Categorical color perception: Influence of cultural factors on the differentiation of primary and derived basic color terms in color naming by Japanese children

Categorical color perception: Influence of cultural factors on the differentiation of primary and derived basic color terms in color naming by Japanese children

b’trinn Res. Vol. 28. No. 12. pp. 1379-1382, 1988 Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved Copyright 0042~6989.88 $3.00 + 0.00 ,E 1988 Pergamon...

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b’trinn Res. Vol. 28. No. 12. pp. 1379-1382, 1988 Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved


0042~6989.88 $3.00 + 0.00 ,E 1988 Pergamon Press plc


Laboratorium, Eidgendssische Technische Hochschule (ETH). CH-8092 Ziirich, Switzerland (Received 30 March


Abstract-Color naming tests with Japanese children (age 12-15) in Yonezawa, Tokyo and Diisseldorf (Germany) demonstrate that the primary basic color terms based on Hering’s opponent color scheme are not influenced by the increasing Western cultural influence from Yonezawa to Tokyo and to Diisseldorf. The derived color terms for brown, orange and pink hues do appear to be influenced. however. The results support and extend the findings of Uchikawa and Boynton (1987). They verify the hypothesis that the psycholinguistics of color naming are based on a universal neurobiology of human color vision. Color vision perception

Differentiation of primary and derived color terms Color naming Cultural influence on color naming


Recently, Uchikawa and Boynton (1987) published in this journal a comparison of the categorical color ~rception of Japanese and American observers. The result is a remarkable confirmation of the universality of the hypothesis of basic color terms proposed by Berlin and Kay (1969) to identify categorically distinct color sensations. Uchikawa and Boynton used a naming method for 424 OSA color samples. They found that there are 11 basic color terms in each of these two languages: Shiro (white), kuro (black), aka (red), ki (yellow), midori (green), ao {blue), cha (brown), murasaki (purple), momo (pink), daidai (orange), and hai (grey).* It is claimed that these terms describe fundamental color sensations which are dependent on an underlying neurobiology common to both Japanese and American people. In this Short Communication, we report some observations on color naming by Japanese children which fully support Uchikawa and Boynton’s results. In addition, they show clearly a differentiation of the eleven basic color terms *To some of these Japanese words, the word “ire” (“colored”) may be added (see examples later).

Categorical color

into two groups. The neurobiological basis of color vision is thereby demonstrated in greater detail. Shortly after Berlin and Kay (1969) published their sequence of color terms, we postulated (1972) that the first six of the II color terms reflect Hering’s scheme of opponent colors in color vision (1874). Hering’s scheme was not accepted for many decades until it was verified in psychophysical measurements by Jameson and Hurvich (1955), in electroretinograms by Svaetichin (1952) and by de Valois et al. (1958). Later, we confirmed our postulate by linguistic investigations (Zollinger, 1973, 1976: von Wattenwyl and Zollinger, 1978, 1979). On the basis of that differentiation, Kay and McDaniel (1978) proposed to call the six first terms primary, the others derived basic color terms. METHODS

We made use of the test which we developed in the 1970s for the evaluation of color vocabularies and for color sample naming in various languages {see Zollinger, 1976; and von Wattenwyl and Zollinger, 1979, for a more detailed description). First, the subjects were asked to



Short Communication

write down color terms considered to be “absolutely necessary” and terms regarded as “desirable” for a minimum color lexicon. Next, they were shown and asked to name a set of 117 Munsell color samples. We performed our tests with three groups of 47.-53 Japanese children of the same age (12--l 5) at the following locations: (1) Yonezawa (Yamagata Prefecture), a town of approx. 100,000 inhabitants, 250 km North from Tokyo; (2) Suginami-ku, Tokyo; and (3) the International Japanese School in Dusseldorf (Federal Republic of Germany), where Japanese children live with their families in a European environment. It can be assumed that the Western influence increases in the respective sequence of locations given above. The details of all the tests were discussed by Iijima and Zollinger (1980) and by Iijima et al. (1982). RESULTS


