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Linguistic Society of America

Social and Cognitive Motivations of Change: Measuring Variability in Color Semantics


Author(s): Robert E. MacLaury
Source: Language, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Mar., 1991), pp. 34-62
Published by: Linguistic Society of America
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/415538
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SOCIAL AND COGNITIVE MOTIVATIONS OF CHANGE:


MEASURING VARIABILITY IN COLOR SEMANTICS
ROBERTE. MACLAURY

Tucson, Arizona
Semantic change is carried forward by specific individuals who think in particular ways,
although it can be constrained by physiology and guided by social values. The measurement of color categories provides a close look at the various propelling incentives
in a domain that is probably universal. Newly refined descriptive methods enhance such
observations, because they permit verification of cognitive differences on the basis of
correspondence between independently elicited orders of quantifiable data. Measurable
change progresses through diverse trajectories in closely related Mayan languages whose
social milieux are radically distinct. In Tzeltal, variation can be explained in terms of
individual cognitive shifts within universal physiological parameters. But in Tzotzil a
socially enforced conservatism creates tension between the preservation of traditional
categories and the addition of new ones. The tension produces a taxonomy that is deeper
than any others encountered by the major world color surveys. While a model of individual cognition explains how color categories change at the basic level, a social model
accounts for differences between communities.*
INTRODUCTION

1. The main topic of this paper is the motivation for change in linguistic
categories. Are the forces of color-category evolution identical everywhere, or
do speakers of different languages carry out change in a universal domain under
dissimilar incentives? Since both change and categorization pervade language,
the question of multiple reasons might apply beyond this immediate research
site. Color categorization is especially suited to exploring motivations, because
the domain is readily measurable. Furthermore, it is well studied, it is present
in every reported language, it occurs under every circumstance and dynamic
of human society, and it is often tied to cultural symbolism and values. The
timing is opportune, because an improved system of measuring and verifying
color categorization enables investigators to observe in unprecedented detail
the increments of cognitive variation and change. This study will compare data
from Tenejapa Tzeltal and Navenchauc Tzotzil.'
* I thank those who made invaluable contributions to this analysis. They are the people of
Tenejapa, of Navenchauc, and of Amatenango del Valle; Arqto. Lufs Marcial Corzo, who gave
me his hospitality and tactical support during the fieldwork; Brent Berlin, Paul Kay, and William
R. Merrifield of the World Color Survey, who lent me the equipment; Terrence Kaufman and
the
H. D. Adamson, who criticized the manuscript; and my anonymous reviewers-especially
reviewer who evaluated two drafts-whose insights led to vast improvements and whose quotations
appear in the Appendix. I assume all responsibility for my use of their help.
' The subfield of color categorization involves technical notions that are difficult to present to
a wider audience, especially those pertaining to the array of Munsell colors. To compound the
obstacle, printing limitations dictate that graphic depiction of color categories represent the array
in black and white, which renders the displays less than intelligible to all who have not seen the
array in full color and memorized it. See Fig. 1 below for a black-and-white standard of reference.
The most accurate paper replica of the Munsell array (unique yellow at C8-9 is printed orange)
appears in Kay et al. 1991. D'Andrade & Egan (1984) explain the Munsell system very accessibly,
34

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

35

The main topic yields four spin-offs. First, methods are presented here in
detail (?3), and there is a review of questions regarding reliability in the Appendix. Second, intercommunity variation and category change are addressed
with a dynamic cognitive model, which, in turn, is based on a distinction between cognition and perception (?4). The difference is readily definable in the
color domain, because its neurological bases are known. Without this distinction, an explanation of change within universal constraints would be impossible.
The model attributes both the structure and the process of categorization to a
selective emphasis on different perceptions; but a further construct of social
variables completes the account of intercommunity differences (?5.4). Third,
the data substantiate in detail the incremental nature of category change and
variation (?5). And fourth, the explanation of individually compelled change
unites Berlin & Kay's BASICCOLORTERMwith Rosch's BASICLEVEL,which has

been a long-standing desideratum in the theory of categorization. Its resolution


deflates the mounting pressure to redefine 'basic color terms', and it recognizes
that the basic level of categorization is mutable (?6).
THEORY

