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The surprising pattern behind color names around the world

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Published on May 16, 2017

Why so many languages invented words for colors in the same order.

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In 1969, two Berkeley researchers, Paul Kay and Brent Berlin, published a book on a pretty groundbreaking idea: that every culture in history, when they developed their languages, invented words for colors in the exact same order. They claimed to know this based off of a simple color identification test, where 20 respondents identified 330 colored chips by name. If a language had six words, they were always black, white, red, green, yellow, and blue. If it had four terms, they were always black, white, red, and then either green or yellow. If it had only three, they were always black, white, and red , and so on. The theory was revolutionary — and it shaped our understanding of how color terminologies emerge.

Read more on the research mentioned in this video:

Cook, Kay, and Regier on the World Color Survey: goo.gl/MTUi9C
Stephen C. Levinson on Yele color terms: goo.gl/CYDfvw
John A. Lucy on Hanunó'o color terms: goo.gl/okcyC3
Loreto, Mukherjee, and Tria on color naming population simulations: goo.gl/rALO1S

To learn more about how your language's color words can affect the way you think, check out this video lecture: goo.gl/WxYi1q

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