In this Short Communication we refer mainly to the first part of our investigation, i.e. the color vocabulary test, corresponding to Uchikawa and Boynton’s results (1987). The differentiation of color terms as asked for in our test (“absolutely necessary” terms and “desirable” terms) enabled a classification scheme based on a subjective and intuitive scale of importance. We postulate, therefore, that the terms mentioned as “absolutely necessary” by the Japanese children in the three locations (Yonezawa, Tokyo and Dusseldorf) are more likely to be basic color terms than the “desirable” ones according to the definition of Berlin and Kay (1969). In Table 1 the results are given for primary basic color terms, derived basic color terms of Japanese and foreign (borrowed) origin, respectively. For comparison, the respective results obtained earlier (Zollinger, 1976) pertaining to science students speaking Japanese, (Swiss) German and (British) English are added. With two exceptions, the large majority of Japanese children at all three locations con*Therefore, when color television was introduced in Japan. the Japanese did not translate that expression literally (“ire no terebi”) rather, it was called “tennenshoku terebi” = natural television! Black-and-white television is considered by the Japanese as a two-color process, not a colorless processIn recent years the term, “tennenshoku terebi” is more and more replaced by the internationalized term “color terebi”.

siders the six primary, basic color terms as abso. lutely necessary. The percentages are. within experimental error, identical to those obtained with Japanese science students. The two exceptions are “midori” (green) in Yonezawa (66%) and “ki” (yellow) in Tokyo (70°!n). We have no explanation for the low percentage of “ki”. In the case of “midori”, however. the low percentage at a location with relatively little international relations is understandable: it is known that “midori” is a color t.erm used commonly in Japan only since several centuries. Previously, “ao” was used for blue und green shades. Even today “ao” is applied to green leaves (poetic use) and to green traffic lights (official use). The older stage <)r the Japanese language with only “ao” as an undifferentiated category encompassing green and blue is wellknown in Berlin and Kay’s evolutionary scheme (1969) for many languages. A good example for that stage is Quechi, a Guatemaltekan Indian language which we investigated in the course of our tests (von Wattenwyl and Zollinger. 1978). The differentiation between “ao” and ‘“midori” still is in progress today as can be seen in the distances between the focal samples for blue and green in the Munsell color body: that distance increases from 15 Munsell hue units in Yonezawa to 20 in Tokyo and 27 in Dusseldorf (see Iijima er ai.. 1982; in comparison: 22 and 30 units for Japanese and German science students, respectively, see Zollinger, 19761 More important is the fact that the percentages pertaining to the achromatic color terms “shire” and “kuro” (white and black) at all three locations as well as for Japanese students are much higher than the percentages in German and English. This is caused by a semantic problem: according to common Japanese standards, the word for “color” I ‘“it-o”) includes chromatic and achromatic hues? In German and English, however. most native speakers use the words “Farbe” and “color” for chromatic colors only. In Western languages words like “color” are antonyms to achromatic hues. The importance of “shire”’ also becomes evident by Uchikawa and Boynton’s result (1987, Table 4) in that the response time for naming color samples was by far lowest for white samples (1.90 set) compared to black (2.25 set), red, yellow, green and blue (average 2.13 set), derived basic colors (average 2.26 set) and nonbasic colors (average 2.50 set). For derived basic color terms, cultural infhience is easily detectable. *‘Cha-ire” (literally


Short Communication

Table 1. Basic color terms referred to in color vocabulary tests as “absolutely necessary” by Japanese children, Japanese, German and English science students (data from Iijima et al., 1982; and Zollinger, 1976)* Japanese children Dusseldorf Tokyo Yonezawa


Tokyo (Japanese)

Science students Zurich (German)

Zurich (English)

Primary basic color terms

Shiro Kuro Ki Aka Midori Ao

white black yellow red green blue

84 76 82 96 66 96

92 87 70 92 85 91

87 81 91 100 87 96

96 96 89 94 87 89

70 60 93 96 98 98

50 62 88 100 88 100

(orange) brown (pink) grey purple orange pink

26 18 6 2 10 4 I8

6 45 0 9 13 I.5 40

4 62 0 I.5 II 15 28

352 0 0 11 4 27

(;z!) (0) 19 19 12 (0)

(26:) (25) 12 25 25 25

Derived basic color terms

(original Japanese) Daidai Cha-iro Momo-iro Hai Murasaki (borrowed) Orange-iro Pink

*The numbers refer to the percentage of participants who list the given term as “absolutely necessary” (for pink: as “desirable”). Terms in Japanese and English as indicated. German as translated; ( ) means that there is no accurate corresponding term in English and/or German, respectively.