2.1. The data from Tenejapa Tzeltal and Navenchauc Tzotzil offer an opportunity to assess the explanatory capacities of two theories that model the
relation between linguistic variation and change. One theory, articulated in
Weinreich et al. 1968, holds that change is socially motivated: any language
harbors a range of variation, and change progresses when particular variants
are assigned prestige and favored as markers of social identity. The other theory
was developed in MacLaury 1986 to account for variation among basic color
categories: each individual adopts a private strategy for coping with the novelty
that impinges upon him or her throughout daily life; the strategy always involves
attendance both to the similarity and to the distinctiveness of the entities that
he or she categorizes and names; some individuals attend more strongly to
similarity and others attend more strongly to distinctiveness. The latter group
of individuals will name more color categories during standardized experiments, such as the one that is used to determine how a subject categorizes and
names the 330-chip Munsell color array.
The INDIVIDUALISTTHEORYwas devised to address situations encountered
widely and repeatedly by the Mesoamerican Color Survey (MCS).2 The survey
found that as a rule people who interact daily differ in the ways that they
categorize color, even though shared color categories would facilitate the exand The American Heritage Dictionary (p. 263) explains it briefly. See MacLaury (1987a, n. 2) for
technical specification of stimulus materials used in this study.
2
The MCS was conducted during 1978-81 in Mexico and Guatemala in collaboration with eighty
teams of language specialists who interviewed 900 speakers of 116 languages. Some data were
pooled with the World Color Survey (WCS) of 1976-78, in which 25 speakers in each of 100
American, African, Austronesian, and Asian languages were interviewed by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics under an NSF grant to Berlin, Kay, and Merrifield (see Berlin et al.
1985).

36

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

change of information. To illustrate with a typical case, speakers A and B are


adults in middle age who have conversed throughout their lives; speaker A has
three basic color terms and speaker B has ten, neither seems to be aware of
the difference, and they appear to talk past each other when casually handling
the Munsell color chips. Rampant intracommunity variation was described precisely by the Munsell metric when it was systematically applied over a wide
region by putting hundreds of subjects, one at a time, through a formal twohour interview.
It is essential to draw upon both theories to explain variation and change
in Tzeltal and Tzotzil color categorization. The social theory explains the dramatic difference between the ways that color is categorized in Tenejapa Tzeltal
and Navenchauc Tzotzil, but the individual theory addresses the astounding
range of nonagreement in each community.
2.2. PRIORWORK.The body of theory has roots in two traditions. Weinreich,
Labov, and Herzog (1968) are among the most recent scholars who demonstrate
that linguistic change depends on variation. Labov, in his classic study of vowel
raising on Martha's Vineyard (1963), shows that change focuses on a prestigious
variant that native Vineyarders adopted as a symbol of social membership.
In an independent tradition, Berlin & Kay (1969) define the concept of BASIC
COLORTERMSand show that their focal referents and order of evolution are
universal; any language increases its stock of basic color terms in response to
societal complexity or culture contact (cf. Berlin & Berlin 1975, Dougherty
1975). Kay (1975) and Dougherty (1977) further note the relation of variation
to basic color-term evolution: different speakers of one language can manifest
distinct stages of that process, with younger speakers usually showing later
stages; yet each individual system represents some stage of the predictable
sequence. But Kay and Dougherty further imply that each individual passes
through the sequence at a different pace, sharing cognition only partially with
other speakers of the language. That is, either color-term evolution is privately
motivated or the shared social motive, whatever it might be, does not foster
uniform cognition.
DESCRIPTION
ANDDISPLAYOFDATA
3. Before I discuss data, it is essential to outline how they were collected,
how they are displayed in a black-and-white medium, and why they constitute
an advance over prior collections.
Earlier fieldworkers placed acetate over the Munsell spectrum and asked an
interviewee to circle with a grease pencil the range of each native color term
from a previously elicited list; further, the interviewee marked the focus of
each term (Lenneberg & Roberts 1956, Berlin & Kay 1969, Dougherty 1975,
Berlin & Berlin 1975). Other researchers upgraded the method or experimented
with options (Collier et al. 1976, Hage & Hawkes 1975, Berlin et al. 1985).
During the Mesoamerican survey, a final procedure was added and refined
(Burgess et al. 1983, Greenfeld 1986, MacLaury 1986, 1987a-b).

