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Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1575861623
ISBN-10: 1575861623
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Editorial Reviews

Book Description

The work reported in this monograph was begun in the winter of 1967 in a graduate seminar at Berkeley. Much has been discovered since 1969, the date of original publication, regarding the psychophysical and neurophysical determinants of universal, cross-linguistic constraints on the shape of basic color lexicons.

About the Author

Kay is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Professor in the Graduate School at the University of California-Berkeley.
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Product Details

  • Series: The David Hume Series
  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Center for the Study of Language and Inf (March 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1575861623
  • ISBN-13: 978-1575861623
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #614,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By G. Morgan on December 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
Berlin and Kay's work on colour terms spawned an entire branch of linguistic research. Teams of researchers have sought to evaluate the original theory by looking at many languages and by studying various aspects of language, such as morphology and word frequency.

The fundamental idea of Berlin and Kay is that basic colour terms emerge in a similar order in all languages and share a common level of salience across languages after their emergence. A "basic" colour term is a term under which other ("non-basic") colour terms can be classified. For example, the English colour terms 'scarlet', 'strawberry' and 'magenta' are not basic because they can all be classified under the basic term 'red'. 'Pink', however, is a basic term because it cannot be classified under any other colour term. In a language in which no basic term for 'pink' has yet emerged, many colours that an English speaker would regard as examples of 'pink' might be described as types of 'red'. The essence of Berlin and Kay's research is the observation that 'pink' emerges after 'red' in all languages, and remains less salient. Run a search on Google for each of those terms: you will get less hits for 'pink' than for 'red'. Try the same thing in other languages that you know. You will get a similar result.

This book is a seminal work that has given rise to a great deal of related research. The theory has evolved a little since it was published but Basic Color Terms remains the starting point for anyone with an interest in this field.
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By A Customer on September 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
Are colours percieved in the same way in all cultures? This is a fascinating question connected with the discussion on linguistic relativity. Unfortunately, many works on colour either disregard the issue or build upon Berlin and Kay's classic work. Written in 1969 "Basic Colour Terms" consists of a simple theory: Colour Terms are acquired in a certain order: "primitve" peoples have fewer colour terms than industrial societes. The only problem is, the theory is wrong. Here is why:
The colour samples are restrictive because variation in luminosity or reflectance are not included. At the same time, however, the stimulus array is also very complex and the labelling task forces the informants to make judgements and choices which they rarely encounter in real life.
The research is unrealistic. How many Europeans would be willing - and able - to classify 350 (!) colour chips?
The colour research of Berlin and Kay (and their followers) is being conducted in "linguistic isolation"; that is, hardly any notice is taken of how colour terms are used by speakers and hearers in every-day interaction. Morphemic, syntactic, semantic (other than naming) or pragmatic issues are not dealt with.
With Berlin and Kay's system it is also easy to make the colours fit the thesis.
While Berlin and Kay's research has revived interest in the subject much effort has gone into defending a flawed theory. For a more frutiful approach see the section on colour terms in Wierzbicka, Anna (1996) Semantics: Primes and Universals. Oxford: Oxford UP.
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