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The Linguistic Significance of the Meanings of Basic Color Terms

Paul Kay and Chad K. McDaniel
Language
Vol. 54, No. 3 (Sep., 1978), pp. 610-646
DOI: 10.2307/412789
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/412789
Page Count: 37
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The Linguistic Significance of the Meanings of Basic Color Terms
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Abstract

There are semantic universals in the domain of color; i.e. there are constraints on the types of possible basic color lexicons. These constraints arise from the structure and function of the visual system. Thus in the case of color at least, rather than language determining perception (cf. Sapir and Whorf), it is perception that determines language. In deriving the semantic universals from properties of the visual system, one must employ a continuous rather than discrete mathematics, in particular the theory of fuzzy sets. The resulting model of color semantics thus conflicts with the discrete-feature concept of semantic primes shared by structuralists and generativists. It is argued on this basis that discrete-feature semantic theories are of limited accuracy.

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