Communicative need in colour naming

TitleCommunicative need in colour naming
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsZaslavsky, N., Kemp C., Tishby N., & Regier T.
Published inCognitive Neuropsychology
Date Published04/2019
Keywordscolor naming; categorization, Information theory, semantic typology

Color naming across languages has traditionally been held to reflect the structure of
color perception. At the same time, it has often, and increasingly, been suggested that
color naming may be shaped by patterns of communicative need. However, much remains
unknown about the factors involved in communicative need, how need interacts
with perception, and how this interaction may shape color naming. Here, we engage
these open questions by building on general information-theoretic principles. We
present a systematic evaluation of several factors that may reflect need, and that have
been proposed in the literature: capacity constraints, linguistic usage, and the visual environment. Our analysis suggests that communicative need in color naming is reflected more directly by capacity constraints and linguistic usage than it is by the statistics of the visual environment.


We thank Joshua Abbott for helpful discussions, and Delwin Lindsey and Angela Brown for kindly sharing their English color-naming data with us. This study was partially supported by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation (N.Z. and N.T.), and by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (N.Z. and T.R.); the content of the study does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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