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Basic Color Terms
L'hypothèse de Berlin and Kay (1969)

28 septembre 2012

Brent Berlin and Paul Kay, Basic Color Terms. Their Universality and Evolution, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1969.

(Berlin and Kay, p. 2) "It appears now that, although different languages encode in their vocabularies different numbers of basic color categories, a total universal inventory of exactly eleven basic color categories exists from which the eleven or fewer basic color terms of any given language are always drawn. The eleven basic color categories are white, black, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange, and grey.

A second and totally unexpected finding is the following. If a language encodes fewer than eleven basic color categories, then there are strict limitations on which categories it may encode. The distributional restrictions of color terms across languages are:

1. All languages contain terms for white and black.
2. If a language contains three terms, then it contains a term for red.
3. If a language contains four terms, then it contains a term for either green or yellow (but not both).
4. If a language contains five terms, then it contains terms for both green and yellow.
5. If a language contains six terms, then it contains a term for blue.
6. If a language contains seven terms, then it contains a term for brown.
7. If a language contains eight and more terms, then it contains a term for purple, pin, orange, grey, or some combination of these."


basic color terms


Tous les types de nomenclatures indigènes des couleurs primaires sont liés suivant une règle assez simple.

(p. 4) "[They may be] generated from a rather simple rule:

(1) basic color terms

where, for distinct color categories (a, b), the expression a < b signifies that a is present in every language in which b is present and also in some language in which b is not present. Rule (1) is thus a partial order on the set of basic color categories, the six bracketed sets being a series of six equivalence classes of this order.

[…] Rule (1) represents not only a distributional statement for contemporary languages but also the chronological order of the lexical encoding of basic color categories in each language. The chronological order is in turn interpreted as a sequence of evolutionary stages. […] The logical, partial ordering of rule (1) thus corresponds, according to our hypothesis, to a temporal-evolutionary ordering, as follows:

basic color terms

[…] In sum, our two major findings indicate that the referents for the basic color terms of all languages appear to be drawn from /5/ a set of eleven universal perceptual categories, and these categories become encoded in the history of a given language in a partially fixed order."

Les passages cités ci-dessus sont reproduits et mis en perspective dans un article publié dix ans après qui représente une précieuse et commode synthèse:

Paul Kay and Chad K. McDaniel, The Linguistic Significance of the Meanings of Basic Color Terms, Language, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Sep., 1978), pp. 610-646.