EDITORS: MacLaury, Robert; Paramei, Galina; Dedrick, Don
TITLE: Anthropology of Color
SUBTITLE: Interdisciplinary multilevel modeling
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
Rick Nouwen, Utrecht Institute for Linguistics, Utrecht University
Color naming and categorization is a hugely cross-disciplinary field of inquiry,
combining anthropological, linguistic and psychological research efforts. This
is a collected volume of papers on color naming research that seeks to do
justice to the interdisciplinary character of the color naming discussion. At
the same time, it tries to bring together contributions from various corners of
the world. In particular, one of the ideas behind the volume was to bridge the
gap between Western European and North American research traditions and the
large body of Eastern European and Russian literature on color categorization.
The idea for the book came from Robert E. MacLaury, first editor for the volume
and a well-respected authority on all parts of this complex field. MacLaury died
in 2004, well before the volume was finished. The book is dedicated to his memory.
Mention color naming, and Brent Berlin and Paul Kay's seminal work _Basic color
terms: their universality and evolution_ (1969) immediately springs to mind.
Berlin and Kay argued, against linguistic relativism, that the naming of color
is not arbitrary but rather subject to universal constraints that find their
origin in perception. They presented a model representing a set of fixed
evolutionary stages for which basic colors are encoded in a language. In many
ways, Berlin and Kay's book constitutes a landmark study and a lot of the
subsequent work on color categorization can be seen as building on or reacting
to its proposed model. To a certain extent, this volume pays similar respect. In
fact, of the twenty-six contributions in the book, only four do not refer to
Berlin and Kay's book. At the same time, however, it goes beyond the tradition
set by Berlin and Kay. Many contributions address the issues raised by them only
indirectly or marginally.
The collection consists of three parts: one on color perception, one on color
cognition and one on color semiosis.
Part I: Perception
Part I starts off with a survey article on hue categorization and color naming
by Marc Bornstein. He addresses a reconciliation of an apparent universal
categorization of hues with an overwhelming diversity in color naming,
emphasizing the role of physiological processes.
In their paper ''Individual and population differences in focal colors'', Michael
Webster and Paul Kay turn to the observation that despite the universal
structural consistency of how languages categorize colors, there seems to be
quite a lot of variation in color naming on an individual basis within a single
language. Webster and Kay argue that such inter-individual variability cannot be
taken as evidence for linguistic relativity, arguing in contrast that the
variability itself might have aspects of universality to it. The differences
between individuals in a population are suggested to be the result of rather
weak constraints on color categories, which opens up the possibility of
contextual influences on color naming.
Olga Safuanova and Nina Korzh turn to non-basic, compound and modified Russian
color terms and investigate the area of the color space such terms are mapped
to. Russian is interesting since it potentially constitutes an exception to
Berlin and Kay's basic color theory by having two basic terms for `blue'. One of
these blues, 'goluboj', although treated by native speakers of Russian as basic,
has certain characteristics of a non-basic term. In her paper ''Russian
'blues''', Galina Paramei addresses the issue whether 'goluboj' is basic or not
and concludes that there is more and more evidence for two basic terms for blue.
Paramei comes to this conclusion on the basis of developmental data and the
results of several behavioural tasks.
Roger Schoentag and Barbara Schaefer-Priess survey the work of the German
ophthalmologist Hugo Magnus, who, in the second part of the 19th century,
pioneered the study of the relation between color perception and color naming.
Schoentag and Schaefer-Priess argue that the work of Magnus bears an interesting
similarity to Berlin and Kay's evolutionary approach.
Part II: Cognition
Part II starts with a paper by the late Robert MacLaury on a color category that
exists in over sixty percent of all languages and involves speakers combining
desaturation and complexity in the color space. The paper presents a historic
overview of research into desaturated-complex color and presents three levels of
modeling it: a sensorial, perception and cognition model. The latter is couched
in MacLaury's Vantage Theory, which relates color categorization not just to
perception, but moreover to cognitive viewpoints (or vantages).
Seija Kerttula investigates the diachronic development of English color terms
showing support for universal development as well as suggestions that this
development is subject to cultural intervention (as e.g. the influence of (the)
French after the Norman Conquest of 1066). The data discussed by Kerttula are
presented in the light of an idea of ''relative basicness'', where how basic a
term is is mapped to a degree based on a number of parameters (such as frequency
and derivational productivity). According to Kerttula, such relative measures
help to isolate universal trends from historical influences. Kerttula moreover
discusses Finnish (which differs from English in not having had a French influence.)
Carole Biggam discusses various senses of brightness in the color naming
literature and makes a plea for less ambiguity, based on writings about the
notion of brightness in Old English color.
The remainder of Part II contains an amazing diversity of studies, focusing on
different language classes from different eras. A common theme in many of these
papers is the presentation of an extremely detailed description of color
categorization in a (class of) language(s), which is then related to more
theoretical literature (in particular the evolutionary picture as presented by
Berlin and Kay). Vilja Oja's paper gives a detailed discussion of color naming
in Estonian and its cognate languages. In ''color terms in ancient Egyptian and
Coptic'', Wolfgang Schenkel presents an overview of his work on Egyptian and
Coptic. In ''Basic color term evolution in light of ancient evidence from the
near east'', David Warburton turns to ancient languages and relates the
(potentially conflicting) data they yield to Berlin and Kay's universalist
evolutionary theory. Maria Bulakh turns to Old Ethiopic and surveys the
transition of its basic color terms from the color term system of Proto-Semitic.
