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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 (5135)
7th SwagKage (3 hours ago)
**L S T E R**
merdekaataumati1949 (2 days ago)
In old Japanese language, there was no word as "blue". for Japanese, "green" was new color. we call walk signal as "青信号" means blue signal.
matias rodriguez (2 days ago)
Spanish has the same colours that Russian has and a "Dark Red" and a "Violet-Red" colour too. They're called "Bordó" and "Morado".
DylanDino2017דילן (2 days ago)
0 up ш 80 ш0бщю
Antichrist (3 days ago)
"Blue was uncommon before manufacturing" UMM WHAT THE WATER AND THE SKY??
Antichrist (3 days ago)
Having fewer than 9 is weird because you would think that the colours in the rainbow would at least be seperable
Colin White (3 days ago)
5:23 There is this thing called the sky. It happens to have been blue for a long time.
Darhan Saylauov (5 days ago)
In Kazakh language we use one word for blue and green-kok(it means sky and god)
Austrian Bish (5 days ago)
Minimalism has gone too far.
blanca roca (6 days ago)
it wouldnt have been a racist claim .. it is a scientific claim which can be wrong. It is wrong to make false accusations of wrong doing. Being color blind isnt equivalent to being lesser as an intellectual being. Humans dont see X rays. Fact. That isnt to belittle them compared with klingons or vulcans or whoever might.
Kirt Kirt (6 days ago)
1:01 Chartreuse!
Pamela Zimnizzle (6 days ago)
I am intrigued.
HiiliG K-V (7 days ago)
3:54. ORANGE
Worm Driver (7 days ago)
>Blue was fairly scared before manufacturing. Ah, yes, I remember back before manufacturing, when the sky was bright green.
Zaeem Zia (7 days ago)
5:24 blue a scarce language? I thought the sky was blue???
Kai Sosceles (8 days ago)
“Blue was scarce before industrialization” <—— except of course...in THE SKY!!! Lolwtf? How does this get missed? It’s in /every/ natural environment. O.o
Lee Barnes (9 days ago)
"didn't make those racist claims" Lol I love how those that believe in evolution just can't wrap their head around the idea that Aborigines people aren't as developed genetically as Europeans.
Luiz Matthew (8 days ago)
Japanese didn't have a word for green for a long time. They used a word for blue for green, and to this day they still often call green things blue. Yet Japan is more developed than most European countries. Also genetically similarly countries can vary in the amount of colours. Russian for example. Yea. Pretty sure that has nothing to do with genetics.
Johnny Simpson (9 days ago)
blue was scarce before the industrial revolution *ignores the sky*
Cian Flanagan (10 days ago)
I'm not gonna sleep tonight
Necxophye UwU (10 days ago)
I'm from the Philippines yet I don't even know those words
Shiran Davidai (10 days ago)
Strange for smells there are no names. Try to define smell in more than two simple definitions good or stinky, without associating ... ???
mystook (10 days ago)
Science? Facts? RaCisT!
YAZ (10 days ago)
По-русски молвят обыкновенно не "пурпуровый", а "лиловый"
Fancy Pants (10 days ago)
A russian person would likely say fioletoviy, rather than purpurnyy.
Yavis Cheung (11 days ago)
I would like to add that Mandarin has more than 6 words for colours. On top of my head there are 11 at the very least
Thesetofwords (11 days ago)
When I was learning English as a child I really couldn’t wrap my mind around only one word for blue. How do you guys live without “goluboy”? It’s the color of the sky!
Katrin Kipariska (12 days ago)
For me as for artist thats so mind blowing. I can’t believe someone use only “light”, “dark” and “red”. How? Im from Russia so i use more than 9 names of colors. It’s always red, orange, yellow, green, light blue (лазурный - golooboy), blue, violet, white and black. But what about grey? Brown? Beige? Dark violet that spells in Russian “feeoletoviy”? I like blue and green so much, it’s disappointing for me that in some countries there are no any words for them. How can i live with this knowledge???
Fancy Pants (10 days ago)
Katrin Kipariska расслабленно
Guille64 (12 days ago)
Catalan spain, spanish mexico. Yea wtf
Princess nobody (13 days ago)
Ok but this is stressing me out
arci (13 days ago)
English also has Cyan or Teal, people keep forgetting about that.
Katie (14 days ago)
'blue was scarce'... did people not look at the sky or sea at all???
Matt Seaton (15 days ago)
I guess blue is pretty rare in nature, as long as you don’t look up at all, or live near the coast.
