The surprising pattern behind color names around the world

vox.comvoxexplaincolorcolorshierarchylinguisticsterminologyscienceexplainedberlin and kaybrent berlinpaul kaywhr rivershomerodysseywilliam gladstonespectrumcategoriesorderlanguagelanguageswordsanthropologyhanunooyelespeechcommunicationhuman historyresearchsocietyuniversalpatternworld

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: goo.gl/MTUi9C
Stephen C. Levinson on Yele color terms: goo.gl/CYDfvw
John A. Lucy on Hanunó'o color terms: goo.gl/okcyC3
Loreto, Mukherjee, and Tria on color naming population simulations: goo.gl/rALO1S

To learn more about how your language's color words can affect the way you think, check out this video lecture: goo.gl/WxYi1q

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Chaarti Mor
very good one :D
Sergey Antopolsky
This is so good. Sometimes I wish Vox would make exclusively science videos.
Thodor1s
Homer was famously blind. Everyone surely knows that, right?
stuzaza
fantastic to watch, deeply enjoyable.
I met a man once that lived with synesthesia, random fact but there you have it
Bob Eksten
Blue wasn't common before industrialization? I guess if you never saw a body of water or the sky.. that doesn't make sense.
ChaseRiver3089
I would say that we have 12 in America. I would include tan.
Martina Cantaro
Why are the swatches of color so inaccurate? The "black" is dark grey and the "bright red" is pinkish
Anna Ingolfsdottir
I love how the Yele language uses everyday objects as color comparisons that covers almost all the color words in the English language....... like orange?
Xyzzyx
Can't be a Vox video if they don't label somebody racist
Citlali Villegas
Please, does anybody know the music played at the end from 6:30 - 6:45 ????? pleasee i really love how it sounds
Uzzi Valencia
Damn Vox, this was thoroughly captivating and exciting!
Frederik Uebel Søndergaard
Really nice video
Phoenix
"Blue was scarce before manufacturing"
What about the sky?
Ismi Damaya
Hi, I'm Indonesian. I'd like to correct the word you use for describing Indonesian language as 'Bahasa' on 3:41. 'Bahasa' literally means 'language', it doesn't define the Indonesian language. I know it's getting popular among non-Indonesian speakers to refer Indonesian language as 'Bahasa', but it sounds weird for Indonesians. I'd just like to convey this concern that I expect Vox wouldn't be part of the confusion on describing Indonesian language merely as Bahasa. Great video as always, anyway...
Vadko Smelyanskiy
Native Russian speaker here.
I've just learned that cyan (goluboy/голубой) is not a basic color category in English, unlike the Russian.
Thomas Mclaughlin
I would really love to see a video depicting how the animators make the beautiful graphics that assist the voice overs in most of the videos. Or a behind the scenes of how a video is made...
Ivan Malyshenko
Wow. Narrative, visuals, info. Everything is just Brilliant!
Francosteiner
"Blue was fairly scarce"... Except if you look up on basically ANY given day...
Alyssa Kersell
5:24 .... The SKY... Or the large bodies of WATER..... Maybe greens in GRASS and PLANTS in general are kinda common??? It may be just me, but I'm pretty sure at ANY point in time, greens and blues were MORE common then reds..?
Thom Gibson
What font do they use in most of these videos ( the all caps one ) ?
Kaushik Varadharajan
3:45 ENGLISH - United States

