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The surprising pattern behind color names around the world

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Why so many languages invented words for colors in the same order. Help us make more ambitious videos by joining the Vox Video Lab. It gets you exclusive perks, like livestream Q&As with all the Vox creators, a badge that levels up over time, and video extras bringing you closer to our work! Learn more at http://bit.ly/video-lab In 1969, two Berkeley researchers, Paul Kay and Brent Berlin, published a book on a pretty groundbreaking idea: that every culture in history, when they developed their languages, invented words for colors in the exact same order. They claimed to know this based off of a simple color identification test, where 20 respondents identified 330 colored chips by name. If a language had six words, they were always black, white, red, green, yellow, and blue. If it had four terms, they were always black, white, red, and then either green or yellow. If it had only three, they were always black, white, and red , and so on. The theory was revolutionary — and it shaped our understanding of how color terminologies emerge. Read more on the research mentioned in this video: Cook, Kay, and Regier on the World Color Survey: goo.gl/MTUi9C Stephen C. Levinson on Yele color terms: goo.gl/CYDfvw John A. Lucy on Hanunó'o color terms: goo.gl/okcyC3 Loreto, Mukherjee, and Tria on color naming population simulations: goo.gl/rALO1S To learn more about how your language's color words can affect the way you think, check out this video lecture: goo.gl/WxYi1q Vox.com is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out http://www.vox.com to get up to speed on everything from Kurdistan to the Kim Kardashian app. Check out our full video catalog: http://goo.gl/IZONyE Follow Vox on Twitter: http://goo.gl/XFrZ5H Or on Facebook: http://goo.gl/U2g06o
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Text Comments (5186)
ArkhamInmateE32b (1 hour ago)
5:16 Riiight... because we see blood way more often that we see the sky.
Red Butterfly (1 day ago)
I am from the ph and i dont know what word that is? Sure its from ph? In school they always say our skin color is kayumanging kaligatan but what?
ArkhamInmateE32b (1 hour ago)
Red Butterfly You don't know much about the various languages of your own country. That's sad.
Sigyn (2 days ago)
This is incredibly useful for conlanging.
Rich Russet (2 days ago)
Always feel like vox piques my interest and then abandons me. Make longer format videos please!
alvedonaren (2 days ago)
I'm reminded of how you can see red lights in the dark without blinding yourself. Clearly there is something special in how we humans percieve the color red compared to the other colors.
Dong Hai STUDIO (3 days ago)
0:43 is my favorite color. Coincidentally, they showed it in my mother tongue.
SweetmeatsFan (3 days ago)
It makes sense. Despite language differences, we explore and percieve the world in the same way.
Lilje Polak (3 days ago)
Purpurnyy... Purpurnyy doesn't mean purple in Russian tho... We actually don't even use purpurnyy (пурпуровый) that often... Well, we sometimes use it to describe magenta, but generally that's not a word you'll hear often. What we use REALLY often is: Purple in Russian is: Sirenevyy (сиреневый) Violet is: Fioletovyy (лиловый) So like... Ya Maybe use something else than Google translate next time, makes you a less trustable resource.
Kelvin Thenedy (3 days ago)
Violet? Ultramarine? Cream? Turquoise?
Chandan Bhowal (3 days ago)
I don't understand why Red must be named first before blue. Are humans not likely to see blue and green (sky and forest) more than red (blood and fruit) leading them being named first? I can understand blue and green having the same name but still feel like that would get a name before Red.
If you have less than like 10 color names min then you're weird
James McDANIEL (4 days ago)
An infant sees black, white and red initially. Red stands out because of the color of blood - danger. As the cones in the retina of the eyes and the brain synapses develop and process better, then distinct differences in color become apparent when colors of food (fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, nuts, etc.) and associated experiences with those colors are learned. That's why a baby - remembering a sweet purple grape flavored lollipop - may inadvertently place a purple piece of cloth in its mouth. The cones of the retina can distinguish certain frequencies of color. Experience with those frequencies of colors that we process helps us to distinguish between those colors. I remember a study that said seeing the color Pepto-Bismol Pink will help reduce an emotional person's rage (ie: road rage). The reason: Pink is a healthy skin tone color - no red there - so the brains' association of pink goes with calm (no danger). FYI: This info is all conjecture on my part. Just wanted to share what I thought.