“tea-colored”) increases dramatically from Yonezawa to Tokyo and to Dusseldorf (see Table 1). In Dusseldorf, it has, within experimental error, the same percentage as “braun” in German! The genuine Japanese word “daidai” (literally bitter orange) is gradually replaced by the international word ~‘orange(-ire)“. The same effect can be seen for “momo-ire” (literally “peach-colored”) and “pink”. Very interesting and probably statistically significant is the observation that “pink” has a higher percentage in Tokyo than in Dusseldorf. It reflects the fact that English is the dominant foreign language in Tokyo. In Dusseldorf, German is of course dominant. The term “pink” has, however, no German counterpart. Many Germans, even among those who speak English, do not know what “pink” means. The relatively frequent use of some non-basic color ferms in Japanese seems to be influenced also by Western influence as shown by “kimidori” (yellowish green) and “mizu” (literally “water”) which both decrease in frequency in the sequence Yonezawa~Tokyo~D~sseldor~ ki-midori 42, 34, 25; mizu 46,40, 25 (figures for sum of “absolutely necessary” + “desirable”).


Our color vocabulary and color sample naming tests with large groups of 12-15-year-old Japanese children in three locations with an increasingly Western influence show that, in

accordance to Uchikawa and Boynton (1987), color vocabulary and color naming reflect the neurobiological basis of color vision. This conclusion is strengthened and extended by various observations which show that the primary Japanese color terms which are based on “pure” neurobiological sensations (white, black, red, yellow, green and blue) are resistant against the influence of foreign cultures, in particular the English and the German language. This is, however, not the case for derived color terms, in particular brown, orange and pink. For such shades, genuine Japanese terms are gradually replaced by borrowed words and the subjective importance given to terms for these shades approaches values which are not typical any more for the Japanese culture, rather for a Westernized culture. REFERENCES

Berlin B. and Kay P. (1969) Basic Color Terms, their C’ni~~suli~yund Evolution. University of California Press, Berkeley. de Valois R. L., Smith J., Karoiy A. J. and Kitai S. T. (1958) Electrical responses of primate visual system. J. camp. physiol. Psychol. 51, 662-678.

Hering E. (1874) Grundziige einer Theorie des Farbensinnes. Sber. &vst.Akad. Wiss., Abt III, 70, 169.-204. Iijima T. and Zollinger H. (1980) Color naming in Japanese. Some remarks on cultural factors [in Japanese]. ~j~pon Sh~k~~u~guk~ Ku&hi (J. Color Sci. Ass. Jpn) 4(4), 134-139.

Iijima T., Wenning W. and Zollinger H. (1982) Cultural factors of color naming in Japanese: naming tests with Japanese children in Japan and Europe. Anthrop. Ling. 24, 245-262.


Short ~;ommunication

Jameson D. and Hurv~ch L. M. (195.5) Some quantitative aspects of an opponent-color theory. J. o>/~r, SW. Am. 45, 602-616. Kay P. and McDaniel c‘. K. (1978) The linguistic signtficance of the meanings of basic color terms. Languugc, 54, 6 [O--646. Svaetichin G. (1951) The cone action potential. .4c,!upf7,wiol. Stand. 29, Suppl. 106, 565~.600. Uchikawa K. and Boynton R. M. (1987) Categorical color perception of Japanese observers: comparison with that of Americans, C&r I ‘iswn 27, 1825 1833. von Wattenwyl A and Zolhnger H. (1978) The color lexica

of two American Indian languages. Quechi and Misquito. Inr. J. Am. Ling. 44, 56-68. \on Wattenwyl A. and Zollinger H / 1979) Color-term saltence and neurophysrolugy !~t .&r vision. Am .-lnrhrrtp. 81, 279. 288. Zollinger H. (1977) Human color v~,n as an mterdisciplinary research problem. P&rrc~ 40, 1 7. Zollinger H. (1973) Zusammenhlnge ztischen Farbbenennung und Bto!ogie des Farbensehenh beim Menschen. Ji’Wh. ~~~li74~~i~~SC~1, Gcs. Zii’ridi Ifs, ‘.” 755 Zollinger ti. ( 19761A linguistic approach to the cog&ton of colour v&ion in man. F&u iitir IX-i-4. 265 --293.