did you really just do that?
Debby Peng
beautifully presented. loved the colour chips.
Kai Broadbridge
I should be doing my health assignment, but here I am...
Jasmine Steel
Dear Vox, I am an art student and we had to learn about pigmentation in paints and how this affects colour mixing. Black (a combination of dark blues, greens, and browns) has the strongest pigmintation (it's primary colour assosciation would be blue as it is just a very dark muddied up version of blue). Red is the next richest pigment followed by yellow which is closest to white. The amount of each pigment we use in painting is actually pretty similar to the hierarchy you are talking about her. Just some food for thought.
Go Mezant
Blue was scarce? What about the sky??
Claire Petersen
Well, I would guess they all have red because we've all seen red (with the exception of color blind people) as our blood. Things like yellow and green are common in nature, but blue is something tribes by the sea are more likely to have. My theory is, it all has to do with location.
Nathan Le Blancq
Anyone know what the music at the very end was?
Jor Frencken
Red is the first color baby's can see so that's maybe why it's the first to develop a word after dark/light
Jack Carlyle
red has the longest wavelength, wonder if that has something to do with it. does colour scale logarithmically?
Estrella Vega
The explanation about the computers coming up with color terms doesn't seem very clear to me. Who is feeding the computer colors? It seems to me that the reason why black and white are the first colors is because they refer to darkness and lightness, which is the most rudimentary aspect of vision (even cells with no"eyes" can detect light and shadow). As for red, green and yellow, that's the color of food. And I suppose blue is a less useful color to "know" since it's the color of the sky, and you can't eat the sky so... Pink, Orange, Violet and Brown can be described by other colors (the first three are in the "red" family, and Brown can fit in the "black/ dark" category)
Paula Longás
El idioma oficial de España es el español :)
NESQuick
Too much colors in French
boyuan Guan
get the hell outta my face, I'm 1:30 min in and already see major errors on the most basic stuff. Do some research for god's sake. If you ask any mandarin speaker about so called "basic colors" they will at least tell you 7 (red赤 orange橙 yellow黄 green绿 blueish-green青 blue 蓝 purple紫), as for the other colors yes we do have names those as well pink 粉, brown棕, gray灰 as well as many other color names. VOX you are not educating people with these sloppy, minimally informative shorts. You are only trying to make your viewers feel educated by feeding them junk food for the brain.

I am quite skeptical of these so called results. As far as I know, when it comes to the study of languages based on experimental tests, it's rarely if not never reproducible just because of the small sample size compared to the large amount of people speaking each language, each person limited by their own language capabilities and upbringing. Even within the same dialect, subtle nuances to unfamiliar ears could make huge differences to native speakers.
James Risk
"blue was fairly scarce before manufacturing"

does that mean the sky is manufactured
xSkj
back in 1900 they only had black and white
Bill CX
What kind of program did you use to make those infographics?
Thanks.
Théo A. Monteiro
"Despite our many differences across cultures and societies, there is something universal about how humans try to make sense of the world". That is gold!
Mirko Kemna
what kind of spectrum are you showing at 1:00? certainly not the real one based on physics
Hương Mija
Why does the music in the history park have to sound so negative and scary???????
21cgIN
well, in greek the word for blue is originally: κυανος, so i don't understand what this scientist is on about. Also, Homer might have described the sea as wine for literary purposes, not to actually say that it is red.
My name is Joe aka my name is no
yea I'm American, but I'm also an artist, I probably have over 50 colors in my thought of color, but there is an infinite amount of color I am unable to name
toddles9
Similarly, in the Middle Ages, we didn't have individual names for all colours like we do today. Colours tended to be named after their shades. So purple, would have been called blue, orange would have been called red etc.
This is the reason we call people with orange hair redheads.
Gavrilo Princip
Really good video. Very interesting.
Gavrilo Princip
Really good video. Very interesting.
peanutaxis
"Red is fundamentally more distinct than the other colours"

WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY???????????????
KingBobXIV
Good video overall and interesting content, but my god, the production quality was fantastic, especially the music and sound design.

From the credits it looks like you had eight people for that alone, making up half the team. Resources well spent imo.
yunyo1983
What's the instrument Paul Kay is playing at 1:11?
Paul O'Sullivan
If you are going to bandy around words like racism you need to learn what it means first. Researchers then did not have genetic tests to show how similar we all are nor did they have social experiments which had shown the same thing. Evolution does create differences over time they just didn't know then that not enough time had passed for the other cultures to be "less evolved". They were looking at what evidence they had and creating a hypothesis. In science you have to push the truth whether it's a truth you like or not and that means proposing and testing and hypotheses. The scientists were not racist but you are bigoted for trying to label them as such.
DecimusYna
"Bahasa"?
The correct one is "Bahasa Indonesia". :)
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