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Delwin Lindsey, Angela Brown; Somali color vision and color naming. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):104. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/12.9.104.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
How are words used to communicate about color? Berlin & Kay (1969) conjectured that world languages have 2-11 Basic Color Terms (BCTs), which are used with high consensus and consistency within each language to name colors falling within distinct color-categories. Contrary to that conjecture, our post-hoc statistical analysis of the World Color Survey (WCS) data set (PNAS, 2009) indicated striking within-language diversity in color term usage, with about 3-4 distinct color-naming systems ("motifs") represented in most languages. Here, we tested this result prospectively by examining Somali, a Cushitic language that was absent from the WCS. Traditional lexicographic analysis (Maffi, 1990) classified Somali as a 6-BCT language: black (madow), white (cadaan), red (garuud, casaan) yellow (cawl, haruud), green (cagaar), and blue (buluug).
We tested 32 monolingual Somali subjects (age: 26-92) through an interpreter, using 83- or 145-sample subsets of the WCS color chart. We assessed color discrimination with AO-HRR pseudoisochromatic, and D-15 and FM-100 arrangement tests. Subjects used 60 total color terms, average 13.5 terms/subject. As predicted from our previous work, the Somali data set included examples of each of the 4 motifs discovered by our WCS analysis. Usage of color terms previously classified as "basic" was remarkably diverse: e.g., cagaar meant green, light green, or green-or-blue; buluug meant blue, green, purple, or gray. Somali D-15 scores were many times the standard age-norms (Bowman, 1984), and their FM-100 scores were equivalent to those of English speakers about twice their ages (Knoblauch et al., 1987). Despite difficulty with these arrangement tests, 31/32 Somali subjects gave normal results on the AO-HRR plate test.
The striking within-language diversity in Somali color term usage, and Somalis' selective difficulty with arrangement tests of color vision, challenge traditional views concerning the nature of color cognition and communication within a culture.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012
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