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Are there nontrivial constraints on colour categorization?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2019

B. A. C. Saunders
Centre for Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Leuven, 3000 Leuven,
J. van Brakel
Institute of Philosophy, University of Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium


In this target article the following hypotheses are discussed: (1) Colour is autonomous: a perceptuolinguistic and behavioural universal. (2) It is completely described by three independent attributes: hue, brightness, and saturation: (3) Phenomenologically and psychophysically there are four unique hues: red, green, blue, and yellow; (4) The unique hues are underpinned by two opponent psychophysical and/or neuronal channels: red/green, blue/yellow. The relevant literature is reviewed. We conclude: (i) Psychophysics and neurophysiology fail to set nontrivial constraints on colour categorization. (ii) Linguistic evidence provides no grounds for the universality of basic colour categories. (iii) Neither the opponent hues red/green, blue/yellow nor hue, brightness, and saturation are intrinsic to a universal concept of colour. (iv) Colour is not autonomous.

Research Article
1997 Cambridge University Press

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