/Language Project

April 6, 2011 at 02:37 Leave a comment

“We tend to think of colors as ideas which all humans agree on – grass is green, flames are orange, the sky is light blue – even if different languages have different names for these colors.
As English speakers, we also tend to think of color names in terms of the “basic” ones and the more specific, secondary ones (e.g. turquoise, ochre). Think of the words that are taught to young children for color. A quick look at baby books shows that English generally has 11 basic color words:

Many people are surprised to learn, therefore, that different languages do not consider the basic colors to be the same. Some New Guinea Highland languages, for example, still have terms only for black and white (perhaps better translated as “dark” and “light”). Hanuno’o language, spoken in the Philippines, has only four basic color words: black, white, red and green. Looking at the chart below: Berlin & Kay’s landmark study (1969) of 98 languages showed that if a language has a name for a color in a higher-numbered column it always has a name for the ones to the left (i.e. if a language has only 2 color words they will always be white and black; if it has 5 they will always be white, black, red, green and yellow, etc.).”


Entry filed under: Cognitive Science.

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