Color naming across languages

A study finds that linguistic descriptions of colors are related to the usefulness of colors in individual cultures. The question of whether color categories are universal or shaped by culture remains unsettled. Bevil Conway, Edward Gibson, and colleagues analyzed color-naming data from 110 languages, and found that colors generally considered "warm," such as red, yellow, and orange, were easier to precisely communicate than colors generally considered "cool," such as blue and green, across all languages. The authors also conducted color-naming studies with more than 200 people, ages 16-78, who speak English, Bolivian-Spanish, or Tsimane', a language spoken by the nonindustrialized, indigenous Amazonian Tsimane' people. The authors found that the Tsimane' were less likely than the English or Spanish speakers to use color terms when describing familiar objects, and that the Tsimane' system of colors was less informative than those of the other cultures, suggesting that differences in color categorization between languages may reflect differences in the usefulness of color to individual cultures. The Tsimane' increased their use of color vocabulary when describing artificially colored objects, compared with natural ones, suggesting that industrialization promotes color usefulness. According to the authors, the study provides insights into the variability in the number of color terms across languages.

Article #16-19666: "Color naming across languages reflects color use," by Edward Gibson et al.