The surprising pattern behind color names around the world

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Why so many languages invented words for colors in the same order.

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In 1969, two Berkeley researchers, Paul Kay and Brent Berlin, published a book on a pretty groundbreaking idea: that every culture in history, when they developed their languages, invented words for colors in the exact same order. They claimed to know this based off of a simple color identification test, where 20 respondents identified 330 colored chips by name. If a language had six words, they were always black, white, red, green, yellow, and blue. If it had four terms, they were always black, white, red, and then either green or yellow. If it had only three, they were always black, white, and red , and so on. The theory was revolutionary — and it shaped our understanding of how color terminologies emerge.

Read more on the research mentioned in this video: 

Cook, Kay, and Regier on the World Color Survey:
Stephen C. Levinson on Yele color terms:
John A. Lucy on Hanunó'o color terms:
Loreto, Mukherjee, and Tria on color naming population simulations:

To learn more about how your language's color words can affect the way you think, check out this video lecture: is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out to get up to speed on everything from Kurdistan to the Kim Kardashian app. 

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And here I am not knowing the difference between blue and purple.
Jibran Ruiz
many colors, only one recipe for classic pancakes.
Liya A.
oh, I thought this was going to talk about color names as in how people name their kids after colors and how that differs from culture to culture lol
Christian Gingras
Color is a spectrum but our brain want to divide that spectrum is a limited number of colors and artificially create sharp difference in colors. Here is the detail how this works:

The prism/rainbow show that each color are ordered precisely, and we eventually discovered that each color is actually created by a photon which vibrate at different frequency with the total range covering 1 octave (blue is exactly twice the frequency of red).

The human eyes have 3 color detector (cones) and 1 monochrome detector (rod), and possibly another type of rod specialized for high speed pulses detection (visual periphery, detecting motion of objects).

The eye (retina) don't transmit the value of each of the 3 cones colors to the brain. It is not directly comparable to RGB output camera and RGB input monitor/tv.

Instead, the brain receive two pairs of color information. A contrast enhancement system have tendency to perceive any color in between as if it was one of the 4 choice. For example, when looking at the color produced from white light by a prism, we tend to see sharp transition from red to green to yellow to blue. The nuance in between such as orange or violet can be seen when paying more attention.

We could compare this to the way musician like to divide the spectrum of sound frequency is 8 discrete frequencies with the name "do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si/ti. Except that, in this case, the separation is a human convention, not imposed by our hearing system.

If a violin player is not precise, he/she can easily produce a frequency to is anywhere in between a do and re, for example. Some people with "musical ear" detect these mistakes, but most people instantly assign the nearest note and will recognize the melody anyway.

For color nuance, the phenomenon is similar. We can distinguish very small change in intensity of any of the 3 primary color, red, green, blue. The majority of modern computer display use 8 bit for each color, 24 but total per pixel. When printed side by side, we can perceive the tiny change of 1/256 intensity for each color.

However, as can be seen with the optical illusion of the checker board with the shadow of a green cylinder, we actively compensate for a predicted change of light intensity. This light intensity adjustment is encoded so deep in our retina/brain that we can not control it. In contrast, some other optical illusion such as the concave/convexe 3d perception of pyramid repetitive shapes such as, let say, the video game "Q*bert" can be perceived alternatively (such change happening at a low rate of about 3 seconds) and voluntarily inverted with some effort.
So youre telling me people went as far as making poetic metaphors for a color before getting to name it?
Christian Venturado
Im from phils... and I dont know that haha
Trei Șpe
wait...wasn't the sky always blue?! were the people never looking up?how can they not have a word for the blue of the sky, but had one for the red of blood?
Vidya Iyer
This is absolutely brilliant! so interesting to look at colours in detail like this
nikhil nair
isn't this called synthesia
Michal Vincze
black then white are all I see
red and yellow then came to be...

