Thursday, July 28, 2011

Color Appearance and the Emergence and Evolution of Basic Color Lexicons

Paul Kay and Luisa Maffi. American Anthropologist 101:4 1999. 743-60.

Introduces a new model motivating the regularities of color naming and color evolution observed in the World Color Survey. The model assumes that the Hering primaries (white, black, red, yellow, green, blue) are basic and universal "hue sensations", and adds 4 principles:

1. The partition principle, which they formalize thus: "Partition: In notional domains of universal or quasi-universal cultural salience (kin relations, living things, colors, etc.), languages tend to assign significata to lexical items in such a way as to partition the denotata of the domain. [745] (NB: Oniga's (2009) proposal of consistent bright/dark twins in Latin's BCTs could be interpreted as partition operating over a visual domain different from hue; also suggests a symmetry principle that tends to operate in phonological space.)

2. Distinguish Black and White. Objects are can be distinguished without hue; B & W are probably the most basic visual sensations. [747]

3. Distinguish the warm primaries (red and yellow) from the cool primaries (green and blue). [747] They cite studies supporting the universality of this broad distinction.

4. Distinguish red. [749] They cite evidence for the universal primacy of the red sensation over the others.

They propose that the operation of these principles (linguistic? psychological? cultural? perceptual?) accounts for the evolution of BCTs according to the patterns noted in the WCS.

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