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Summary Details

Query:   Berlin & Kay & ESL for children
Author:  Steven Schaufele
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   General Linguistics

Summary:   Dear Colleagues,

A little over a month ago, I posted a query (Linguist 15.752) on behalf of one of my students about children in ESL mastering words for colours relatively high on the Berlin/Kay hierarchy -- `black', `white', `red' -- more efficiently/easier/earlier than words for colours farther down the hierarchy. I apologize for taking so long to post a summary of responses; I can only plead the pressures of a heavy course load, exams, textbook-writing, etc.

First of all, I'd like to thank the following people for responding:
John Archibald
Laura Callahan
Greville G. Corbett
Joseph Hilferty
Mike Maxwell
Anne-Marie Langvall Olsen
Damian Satterthwaite-Phillips
Xin Wang (Margaret)
Lynell Williams

Several respondents reported anecdotal evidence corroborating my student's experience. Some wondered (rhetorically) whether first-language learners display similar discrepancies with regard to relative ease of acquisition of colour-terms in their `native' languages. A couple of respondents offered intriguing hypotheses to the effect that the Berlin/Kay hierarchy correlates with frequency of usage of the relevant terms in a particular language, which may make it easier for learners to master the terms for the colours relatively high on the hierarchy (since those terms are used more often) than those for colours farther down, to which they presumably would be exposed fairly rarely.

I received the following references to literature:

Ian R. L. Davies, Greville G. Corbett, Harry McGurk & Catriona MacDermid. 1998. `A developmental study of the acquisition of Russian colour terms.' Journal of Child Language 25:395-417.
E. Bartlett. 1978. `The acquisition of the meaning of color terms: a study of lexical development' in R. Campbell & P. Smith, eds. Recent Advances in the Psychology of Language.
Nicola J. Pitchford & Kathy T. Mullen. 2002. `Is the acquisition of basic-colour terms in young children constrained?' Perception 31:1349-1370. (Electronic version available.)

In addition, one respondent mentioned Eleanor Rosch' study of the acquisition of colour vocabulary among the Dani of New Guinea (reported in Rosch 1973, `Natural Categories', Cognitive Psychology 4:328-50). As summarized in George Lakoff's _Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things_ (pp. 310-11), what Rosch found was that, while the Dani have only two basic colour words in their own language, they are `readily able to learn and remember arbitrary names for what Berlin & Kay called ''focal colors'' ... [but] showed difficulty learning and remembering names for nonfocal colours.' (As Lakoff notes, these data are compatible with a variety of interpretations with regard to the cognitive categories of the Dani people.)

Again, thanks to all respondents! Best, Steven Steven Schaufele (Ph.D.) Assoc. Prof. (Linguistics) English Dept., Soochow University Waishuanghsi Campus Shihlin District Taipei 11102, Taiwan (02)2881-9471 ext. 6504 (O) (02)2877-1090 (H)

LL Issue: 15.1174
Date Posted: 10-Apr-2004
Original Query: Read original query


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