Sadik Ail (15 days ago)
और इस कार का झूमवीडियो में वीडियो में
fitria ahsani (16 days ago)
So, i speak 2 native language.... List of color names without English loadword: Indonesian: Hitam (black) putih (white) merah (red) hijau (green) kuning (yellow) ungu (purple) nila (orange) coklat (brown, same word for chocolate) abuabu (grey) Javanese: ireng (black) putih/pethak (white, similiar to indonesian, i dunno which one was first) abang (red) ijo (green, almost similiar to Indo?) kuning (yellow, similiar to Indo) soklat (indonesian loadword?) jambon (pink) .... Javanese seems to have less color names (or maybe it is just me who don't understand enough that language) but surprisingly it has the name for pink, while in indonesian pink is just 'merah muda' (translated to 'light red')
Andy Low (16 days ago)
words develop in order of need. i guess some society may have color property expressed by maturity. and for different objects mature color will be different. for example: "it was apple. it's color was quite mature. but it was too immature."
Lexie Durick (17 days ago)
For some reason I believed this video was going to be about how different places around the world decide to name their children after colors. ie Ivory or Violet
Crazy Loco (17 days ago)
im from thephilippines but this is my first time hearing those words
J M (18 days ago)
This video is misleading though. Colours may appear at various stages in cultural ‘development’ (true Anthropologists would not use that term), language still alters perception - and so the way people categorise colour can mean far reaching differences in their culture to another.
Pusheenosarous 328 (19 days ago)
Interesting
Noni Mulyana (19 days ago)
Red become the dominant color in almost every country just represent us as human. Hunting, war and death just a common thing 😭
anabelle thurston (20 days ago)
i feel like everybody has clicked on this video at least twice
Socks With Sandals (20 days ago)
In Khmer they have one word for green & blue (kyu) and only bring in a separate word for green (svai meaning green mango) if a distinction is necessary, like buying clothes.
Brett Shirley (21 days ago)
Blue wasn't very common before industrialisation... The sky? The sea?
Ben Gorong (21 days ago)
My language only has 3 color names
Hanunó'o is more complicated than that, hanunó'o is hardly even recognized by a regular Filipino, to understand hanunó'o in a basic Sentence, is "complicated and simple"
Britt Pomales (22 days ago)
i have light skin with dark hair
Henry Akin (22 days ago)
the thumnnail looked like juul pods
Skaro (23 days ago)
It's also about how our brain filters colours. There are cultures whose people can distinguish many green tones we see as one color, but cannot see the difference beteen two very distinct green and yellow colours. There was an experiment in which a scientist would not tell his little child the color of the sky. When he asked for the colour the child would answer green up until one day the answer changed to blue.
Raquel (23 days ago)
How to make a good video: Think about a random topic and make a good title. If u have arrived until here u have almost acomplished ur goal. Here it comes, the main part: Give a lot of new information to the public, enough to make them think about a question they hadn't even thought about before. Then don't answer it, instead give the people an explanation (fake if possible) even a kid would understand.
Peter Fyll (23 days ago)
"Blue was fairly scarce before manufacturing" I guess ancient civilizations hadn't learned to look up yet?
Mellow Yellow (23 days ago)
Blue is the sky?
Clarissa Zia alika (23 days ago)
Mom the light is too *KPE!*
Z Melody (23 days ago)
tell me in which order do you say the colors of the rainbow. Chinese: red, orange, yellow, green, Cyan, blue, purple.
Z Melody (19 days ago)
@a l e x a l e x really?the order you say it may not according to what u see though
a l e x a l e x (19 days ago)
The colors of a rainbow are based on the spread of colors humans can see on a spectrum. Meaning, the order doesn't ever change.
Z Melody (23 days ago)
See how many ancient colors Chinese people recognize Chinese traditional colors. Beautiful names. http://zhongguose.com/ http://ylbook.com/cms/web/chuantongsecai/chuantongsecai.htm
mattshiz (23 days ago)
I love YouTube. They answer the questions I never would have even thought to ask.
Justin von Grandia (24 days ago)
Strange Vox make some amazing pieces like this just to minutes later produce some extreme anti-scientific woke PC garbage. Very strange, it's like these videos build the brand and establish cred to be able to push the woke agenda. Well I enjoy these so keep making them please.
Daydream Gaming (24 days ago)
Just like the colors of the chakras
Germain Martel (24 days ago)
So the racist scientists were right. Less culturally developed people identify less colours.