Gaia Carney (5 days ago)
What an amazing video! I can’t wait to dive in to this topic, great stuff
NitRøbZ (10 days ago)
That stuff was in our biology test (cerebral plasticity)
Matthew Carandang (10 days ago)
wow its similar to rocks
Жёлтый Зелёный Голубой Синий Пурпурный(лиловый) Розовый Красный Оранжевый Коричневый Чёрный Белый
Мафfin Blackberry (10 days ago)
...when in Russia we just like: oh wow we can't make these colours, ok, they're basic; oh wow we can fuse them and get some more colours, cool, they're basic too Like RED - orange - YELLOW - green - light blue - BLUE - purple - RED That's the rainbow
Brian Bethea (10 days ago)
"Blue was fairly scarce before manufacturing." Have we just forgotten that the sky exists?
Wind Player (11 days ago)
Only #HEX colors
Autistic Cat (12 days ago)
I understood nothing
Leuri Trash (12 days ago)
Spain doesn't like your channel name.
Connor Gun Videos (13 days ago)
Berlin and Kay’s discovery was not racist europeans are just more intelligent
1:44 "Black, then white, are all I see, in my infancy, red and yellow then came to be..." "Lateralus," TOOL.
Ekmek Arası Balgam (13 days ago)
turkish:11 words(there are a few more words but they are not used often in daily life so i didnt say them) siyah-black beyaz-white kırmızı-red sarı-yellow yeşil-green mavi-blue turuncu-orange mor-purple pembe-pink kahverengi-brown gri-gray
Noah Brunstein (13 days ago)
Thought these where some new juul pod flavors
Simple Shadow (14 days ago)
0:43 you wrote the word wrong instead of saying brown you've said build. I forgive you since that was the hardest language in the world that you used and here is the correct way to write brown: بني notice the two dots the make a huge diffrence. some colours in arabic : Black(أسود) White(أبيض) Red(أحمر) Blue(أزرق) Yellow(أصفر) Green(أخضر)
Riccardo (16 days ago)
Kinda reminded me how English speaker can predict if YOU is singular or plural, and American speaker can predict whether you're saying can or can't
Pedro Pascoa (17 days ago)
4:05 exactly like orange... so maybe that's like saying the english language does not have a word for the color orange...
HetaBoi Tino (18 days ago)
Hungarian "Piros" is a bit more complicated, cause we also use "Vörös". Both of them mean red in a way, but we use "Vörös" for more darker reds. Then there's the word "Bordó", which usually is a mix of brown, red and sometimes a purplish color.
cryptorchild x (18 days ago)
Why do color words like teal, maroon, turquoise, etc not count, where Russian has a work for sky blue? What determines a word for a color, be a color opposed to a description?
Afif Brian (14 days ago)
just by simple googling, "teal is a blue-green colour" "maroon is dark reddish purple" so they're just sub color
Kwanjai Sann (19 days ago)
When artist come in with their DarkGoldenRod, MediumOrchid, Moccasin, and freaking Bob Ross
Stash Fulton (21 days ago)
Isn’t this video *colourful*
Argon (21 days ago)
Im a filipino and i didnt know what Hanuno o is until i watched this video lol.
Carson Mathre (21 days ago)
How did everybody miss that these are all in rainbow order?
Sorcerer Vaati64 (22 days ago)
In arabic we have 8 colors. But when it comes to shades of colors like dark light baby sky they use colors of real life objects of those colors to describe the color they are talking about. Meaty =pinkish brown like meat Sugary: white with a tint of yellow like sugar Gazelle Blood: maroon like a gazelle’s blood Coral: pink with tint of orange like the coral Icy: very light blue like ice
The ledgend 27 (23 days ago)
I've never even thought about this that interesting
Wintərly Heīghts (24 days ago)
Always wondered why red hair was never called "orange hair"...
CC (25 days ago)
Blue is in the sky, why would it come after red that comes from blood...
Xu Huiming (26 days ago)
No, Mandarin has a lot more than that.
toomanylayers (27 days ago)
Puppy Sparkles (1 month ago)
Who thought they meant crayons colors?😂
Grampa Swood (1 month ago)
How is blue rare before industrialization, ever looked up at the sky?
ElAburrido (1 month ago)
My language has the same word for red, natural greens, and gray.
mo mo (1 month ago)
this kind of cultural differences and common ground is interesting! support! looking forward for more of this kind of content
Henry Fliss (1 month ago)
Hey, what colour is your hair? Kpe
underestimated kid (1 month ago)
Colour without u is wierd to me
Olivia Seow (1 month ago)
Interesting findings, but at 1:27 there is a mistake. Mandarin Chinese has more than 6 basic colour terms. There is also grey (灰色), brown(褐色), pink(粉色), purple (紫色) and orange (橘色). So essentially it is similar to English, with 11 basic colour terms. However, the narrator may be referring to mandarin at a less evolved stage, where the colours mentioned above may not have existed in the vocabulary yet.
