leven basic colour terms

30 day blog challenge - day 3 - basic color terms. This opens a new browser window.

When Brent Berlin and Paul Kay introduced basic colour terms in their 1969 book ‘Basic color terms: Their Universality and Evolution’, it was the start of a new way of thinking about colour terms and colour naming.

Berlin and Kay 1969 study was a compilation of colour terms in 98 languages from around the world. Interestingly, in their cross-cultural research these main eleven colours could be identified within the many languages.

yellow – orange – red – purple – blue – green – pink – brown – grey – black – white

red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, brown, grey, black and white.

A picture worth many words. The path to a more colorful language, according to Berlin and Kay (1969).

What it says is this. If a language has just two color terms, they will be a light and a dark shade – blacks and whites. Add a third color, and it’s going to be red. Add another, and it will be either green or yellow – you need five colors to have both. And when you get to six colors, the green splits into two, and you now have a blue. What we’re seeing here is a deeply trodden road that most languages seem to follow, towards greater visual discernment (92 of their 98 languages seemed to follow this basic route).


Why should different cultures draw the same boundaries? If we speak different languages with largely independent histories, shouldn’t our ancestors have carved up the visual atlas rather differently?

First, cultures are quite different in how their words paint the world. Take a look at this interactive map. For the 110 cultures, you can see how many basic words they use for colors. To the Dani people who live in the highlands of New Guiniea, objects comes in just two shades. There’s mili for the cooler shades, from blues and greens to black, and mola for the lighter shades, like reds, yellows and white. Some languages have just three basic colors, others have 4, 5, 6, and so on. There’s even a debate as to whether the Pirahã tribe of the Amazon have any specialized color words at all! (If you ask a Pirahã tribe member to label something red, they’ll say that it’s blood-like).

But there’s still a pattern hidden in this diversity. You might be wondering what happened to the cartoon picture of languages. Is there still a main road? Or are there languages that travel off the beaten path? The answer is yes, to both questions.

Goodbye yellow brick road. A more refined picture of how languages name colors.

The picture looks like a mess, but keep in mind that five out of six languages surveyed follow the central route. So here’s the story. You start with a black-and-white world of darks and lights. There are warm colors, and cool colors, but no finer categories. Next, the reds and yellows separate away from white. You can now have a color for fire, or the fiery color of the sunset. There are tribes that have stopped here. Further down, blues and greens break away from black. Forests, skies, and oceans now come of their own in your visual vocabulary. Eventually, these colors separate further. First, red splits from yellow. And finally, blue from green. The forest unmingles from the sky. In the case of Japan, that last transition essentially happened in modern history!

via http://www.empiricalzeal.com/2012/06/05/the-crayola-fication-of-the-world-how-we-gave-colors-names-and-it-messed-with-our-brains-part-i/

Work done by Colin Ware (building off the work done by Kay and others(Ware, Colin (2000) Information Visualization, Perception for Design, San Francisco: Morgan Kaufman.) and his own work on perception, has produced maximum set of 12 colors that can be accurately differentiated by people with standard vision without errors. These colors (shown below) are: 1. Red, 2. Green, 3. Yellow, 4. Blue, 5. Black, 6. White, 7. Pink, 8. Cyan, 9. Gray,10. Orange, 11. Brown, 12. Purple.

Colors from Set 1 should be used before colors from Set 2.
These colors are the most easily identifiable colors based on perceptual research, and can be used to code data with a high degree of decoding accuracy in humans that do not experience color blindness.  The 12 colors above were then taken by me as a starting point in which to extract a larger set of colors in order to assign one color for every letter in the alphabet.
We tend to use qualifiers (darker, lighter, -ish, etc.) to describe the differences in colors instead of giving colors individual names.  (see Munsell Color System.)
People can distinguish the difference in hue, saturation and value (brightness) of in excess of a million color combinations (Halsey and Chapanis, 1951; Kaiser and Boynton, 1989) when colors are compared side by side in optimal lighting conditions.
 This being said, color memory in people is not very good, nor is the ability to discriminate among specific colors that are even remotely similar when separated by time.  In this situation the number of colors that can be readily identified drops to 12.

How the 26 colors were chosen

RGB hexadecimal value

You cannot specify these colours in HTML and CSS by their colour name but you can use their RGB hexadecimal value, eg:

    <font color="#800080">and in CSS you can also use their RGB decimal values, eg:

    P { rgb(128,0,128); }

Colour Words and Colour Categorization

500+ colors

The 330 Munsell chips in the WCS color chart. Of the chips, 320 consist of 40 hues spanning the color circle (arranged horizontally), each printed in 8 values (arranged vertically). An additional 10 chips are achromatic colors (sidebar).
The Munsell color table
the Munsell color system is a color space that specifies colors based on three color dimensions: hue, value (lightness), and chroma (color purity). It was created by Professor Albert H. Munsell in the first decade of the 20th century and adopted by the USDA as the official color system for soil research in the 1930s.

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