Academic journal article Trames

Distribution of Colour Terms in Ostwald's Colour Space in Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Russian and English

Academic journal article Trames

Distribution of Colour Terms in Ostwald's Colour Space in Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Russian and English

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Colour terms have been extensively studied in many languages since Brent Berlin and Paul Kay published their seminal work "Basic color terms. Their universality and evolution" (1969). In this study they tried to identify the basic colour terms in ninety-eight languages, from which the data for twenty languages from a number of unrelated families was collected by empirical tests with native-speaking subjects. Their hypothesis was that all languages have maximally 11 basic colour term inventories and the colour term inventory of all languages evolved, or will evolve, according to a certain hierarchical order.

The criteria for a term to be basic were also set out by Berlin and Kay. The original Berlin and Kay field method (which they used for data collection in twenty languages) for establishing basic colour terms consisted of eliciting candidates for basic colour terms from their subjects, then mapping the referents of these on a Munsell colour chart consisting of 329 colour chips, and, finally, asking their informants to mark both the focal point (i.e. the best example of a colour term) and the outer boundary of a colour term (1969:5). A few years later Eleanor Rosch Heider conducted several experiments for identifying the focal points of different languages in the Munsell array (1971, 1972). The Berlin and Kay procedure has been adapted by Robert MacLaury (1997), who asked his subjects to place a grain of rice on each exemplar of a colour term in the same Munsell chart as used by Berlin and Kay, in order to map the domain of reference of each term. The imperfection of the method is that it takes a considerable amount of time with each subject. Davies and Corbett have critically pointed out that this method is also relatively cumbersome to establish the degree of consensus across speakers (1995). They instead propose a new field method based on Berlin and Kay's original procedure, consisting of a colour term elicitation task to elicit the basic term candidates, which is followed by a mapping procedure on a restricted set of just 65 colour tiles (Davies et al. 1992, Davies and Corbett 1994, 1995). The 65-set stimuli is a subset of the Color Aid set, based on the colour system of Wilhelm Ostwald and not that of Munsell. The criteria for picking these particular 65 colour samples, the Color Aid designation, as well as the CIE coordinates of the stimuli, can be found in Davies et al. (1992).

The field method of Davies and Corbett is described in this article more exactly henceforward. The only deficiency of this field method is that it uses predetermined colour stimuli which may not correspond to focal points (or best examples) in certain languages. The whole procedure of this method lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, thus allowing relatively large numbers of informants to be tested. Languages which colour terms have been tested with this method are comparable.

In this article, five languages--Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Russian and English--are taken into consideration. For all these the data is collected by using the field method of Davies and Corbett. The originality of this article lies in the comparison of the data of the colour naming task, where the subjects are shown 65 colour samples and asked how they would name each colour in their native language. For Estonian, the data used is that of Urmas Sutrop (1995, 2000, 2002), for Russian and English it is taken from the articles by Davies and Corbett (1994, 1995). For Hungarian and Finnish, the data has been collected by the author and has been partly presented beforehand (Bogatkin-Uuskula and Sutrop 2005a, b).

This study thus aims to find the answers to the following questions: 1) How are the colour names distributed in Ostwald's colour space, and which colour samples (or tiles) correspond to the best examples (or focal points) of each basic colour term in all five languages? 2) What are the similarities and differences of the names of the colour samples between languages? …

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