just saying.
Alexander Abrams-Flohr
I would have assumed that the hierarchy would be based on what natural pigments were available for local dyers, but that would be wrong. If red is named before yellow, then that means that red is named in places that have no red dye, as there are only around 10 plants in the world that make a red pigment.
Jake B
Woah this is a Vox video, mad respect.
Jake B
B.C. Wars
Black and white actually aren't colors so....
Melvin Jansen
Lmao russians named the colour red "beautifull"
Magdalena Huber
Receive unless Asian llbxw chemical award beer track.
Alex Nikiforov
0:25 - Russian generally uses "feeoletovy", not "purpurny."
Quentin Crain
The video misses this: "DeValois and his associates had investigated the neurophysiology of color vision in the macaque, a monkey with a visual system similar to man's. Their research concentrated on the neural pathways between the eye and the brain. They found six types of cell. Four of these, called opponent response cells, determine hue, while the other two determine brightness. The opponent response cells are grouped into two pairs, one having to do with the perception of blue and yellow, the other having to do with the perception of red and green. ... At present, this is the only plausible account we have of why the facts of basic color categories should be as they are. ... Color concepts are embodied in that focal colors are partly determined by human biology, ... Color categories result from the world plus human biology plus a cognitive mechanism ...", _Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind_, George Lakoff, p 26-28
Rahul Tiwari
Wonderful videography!
Cuda Danger Baird
But like why not green, everything is green. Moreso than red
Autodidactus Plays JRPGs
3rd world languages also have no or few words for abstract concepts, which has led some to speculate that people from the 3rd world are deficient mentally. This has further triggered those that hold the faith that all humans are 100% equal regardless of their wildly difference genetic composition.
Black, then, white are
All I see
In my infancy
Red and yellow then came to be
Suwin Khamchaiwong
I'm Thai :D
jonathan parapadakis
Anyone else notice that after black/white, the colours appear to be being named in order of wavelength? (red, yellow/green, blue, purple)
doo 7
There's only 2 colors red and blue our brain make all the other colors so we can distinguish between things (fact)
Lazy Guy
Through out history, In India , apart from the basic colors, there is a huge variety of other colors identified with resemblance in Nature, be it fruits / vegetables or even the sky. For ex: Santrila : Color like an Orange, Baingani : Color like an Eggplant, Aasmani: Color like the Sky.,; Etc ...
This matches the colour spectrum of the rainbow, also the Chakras VIBGYOR. These are natural frequencies/colours we are attracted too.
Matthew Cupelli
Great video
SciBlast Official / New Videos
Invention of Blue
Maleick Fleming
If this architecture thing doesn't work out I want to work with Vox. Love videos with research and a story like this and graphics and animations.
Yeah, it's interesting. In hungarian we have two words for red; "piros" and "vörös". Piros is the commonly used, vörös usually refers to masculine things, like a dress is piros, but the Red Army is vörös.
Gabriel Shaun
I thought the thumbnail was a pic of that Coldplay album then I read the title and had to just sit there and think about what I'm doing still thinking about Coldplay
Mason Lee
Is mayonnaise a color?
Jayden _____
All this video did was make me confused about something that I never even cared about in the first place.
I think that red is the first stage because it is the colour of danger in the wild. Some red things, such as berries or animals can be lethal so it would be greatly beneficial for a tribe to have a name for it to teach the next generations to avoid such a colour.

Does this make sense?
Crayola must be hypergeniuses then
Chris Godas
I am quite shocked he didn't mention the tidbit about Russian that is often brought up in color theory within linguistics. For Russians, light blue and dark blue are two distinct colors, with children learning them explicitly as separately named shades. Sound weird? What if a language you spoke had one color that was just a lighter shade of another but it were treated as and taught to kids as its own color entirely? Pink is truly just a pale red.
Bitty Navarro
This scriptwriter is a genius.
more intresting than school lecyures
Erica Doromal
Grabe hindi ko alam yung hanunoo. Color description lang naman yata yan, hindi po name.
Nadia Chacra
would you enable the audience to contribute with subtitles? they're only in english…
Firdaus Gupte
Wow, Vox is killing it lately. Great job.
Gameron Gaming
Oh my gosh, they're talking about my country.

and I don't even know what language that is, The Philippines has so much more languages than I imagined, I think I'm poly-lingual.
Debz Baumaus
It's also very psychological, I believe. It would have to be linked to how colors make people feel.
kenchuvich Morcozo
This topic is pretty amazing! More amazing videos to expect from this channel.
Alex Isiv
What just happened
Max Durk
Also im lost at the computer simulation. How does that work?
Max Durk
Who else thought this was gonna be about weird names for paint colors at stores
Alex Loukianov
Purpurnyy is actually not Russian for purple, purpurnyy is more of a scarlet color. The Russian word for purple is Fioletaviy
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