Alexander Borg presents a (partly historic) overview of color categorization in
colloquial Arabic. In James Stanlaw's paper we find another example of a
comparison of an extremely fine-grained data set with Berlin and Kay's model.
Stanlaw's ''Japanese color terms, from 400CE to the present'' presents evidence
from early Japanese that is problematic to this model. Rather than denouncing
Berlin and Kay's theory, Stanlaw suggests that such data indicate the complexity
of color and its cognitive and socio-cultural interactions.
The penultimate article in part II is by Albert Heinrich. This is one of the
more obscure papers in the volume. It was written in 1974, but never properly
published (nor, apparently, presented). This rather short work presents a
description of color terms in a form of Alemannisch spoken in Colonia Tovar, an
ethnically distinct community in Venezuela.
Finally, Theraphan L-Thongkum focuses on the Mien language (as spoken in
northern Thailand). This is yet another case where the data found are mostly,
yet not fully, compatible with the evolutionary stages as presented in Berlin
and Kay's influential model.
Part III: Semiosis
Gunnar Bergh turns to the (recent) historical development of (Swedish) car
color names, from short terms like plain ''blue'' to longer and more complex
expressions like ''Parisian blue metallic'', and inquires into the reasons behind
this development. The somewhat shallow conclusion from a corpus survey of
existing car color names is that the longer expressions serve both a descriptive
function and a function of strengthening positive associations that come with a
color (''jazz blue'', ''magic grey'').
Another corpus study is presented by Anders Steinvall, who investigated
occurrence patterns of color terms and emotion expressions. One finding is that
conceptualization is to a considerable extent of an embodied nature, as is for
instance illustrated by the use of facial color for expressing emotion.
Ekaterina Rakhilina turns to Russian color names and investigates them in terms
of their nontrivial ''combinability'' with nouns. Alena Anishchanka analyzes the
use of color words in descriptions of paintings and observes a frequent
nominalization of (both basic and non-basic) color terms. The descriptions of
paintings, in other words, contain references to colors as if they were
entities. In Brent Galloway's paper, the color terms of Halkomelen (a central
Salish language) are studied in terms of metaphorical cognitive models. Another
paper rooted in cognitive linguistics is by Lyudmila Popovic, and addresses the
use of color terms in Slavic folklore. Dessislava Stoeva-Holm turns to color
terms in (German) fashion magazines and observes that basic color terms have a
high frequency, because of their versatility of use. Irenea Vankova turns to how
color is used in the Czech conceptualization, with special focus on the coloring
of the human face. Liudmila Samarina investigates the role of age and gender in
color categorization, on the basis of data from Caucasus languages. The main
result is that the elderly and the females have a tendency to use descriptive
color terms (such as ''the color of a pigeon's neck'').
The final paper of the volume is by Barbara Saunders. This is a deep reflection
on color science in general and color anthropology in particular, and a critique
on the program of color categorization as it has been since the invention of
evolutionary model of Berlin and Kay.
This is a very rich book, grouping together fields such as anthropology,
cognitive psychology, psychonomy, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, cognitive
linguistics, corpus linguistics and history and philosophy of science. As such,
it gives an insight in an incredibly complex field.
I wonder, however, whether the book is in some sense not just too excessively
multi-disciplinary. Although there are many first rate articles in this book, I
felt that as a collected volume, the book lacked coherence. The main problem is
that there is simply no common research question. The volume presents an
excellent overview of the broadness and complexity of the field, but at times I
wished for a more focused and inter-connected collection of papers. Related to
this is the fact that I failed to see the philosophy behind the book's three
parts. Especially part 2, ''color cognition'', fails to coherently emphasize
cognitive aspects of color categorization. This is mainly due to the large
number of papers in this part of the book offering descriptive studies of an
equally large variety of languages. Sure, these papers have a theoretical side
to them as well, and links to cognition are made. However, the main emphasis
hardly seems to be color cognition. The idea behind part 3 containing lots of
papers of the ''use'' of color terms is somewhat clearer. Still, here there is an
enormous divide between, on the one hand, the cognitive linguistic studies of,
say, Brent Galloway, Lyudmila Popovic and Irena Vankova, and on the other the
philosophy of anthropology of Barbara Saunders.
Perhaps, critique along these lines simply ignores the main goal of this volume,
namely to collect work from the full diversity of viewpoints on color
anthropology. For those linguists who are familiar with little more than Berlin
and Kay's pioneering work, it will be difficult to cope with the enormous
diversity of topics, but at the same time this book will be a treasure of
alternative approaches, additional data and competing models. My guess is that
for the average linguist interested in categorization (and not particularly in
color) this work is a great asset and that s/he will easily forgive the lack of
structure. Maybe such linguists should treat this book as a collection of
volumes. For instance, the language diversity papers in part 2 form a coherent
and interesting set of studies. Similarly, the cognitive (and corpus) linguistic
studies in part 3 share a single focus.
On a completely different note, one critical remark on the book's layout is in
order. There is a total lack of section numbering in this book: chapters,
sections, subsections are all merely accompanied with a title. This makes it
sometimes difficult to get familiar with the structure of an article, especially
since the only difference between sections and subsections is a hard to spot
difference in weight of the font.
To sum up, this volume is an impressively diverse collection and a testimony of
what (forgive the pun) a colorful field color categorization is.
Berlin, Brent and Paul Kay. (1969) _Basic color terms: their universality and
evolution_. Berkeley: University of California Press.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rick Nouwen is a post-doctoral researcher at the Utrecht Institute for