Shoopy (24 days ago)
Raa
A Random weeb (24 days ago)
I feel like being a bit colour deficient I cant figure out which colour is which
Megan Marie (24 days ago)
This is really interesting! One thing about colors that I’ve been thinking about since I was little is that what if my blue is your yellow? Like different people see the different colors but call them the same thing 😂
Joaquin Ferriol (25 days ago)
this should be in that nasa time machine for when aliens find us
赤木秀一 (25 days ago)
That’s why AI is superior than human. Human 1: whats your favourite color? Human 2: umm. Its hard to describe......kind like rose mixed with skin tone....... AI 1: whats your favourite color? AI 2: ffe4e1
Robert Yan (26 days ago)
there's a word for purple in chinese.
Derpqueen 101 (26 days ago)
I love how it’s dark, light, and *_red_*
iop erty (27 days ago)
At this point, linguistic scares me
iop erty (27 days ago)
vert is one beutiful colour
iop erty (27 days ago)
In russia we also see 7 colors in rainbow, or rather I categorise spectrum of rainbow into 7 colors i know, because I was tought the difference between Siniy' and Goluboy' (english both Blue) - they are as different and have as fine a line between them as Red and Pink
JC Esplanada (27 days ago)
I’m from the Philippines but I haven’t heard those color words before because we don’t use that here (anymore?)
Maria João PARENTE (27 days ago)
If objects are not considered color names @3:54 orange shouldn't be either 0:23
Surya Kiran (27 days ago)
Okay now someone please tell me the name of the music that has been playing in the background, especially from 3:26 to 4:23. I really loved it and want to download! @Vox, please help me.
Phudge (28 days ago)
So basically... darkness, then redness, then whiteness?
Kamila Barreto (28 days ago)
3:39 Ole por el catalan en españa XD, como si no hubiera 5 lenguas siendo la principal el castellano
bonjovi in the house (28 days ago)
Plot twist: tey’re all colorblind
infectedmushroom (29 days ago)
this guy just said blue didn't really exist before manufacturing ? wtf what about the sky on a clear day or the sea
soundlyawake (29 days ago)
I’m an idiot. It took me 5 minutes into the video to realize this wasn’t about people’s names like Scarlet, Jade, Violet, etc. 😶
Yes Ididthis (29 days ago)
Isn't green cyan yellow are more distinct and blue dark blue purple or lavender subtle ones? I rarely see red and brown, but orange and greyish, or peach. I assume it also has to do with the environments, like in the middle east it has more reddish orange surroundings perhaps due to the sands reflection carried by heat waves during the day that makes that colors in your visual and, in some asian country where there are humids makes alot of different kinds of greenish blueish hues of colors.
Hiago de Carvalho (29 days ago)
Wait, they simulated people in "purely cultural negotiation" (whatever that means) using computers? Unless they've developed a legitimate artificial intelligence, with subjectivity and all, that's a doubtful simulation of people, let alone a simulation of cultural exchanges (which cannot occur "purely", whatever "pure culture" means). I guess that happens when a physicist and a computer engineer try to shortcut an anthropological research. I'd rather stick to Claude Lévi-Strauss books to argue for a pattern in the way humans make sense of the world.
BoZo (1 month ago)
0:10 Nope I thought it was light purple, purple, and green Gotta love being colorblind (Color deficient)
Tommy Hilllz (1 month ago)
“Blue was fairly scarce” Sky: hold my beer
Luiz Matthew (8 days ago)
@Gaston Rijo Weird. Portuguese doesn't have a word similar to that
Gaston Rijo (13 days ago)
In Spanish, sky blue is "celeste", a whole different word. An English speaker is taught to make a link between the two, but those two colors aren't necessarily similar.
Z Melody (23 days ago)
maybe means paints?
B Devine (25 days ago)
water too
Kristina Petrov (27 days ago)
Blue birds and insects didn't exist before factories That's a fact!
JasperRaccoon (1 month ago)
3:37 Yeah, Spanish language comes from Mexico
Kristina Petrov (27 days ago)
No, but the Spanish talking subjects did come from there
Iris Huisman (1 month ago)
In Dutch we actually don’t have a word for teal. We do have turquoise (forgot the exact spelling tho, might just be taken straight from English and pronounced Dutch), but teal isn’t there. However we do have words to define certain things that in English don’t exist (we have separate words to define the gender of a cousin, for example). One of the most annoying things to native English speakers when speaking Dutch is that we also have two different ways of saying ‘the’. There are other languages that have more, but in Dutch we have ‘de’ and ‘het’. ‘De’ is used for things that have a gender (though for some reason there are also inanimate objects without a gender that use ‘de’), while ‘het’ is for things that don’t have a gender and for - another unique thing - ‘smaller’ words. Basically words to indicate that whatever it’s referring to is smaller than its more common counterpart. Take ‘jongen’ and jongetje’ for example. Both mean boy, but ‘jongen’ is the common word while ‘jongetje’ is used when referring to small or younger boys. Strangely enough, the common Dutch word for girl is actually the small version. When referring to a girl, it’s almost always ‘meisje’, regardless of the age or size (by lack of a better term), while the full version is ‘meid’, but that one is used as a more ‘cool’ word. I just realized that I’m basically giving a lesson in Dutch on a video about color names, so I’ll just leave it at this. If you want me to continue or have any questions though, feel free to ask me!
