Missives from a fly bottle
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Last revised 18 October 2017
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106. The surprising pattern behind color names around the world (2017)

In 1969, two Berkeley researchers, Paul Kay and Brent Berlin, published a book on a groundbreaking idea: that every culture in history, when they developed their languages, invented words for colors in exactly the same order.

They claimed to know this from a simple color identification test, where respondents identified colored chips by name. If a language had six color words, they were black, white, red, green, yellow, and blue. If it had four, they were black, white, red, and either green or yellow. If it had three, they were black, white, and red, and so on. The theory was revolutionary and it shaped our understanding of how color terms emerge. (7 minutes)