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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jan 23;104(4):1436-41. Epub 2007 Jan 17.

Color naming reflects optimal partitions of color space.

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Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, 5848 South University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


The nature of color categories in the world's languages is contested. One major view holds that color categories are organized around universal focal colors, whereas an opposing view holds instead that categories are defined at their boundaries by linguistic convention. Both of these standardly opposed views are challenged by existing data. Here, we argue for a third view based on a proposal by Jameson and D'Andrade [Jameson KA, D'Andrade RG (1997) in Color Categories in Thought and Language, eds Hardin CL, Maffi L (Cambridge Univ Press, Cambridge, U.K.), pp 295-319]: that color naming across languages reflects optimal or near-optimal divisions of an irregularly shaped perceptual color space. We formalize this idea, test it against color-naming data from a broad range of languages and show that it accounts for universal tendencies in color naming while also accommodating some observed cross-language variation.

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