Hyejin (1 month ago)
But what about the new terms we have for inbetween colors? Like burgundy, crimson, maroon, lime, indigo, azure, turquoise, jade, neon yellow etc?
Wojt acki (1 month ago)
"If I (...) asked you what color it is, what would you say" Me: Purple "You propably said blue (...)" Me: Ugh... Why do I have to be colorblind
Vulgar Juice (1 month ago)
Apple Language to English Language Rose Gold = Pink Space Gray = Silver
•Mango• (1 month ago)
Show this video to Crayola
Ellie_Bells 498 (1 month ago)
Me-i think all primary colors now are Red White Black There you go kids your primary colors
MATTERSGAME (1 month ago)
Does mr. Amazing edit these videos? They have the same editing style.
Tiny Ford (1 month ago)
“Blue was rarely scarce”...🤔 Yeah I guess the sky was black and white back then like in the movies of that time..
LIV (2 days ago)
Tiny Ford the sky isn’t blue I think you watched a ten minute video and learned nothing from it dude.
Tiny Ford (1 month ago)
How were those claims racist?! They were accurate.. The fact that the people were not the same race is irrelevant
Pedro Paes (1 month ago)
In Brazil we got an additional color and consequently a new color name which is "cor de burro quando foge", something like "runaway's dunkey's color".
Mister Giraffe (1 month ago)
4:08 I did not know that we had that... In the upper island Luzon, we have words for basic colors, pula/red, kahel/orange, dilaw/yellow, berde/green, bughaw/blue, biyolet/violet... Thanks Vox, now I know more.
Bangtan's Cake (1 month ago)
5:25 don’t tell me they forgot the sky existed for a second. Blue is more prevalent than red in blood hwgwnwjdkoem
Andreana Lee (1 month ago)
*dark...* LIGHT..... and *rED*
MrJustSomeGuy87 (1 month ago)
83% of languages follow this structure...universal!
Martinj1417 (1 month ago)
Your first words were incorrect. It is not a paint chip but a color chip. Pantone got its start in the printing business not the pairing.
rachy ausome (1 month ago)
I get why orange blue or purple would be last, why wouldn't green be first??? Its the main color of plants, something pretty important for living
William Ayabei (1 month ago)
What if we all individually see he world differently ? What if our brains interpret all the electromagnetic waves into visual data differently but we all agree to the same since its just the same frequency? Such that what i see as Red someone else sees something totally different but according to him or her it is still red . This might be a possibility though far fetched
Mount Gaming (1 month ago)
1:30. We have words for purple and pink you know...
Leila Elrgdawy (1 month ago)
To presume that people are colorblind who don’t see the same ones as you is dumb lol
IdioticProgramming (1 month ago)
3:22 "Didnt make these correct claims"
No Name (1 month ago)
I m too dumb to understand this.
Robert Cotrell (1 month ago)
I had heard the Greek bit and the colorblind theory a long time ago. Nice to see some context and additional info. Fascinating stuff!
WeedowMaker (1 month ago)
When looking at flags, and the age of the countries that the flags are from, this makes too much sense.
Mike Wate (1 month ago)
so basically thats why white people are way more autistic than other people
Alana McVey (1 month ago)
I couldn't help but think of our emotional response to color, and the influence it might have. It might be that red evokes a more intense emotional response than other colors due to its relation to blood (e.g., fear, triumph). I am curious if researchers have considered affect in more recent studies on this topic.
Nabil Bennani (1 month ago)
Poorly explained, can't believe you trick people into viewing this
Liam Tahaney (1 month ago)
Vsauce2 did it better
*normalny youtuber* (1 month ago)
0:09 Niebieski (blue) Fioletowy (purple) Czarny (black)
Ewan H (1 month ago)
What the sky and sea for blue
Kylee Robinson (1 month ago)
Sebastien Paquet (1 month ago)
Please express yourself about beige.
TechnoGuz GD (1 month ago)
I call yellowish-green plasma
Cookin with Kef (1 month ago)
But wasn’t homer blind. He probably described color from what he felt or sensed they were.
