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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Colour naming in young children Preuss, Renate Jutta


Eighteen two-year-olds and twenty four-year-olds were studied as to their knowledge and use of eleven colour terms: BLUE,GREEN,RED,YELLOW,BLACK,WHITE,GREY,BROWN,PURPLE, ORANGE, and PINK. Level of acquisition was determined by a production (naming) task, a comprehension (selection) task, and a discrimination (matching) task. The objectives were to examine various performance differences in light of possible evolutionary, perceptual and environmental factors and aspects of general lexical development. Performance accuracy was found to have no correlations with the evolutionary order proposed by Berlin & Kay, nor did it reveal the strong conceptual groups of primary, non-primary and achromatic colours which have been proposed by other studies. In particular, the non-primary colours did not behave as a group in any of the analyses. Measures of input and practice obtained from parental questionnaires also showed few correlations of environment with task performance. For various reasons, this information was considered unreliable and no claims about environment as a determinant in naming behavior could be made. Performance was notably more accurate in four-year-olds than in the two-year-olds. More terms had been acquired by the older group than by the younger, the average being eight terms and two terms respectively, and six of the older group had acquired all eleven colour terms. Comprehension was more advanced for both ages than, production, although more terms were produced than were comprehended. No sex differences were found at all. Further analyses concentrated on production performance. As expected, the number of colour terms used increased with age and their use became more stable with age. There was no one colour term that appeared in all of the subjects' lexicons, but the colour terms most likely to appear were the primaries and the non-primary ORANGE. BLUE showed a marked, though not significant, preference at both ages and several possible reasons are suggested for this. GREY, as expected, appeared least frequently, followed by the achromatics. Colour terms used most accurately were ORANGE and PINK. These appear to be the first colour categories to emerge with separate labels, followed by the primary colours and GREY again ranking lowest. There were no terms which had been acquired by a significantly large number of two-year-olds and none by a significantly small number of four-year-olds. Primary terms as a group were also those most likely to be used incorrectly. Those terms most likely to be overextended by the younger subjects were also those without a stable referent, while for the older ones it was those terms which the subject already knew the correct use of. The actual errors did not seem to be based on any of the proposed perceptual properties of colour. It is suggested that the child at these stages does not organize his lexical or conceptual colour categories in terms of the adult distinctions of primary/non-primary/achromatic or of hue/saturation/brightness. Further in-depth examination might reveal a base of associative or contextual criteria instead of the random, ad-hoc guesses they appear to be in this study. It is further suggested that such organizational criteria are very individualistic and therefore will not fit the generalizations made by previous studies about colour-term acquisition.

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