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

37

The combinedefforts have resultedin a particularpackageof equipmentand


procedures for its use. Stimulus materials consist of 330 Munsell colors or
'chips'. One set comprisesloose chips that are separatelynumberedandaligned
in randomorder. Two additionalsets are glued to a neutralmatte in spectral
order of lettered rows from light to dark, B-I, and numberedcolumns through
the hues, 1-40; each is called an 'array'.One arrayplaces green-blueat center;
the other centers red-yellow. Both include achromaticwhite-grey-blackin an
unnumberedleft column, A-J, in which row A is pure white, row J is pure
black, and rows B-I matchthe eight brightnesslevels of the hue columns (see
n. 1).
Data are elicited from an individual speaker by three independentprocedures. First, an interviewee names the 330 loose chips one by one in their
randomorder. The investigatorrecords on a numberedsheet each name as a
head lexeme with any qualifiersthat might accompany it. Second, the interviewee selects from one of the arraysthe best exampleor 'focus' of each head
lexeme. Third, the intervieweemaps the rangeof each head lexeme by placing
a grainof rice on each color of the arraythat the lexeme can name. When the
interviewee stops mappingthe range of a term, the investigatorrequests that
he or she place grainson moreof the colors thatthe termcan name. The request
is repeated for one term until the intervieweeinsists that it can name no color
chips that have not already been covered with rice. Thus, a mapping can
progressthroughone or more 'steps', which the investigatorrecordsseparately
in reference to the row letters and column numbersthat borderthe array.
Ultimately, the three types of independentlyelicited data are derandomized
and organized on graphs that representthe Munsell array. In their organized
form, they are called, respectively, (1) NAMING RANGES and QUALIFIER
DISTRIBUTIONS, (2) FOCI, and (3) MAPPINGSand MAPPING STEPS. A mappingcan
consist of only one step or of several. It shows the full extent of a color category;
and, if it consists of more than one step, the order in which the steps were
executed suggests how the categoryis internallyorganizedby the interviewee.
Correspondencebetween independentlyelicited orders of data verifies the
accuracy of each in any set from an individual.Matches can occur between a
naming range and its mapping,a focus and a first mappingstep, a particular
mappingstep and the distributionof a qualifier,and many other possible pairs.
Analyses of individualcognition are always based on such correspondences,
never on naming ranges alone, foci alone, or mappingsalone. The various
responses to the 330 stimuliproduceamplequantificationfor statisticalanalysis
of patterns shared between individuals.(See the Appendix.).
Figure 1 provides the English-speakingreaderwith a referenceby which to
gauge the Munsell system and to assess how speakers of Tzeltal and Tzotzil
have named it. The figure shows derandomizednamingrangesand the foci of
one English speakerwho used eleven terms to name the 330 chips one by one.
Figures 2 and 3 show that two Tzeltal speakerseach used five terms to name
the same chips duringthe same procedure.Theirdatacan be directlycompared
with that of Fig. 1.

38

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

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FIGURES1-3. (1) American English color categories: naming ranges and foci; male, age 35, 1980.
(2) Tzeltal color categories, San Ildefonso Tenejapa, Chiapas, Mexico; naming ranges and foci;
female, age 60, 1980. (3) Tzeltal, Tenejapa; male, age 65, 1980.

