Thursday, August 4, 2011

Color Naming Universals: The Case of Berinmo.

Paul Kay and Terri Regier. 2007. Cognition 102: 289-298.

The authors set out the universalist-relativist debate concisely in two questions:

"1. Do the languages of the world lexically carve up the color space largely arbitrarily?
2. Where color-naming difference among languages occur,do they correlate with corresponding difference in memory, learning, and discrimination of colors?" (290)

The article argues against Davidoff et al. 1999; Roberson et al., 2000; and Roberson et al., 2005 that the evidence gathered for the Berinmo (also called Berinomo) language (Sepik-Ramu family, Papua New Guinea) disproves the notion of universal, 'focal' colors. The only universal constraint these authors accept on color naming is grouping by similarity: "Thus, no language would exhibit categories that include two ares of color space but excludes [sic] an area between them" (Roberson et al. 2000)

Kay and Regier go on to show that the boundaries of color categories identified on the Munsell chart for Berinmo are similar to those of other 5-term languages in the World Color Survey, and also similar to those of other languages that come from different language families of the world.