Iris Huisman (18 days ago)
a l e x a l e x exactly
a l e x a l e x (18 days ago)
@Iris Huisman That's true! Teal is a darker shade of cyan in the same way navy is a darker shade of blue.
Iris Huisman (19 days ago)
a l e x a l e x fair enough, but they're still different shades.
a l e x a l e x (19 days ago)
Teal is simply a deeper shade of turquoise. And turquoise is seemingly synonymous with cyan. So basically? That's all the same color.
John Chrys (1 month ago)
Πορφυρος actually means dark red. Homer was describing the sunrise and/or sunset. lol
Tihiro Drako (1 month ago)
PURPURNYY is a dark red-purple colour. Colour on picture is FIOLETOVYY
AnArtist (1 month ago)
The sky isn’t rare is it?
Xiao Zhou (1 month ago)
Mandarin has more than 6 basic colors, and I wonder the number of colors in other languages from the video is actually correct.
Taylor Murphy (1 month ago)
I can predict the side of a coin 50% of the time. Amazing
Tiboroun (1 month ago)
Like the opening lyrics of Lateralus by Tool. Neat.
115DELDE (1 month ago)
3:41 Fid you just categorized catalan for all of spain? Oh boy... Catalan is only spoken in Cataluña (north-east Spain)!!!
Primrose Petals (1 month ago)
*in english and spanish we say "red" or "rojo" because we're basic*
You sbould compare men words for colors to women words for color.
我是bj LRC (1 month ago)
In Chinese actually, we can translate all basic English colours into a single character, which I think should be considered as basic colours. Maybe how many basic colours in a language, really depends on the definition of "basic colours" and how people understand it.
Serratus (1 month ago)
"How humans share the same vision system...through the world" there, fixed it for you
Peter Smythe (1 month ago)
"In English, we have 11" Cyan isn't blue or green. Fight me.
a l e x a l e x (19 days ago)
Cyan is equal parts blue and green, but it is still technically more blue than green since blue is a primary color and green is a secondary color. Since green can't exist without blue,to begin with, blue basically wins out there. You could think about other blue-green tones, though. Like, viridian, spring-green, jade, seafoam. Those are greener hues than cyan, but still bluish.
Oilan Greeze (1 month ago)
On an episode of the British TV show QI, they asked: ‘Why, in English, are Red-haired people and the Robin Red-Breast bird not called ‘Orange-haired’ people and the ‘Robin Orange-Breast’ bird? After all, Orange is the more accurate colour in both cases. Of course, the answer was that the hair colour and the bird were named far earlier than the entry of the word ‘Orange’ into the English language.
house of beans (1 month ago)
the thumbnail reminds me of that one coldplay album
Naval Machinist (28 days ago)
"X and Y"
rate eightx (1 month ago)
Who Else Doesn't Believe Pink To Be A Real Colour Category In English?
Dyllpickalio (1 month ago)
5:20 Are you meaning to tell me that red is more common in nature than the color that makes up THE ENTIRE SKY? As well as the ocean
Automa Tisch (1 month ago)
Well, the sky isn't really all that important. And depending on where you live it's white or grey most of the time (clouds). As for the sea... Well, a lot of people might have never even seen it. And even if they have (for example because they live at the coast) the question whether it really is blue applies. Depending on wheather, as well as countless other factors it could be anything from blue to gray, to brown... But I have to admit it doesn't convince me either... My explanations only apply to some languages. Others emerged were sky and sea were mostly blue. My best bet is really that sky and sea just don't matter (at least in terms of colour)
ESTEEM! ITALIA (1 month ago)
I'm italian and i think we have a name for hundred of color lol rosso pompeiano rosso porpora rosso verde acqua verde smeraldo verde giallo oca giallo zafferano giallo blu celeste nero bianco fucsia rosa marrone arancione I KNOW THAT I KNOW MORE colors BUT NOW THEY DONT COME to MY MIND <3
František Štefan (1 month ago)
Wtf Is happening?

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