Universal trends and specific deviations

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Some trends are well-established across the 110 languages surveyed in the World Color Survey (WCS): colour terms are not distributed arbitrarily through ‘colour space’, and, of all possible combinations of terms within a single language, only a few are encountered. WCS data were analyzed to examine departures from these overall trends. To this end, colour terms were represented as locations in a geometrical ‘colour-naming space’ by calculating the ‘co-extension’ or degree of overlap between each pair of terms and applying multidimensional scaling (MDS) to the resulting pattern of relationships. The three-dimensional MDS solution shows departures from the consensus colour-term boundaries as fine structure in the clustering of points. These departures are not completely random, but show some association with language affiliation within language families. The MDS solution also focuses attention on ‘wildcard’ terms, highlighting the role of such terms as transitional stages in models of colour-lexicon development.


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