Figures 4a-d show all naming ranges, foci and mappings from one Tzeltal
speaker. The figures fully exemplify techniques of elicitation and display, and
they reveal characteristics of early-stage color categorization that turned up
time and again during the Mesoamerican survey. Figs. 4b-d represent mappings
with lines, which allows the display of two mappings in one diagram so as to
show their relationship and overlap. Mapping steps are bracketed by numbers
embedded in each line. Mappings can also be depicted by shaded quadrates,
as in Figs. 8b-c below.
Usually the mapping of a category covers more colors than its naming range
does; a category has greater breadth than the normal use of its name would
suggest, and the mapping brings out this fact. Often a few uses of a name fall
outside of the normal range, where they correspond to the peripheral steps of
the broad mapping. For example, in Fig. 4a sak names bright red (Gl); k'an

40

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

trials during the interview. This semantic relation is discussed in another study,
Most Tzeltal and Tzotzil consultants mapped
where it is called COEXTENSIVITY.3
both red-focused ?ah or ?oh and yellow-focused k'an or k'on throughout one
warm category, although some did not commingle the terms throughout red
and yellow colors during the naming procedure. Coextensivity occurs in many
languages of the Mesoamerican sample; it is reported in color naming by other
investigators both in Mesoamerica and elsewhere (Merrifield 1971:264; Hage
& Hawkes 1975:297), and it is not confined to the warm category. (See Figs.
8b-c below for coextensive mappings of the cool category.) For reasons that
are explained in the work on coextensive ranges (cited in n. 3), one range is
always slightly smaller and more skewed than the other; the smaller range has
a less central focus or even a polarized focus, which occurs on the periphery
of the category-as in Figs. 4a-b at 140-or even outside of the category
margin, as in Figs. 8a-b at H38.
Fig. 4c shows the mappings of sak and 2ihk', 'light-warm' versus 'dark-cool',
which together cover all but ten colors of the Munsell array in a relation of
complementation; neither range covers the opposite focus, unlike the mappings
of k'an and ?ah. The light-warm mapping of sak is unique to Tzeltal speaker
#4 in this sample from Tenejapa. Yet speakers #2, #3, #4, and #5 all rendered
the dark-cool mapping of 2ihk', two of the three Tzeltals who were interviewed
in Amatenango mapped 2ihk' in the same way, and five of the six Navenchauc
Tzotzil speakers rendered a dark-cool mapping of 2ik'.
Fig. 4d shows that the mapping of 2ihk' encompasses the mapping of yas,
revealing a relation of inclusion between the black-focused dark-cool category
and the green-focused cool category. Yet, in Fig. 4a, the naming range of yas
is highly salient; the green and blue portion of the mapping of pihk' is not
corroborated by marginal uses of that name. However, Figs. 2, 3, and 5a provide better evidence in naming data of the Tzeltal dark-cool category. For
example, speaker #5 (Fig. 5a) applies 2ihk' to J0, F17, and F29, the colors on
which the English speaker (Fig. 1) focuses black, green, and blue. The Tzeltal
dark-cool category is more salient in dark than in cool colors.
In sum, Figs. 4a-d demonstrate three types of semantic relation: (1) coextensivity (Fig. 4b), (2) inclusion (Fig. 4d), and (3) complementation (Fig. 4c).4
Identification of Tzeltal basic color categories is far from straightforward,
3 During the Mesoamerican Color Survey, the coextensive relation between color terms first
emerged in Uspantec data (MacLaury et al. 1979), and it seemed very odd at the time. It took
three years thereafter to develop the hypothesis that coextensive terms each name the same category, but from different mental vantages. It took even longer to devise a numerical test (MacLaury
1987b). The results eventually led to a theory regarding the role of spatial analogy and viewpoint
in categorization and cognitive change (MacLaury 1992).
4 MacLaury 1987b relates these semantic types to a continuum of change in the order stated
here-(l),
(2), and (3)-and adds a fourth type, 'near synonymy', to the earliest end of the continuum. All four types are most exhaustively demonstrated in the warm category as it evolves
internally toward a complete division into basic red and yellow categories, although the types
pertain to categories of other colors as well. For the immediate purpose of comprehending the
Tzeltal data, it is sufficient to note that each type of semantic relation differs from the others and
that one of them, coextensivity, has not been recognized as a distinctive type in prior literature.

