Culture, Language and Thought: Field Studies on Colour Concepts

Culture, Language and Thought: Field Studies on Colour Concepts In a series of studies the assumption of a lack of colour concepts in indigenous societies, as proposed by Berlin and Kay and others, was examined. The research took place in the form of minimally invasive field encounters with indigenous subjects in South East Asia and in India, as well as in West, Central, and South Africa. Subjects were screened for colour blindness using the Ishihara and Pflüger-Trident tests. Standardised colour tablets had to be designated in the indigenous languages; these terms were later translated by native speakers of the indigenous languages into a European language. The indigenous subjects were able to name the colours presented. Indigenous vs. globalised cultural factors were reflected in the use of reference objects for naming colours. Both metonymical and non-metonymical indigenous colour names did not follow a stage pattern as Berlin and Kay and others have proposed. The high precision of indigenous colour names corresponds both to the precision of experts’ colour names in the industrial culture, and to the highly precise grammar that characterises indigenous languages. It is concluded that cognitive categorisation of visual perception takes place regardless of the cultural context, and that former misunderstandings resulted from inappropriate methodological designs. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Cognition and Culture Brill

Culture, Language and Thought: Field Studies on Colour Concepts

Journal of Cognition and Culture, Volume 16 (1-2): 83 – Feb 24, 2016

Culture, Language and Thought: Field Studies on Colour Concepts


1 Theoretical Background A central issue of cultural psychology is the general impact of culture on cognition. This is often discussed with a focus on language, which then serves as a paradigm for culture at large. According to the principle of linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (Lehmann (1998) describes the attribution of the linguistic relativity principle to Sapir and to Whorf as a myth, substantiating that especially Whorf never shared some of that principle’s core positions), thinking is influenced by one’s language. Therefore, individuals with different cultural backgrounds should also exhibit different ways of cognitively structuring their respective internal representations of the world. 1.1 Studies on Colour Concepts When the principle of linguistic relativity is applied in its extreme form, then a person could not think anything that he or she could not express by language. There has been a large number of studies involving colour, again as a paradigm, for testing that principle; Eric Lenneberg (e.g., Brown and Lenneberg, 1954) can certainly be considered a protagonist of this research line. A typical procedure in those studies was as such: A selection of colour chips was shown to subjects of a particular culture. Then, these chips were taken away and, after a while, presented again amongst a larger number of different colour chips. The subjects were then asked to identify the chips that they had seen before. The idea behind the procedure was that if the persons had no name for certain colours, then they also could not think about those colours, and consequently could neither remember nor identify them. But what made these researchers assume that persons of the cultures investigated lacked words for colours? This conception was planted by Berlin and Kay (1969), who claimed that “Basic Color Terms” came to exist in cultures in an evolutionary way. Kay and McDaniel (1978) presented a method of...
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Publisher
Brill
Copyright
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands
ISSN
1567-7095
eISSN
1568-5373
D.O.I.
10.1163/15685373-12342169
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

In a series of studies the assumption of a lack of colour concepts in indigenous societies, as proposed by Berlin and Kay and others, was examined. The research took place in the form of minimally invasive field encounters with indigenous subjects in South East Asia and in India, as well as in West, Central, and South Africa. Subjects were screened for colour blindness using the Ishihara and Pflüger-Trident tests. Standardised colour tablets had to be designated in the indigenous languages; these terms were later translated by native speakers of the indigenous languages into a European language. The indigenous subjects were able to name the colours presented. Indigenous vs. globalised cultural factors were reflected in the use of reference objects for naming colours. Both metonymical and non-metonymical indigenous colour names did not follow a stage pattern as Berlin and Kay and others have proposed. The high precision of indigenous colour names corresponds both to the precision of experts’ colour names in the industrial culture, and to the highly precise grammar that characterises indigenous languages. It is concluded that cognitive categorisation of visual perception takes place regardless of the cultural context, and that former misunderstandings resulted from inappropriate methodological designs.

Journal

Journal of Cognition and CultureBrill

Published: Feb 24, 2016

Keywords: colour concepts; cognition; culture; field research; indigenous; linguistic relativity

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