Buddy Clem (1 month ago)
5:12 "...blue OTOH was fairly scarce before manufacturing." Hello? *THE **_SKY?_*
PRIZM CMYK (1 month ago)
Intresting insight how people in different cultures see and catagorize color
Petar Mitkov (2 months ago)
This is a color video so I'll point it out. As a Bulgarian, I still can't get over the fact that in our language, "blue" and "son" are the same word, which is pronounced "sin" (the closest way of writing it in Latin)
Tarek Mhareb (2 months ago)
Arabic one billion color name
Türker Eker (2 months ago)
I got a question for this. In modern Turkish we mostly use "mavi" as blue bu actually that words origin is not related with the past forms of this languages as it was spoken in the central asia and southern parts of siberia. The original word for it was "gök" which both means sky and blue so our ancestors used sky to determine what is blue. What I want to ask is that in that test they made with 20 people, if there were a Turkish guy, which word should've been used? Mavi or gök? Because today we do have a lot of words for colors, I mean a lot. But they are mostly borrowed and their origins are not really Turkish language, Im really curious about which colors would've been accapted in that test. Another interesting thing about the colors in Turkish, we used them for navigation, like kara means north and also black, while ak means south and also white, meanwhile kızıl goes for east and also for red. I might be wrong about the exact locations they meant but its something like that. Does this makes them actual words for colors or did our ancestors used other things and objects to determine what is a color? I dont really think any of you guys really answer this questions but hey, at least now I have this questions in a written format. I will definitly searc for the answers as sson as my exams are over lol.
imnotaraccoon (2 months ago)
I have heard something similar about this in the Sapir Whorf theory.
Bookgirl333 (2 months ago)
If more evolved cultures have more colour categories And Russian has 12 opposed to English's 11 Does that make communism the correct financial system?
Valentin S. (2 months ago)
Couldn't find anything good by looking for "English basic color categories" whats the source of this term
Philip Lorenz (2 months ago)
Hey! The narrator is Blue from Overly Sarcastic Productions, isn't it? ... Cute. Very clever.
Derill Troy Tacang (2 months ago)
Tagalog! Philippines! Cameo much 😂
lester andes (2 months ago)
My native language only names white (puti), black (itüm) and red (pula). The rest are Spanish loanwords like berde (green), asul (blue), amarillo (yellow), lila (lilac/ purple), and kahel (orange).
anaknipara (2 months ago)
+lester andes I thought you're Tagalog as those were the same words we have. Nope a different word.
lester andes (2 months ago)
anaknipara My mother tongue is one of the Bicol languages and our words for yellow and green come from Spanish. For PINK maybe you are referring to KALIMBAHIN which contains the suffix - hin, showing that isn't a word specific to the pink color rather an adjective derived from a noun. Still a word I might also use in Tagalog but not in my mother tongue.
anaknipara (2 months ago)
You forgot Dilaw for Yellow Bughaw for Blue Luntian for Green Kayumanggi for Brown Malamaya for Gray There's even a name for pink and off white I just can't remember. And Itum is for the Visayan languages Itim is the Taglog word
GLR (2 months ago)
Ooooo shocking ending, there is something similar on how human try to understand the world????!!!!
GLR (2 months ago)
All BS
Hayden Howell (2 months ago)
Go Pence
jaxxstraw (2 months ago)
There's something psychologically different about red. Cyan looks like blue-green. But yellow doesn't look like red-green. Purple doesn't immediately shout "reddish blue" either. I think most kids are surprised by compound yellow being red and green when they learn that at school, because it just doesn't look like it has red in it. I've often wondered why the brain labels its incoming red-green mix so distinctively. Highly speculatively- red and yellow are both warning colours in nature but green isn't. But then why do we want to distinguish red and yellow so clearly? *Baffled*.
Icey Black (2 months ago)
Ardi Azra Rumy (2 months ago)
In Sundanese sometimes you called blue color "green",.. and you called green color "green" so I think there's no blue,..
Eric B (2 months ago)
It is not that amazing as it follows the wavelength sensitivity of the human eye. First you see light intensity (light vs. dark) then the red light cones, then green and finally, and most weakly, the blue. The named colors follow the sensitivity range of the eye. The naming of colors follow a sense of awareness to colors. This also ties into language. It is not that these people do not see these colors, it is just that they only need name them as they see them.
Mackaneek (2 months ago)
5:24 do the words "sky" and "ocean" mean anything to you?
Clorox Bleach (2 months ago)
Polish words for colours: Biały - White Czarny - Black Czerwony - Red Zielony - Green Niebieski - Blue Żółty - Yellow Różowy - Pink Fioletowy - Purple Pomarańczowy - Orange Szary - Grey Brązowy - Brown Granatowy - Dark Blue Bordowy - Dark Red Błękitny - Light Blue Ciemny - Dark Jasny - Light Złoty - Gold Srebrny - Silver Platynowy - Platinium We also call very bright and reflective colours as 'żarówiasty', np. żarówiasty żółty - very bright, fluorescent yellow.
good guy #001 (2 months ago)

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