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Nicola Pitchford, Kathy Mullen; The status of primary and secondary colours in colour term acquisition. Journal of Vision 2004;4(11):75. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/4.11.75.
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Berlin & Kay (1969) proposed children would acquire basic colour terminology in an order analogous to that by which colour terms are added to languages, as both reflected the physiological structure underpinning perceptual-conceptual colour space. Accordingly, children should acquire the six primary colour terms (red, green, blue, yellow, black & white) before the five secondary colour terms (orange, pink, purple, brown & grey). However, in an extensive developmental study we found little support for an advantage in the acquisition of primary over secondary colours. Instead, our data suggested a dichotomous developmental order, marked only by the late acquisition of brown and grey, relative to the other nine basic colours (Pitchford & Mullen, 2002).
In this study we investigate factors that may constrain the acquisition of brown and grey by comparing (i) the performance of a group of 159 preschool children on three tasks of perceptual colour processing, and (ii) two objective counts of colour term usage in preschool directed-speech. Results showed the tardy conceptualisation of brown and grey is not limited by (1) perception, as children can discriminate and will group these two colours, even when they cannot comprehend and name them, or (2) linguistic input, as primary colour terms appear more frequently in preschool texts and mothers' speech. Interestingly, our data show brown and grey are colours children least prefer, suggesting colour preference and colour conceptualisation are linked in early childhood: an association which may be mediated by a third factor relating to the perceptual organisation of colour space.
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