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

41

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FIGURES 5a-b. Tzeltal, Tenejapa, (a) naming ranges and foci, (b) mappings;

71ihk'

focus

male, age 90, 1980.

using Berlin & Kay's criteriaof (a) salience and (b) not being encompassedby
another category (superordination,inclusion, nonhyponymy).Tzeltal speaker
#4 (Fig. 4) probablyhas three basic color categories of white, dark-cool, and
warm, although she names color with five salient terms. Two terms coextensively name one warm category, k'an and ?ah. The cool category yas is not
basic, because the basic dark-coolcategory pihk'encompassesall of yas; however, the interpretationis complicatedby the low salience of 2ihk' amonggreen
and blue. The white-focused light-warmcategory might be vestigial; at least,
unlike dark-cool 2ihk', the light-warmrange is not shared with other Tzeltal
interviewees. It is interpretedas a basic white categoryin spite of its nonsalient
range throughoutyellow and red. The interpretationof three basic categories
classifies Tzeltal speaker #4 at Berlin & Kay's Stage II, and speakers #2, #3,
and #5 are also at Stage II. (See n. 14 below for a descriptionof the stages.)
But this classificationis not clear-cut,because all the individualsare advancing
to the next stage, IIIa, and each shows a differentdegreeof progress.Likewise,
Tzeltal speakers #6, #7, and #8 representdistinctphases of Stage IIIa. Before
furtheranalysis of the Tzeltal data (in ?5.3), there should be some attemptto
account for these dynamics.
COGNITIVEDYNAMICS

4. Why do languagesdifferin numberof basic color categories?For example,


why does English have eleven basic color categories while Tzeltal only has
about three? Although 'societal complexity' might have much to do with it,
that notion in itself does not providea cognitive explanationof the differences.
Why do the TenejapaTzeltal speakers differ from each other, even when all
reside in the same small hamlet?

42

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

During analysis of results from the Mesoamerican Color Survey, a dynamic


model of color cognition was developed to address the question of category
change and a host of related observations (MacLaury 1986)-including differences among individuals in single communities as well as more dramatic differences between related languages, such as Tzeltal and Tzotzil, and also
including maximal differences, such as those between Tzeltal and English.
The model rests on four axioms: (1) people perceive six purest-possible
colors, fifteen potential pairs; (2) the members of each pair are to an extent
similar and to an extent distinct; (3) each pair differs in these extents; and (4)
an individual attends simultaneously to similarity and to distinctiveness, and
can reciprocally shift the strength of the attendances. For the purposes of this
is the automatic registration by the visual cortex of premodel, PERCEPTION
cortical neural response to wavelength, including the similarities and differences that inhere among those signals. COGNITION
is the active devotion of
attention both to similarity and to distinctiveness, and it is the selective emphasis that a person places on the two attendances.5 The cognition is ceaselessly
asserted and unconscious.
Axioms 1-3 pertain to perception. They are actually supported independently
by research in visual physiology. Evidence in their support and their effect on
human color categorization are detailed in De Valois & De Valois 1975, Kay
& McDaniel 1978, and MacLaury 1987a. In short, the purest imaginable examples of red, yellow, green, blue, white, and black are the only unique color
percepts; others, such as brown, purple, orange, pink, and grey, are perceptual
blends of unique hues.6 Colors of some pairs, e.g. red/green and yellow/blue,
cannot be seen in the same place at once and, thus, they contrast more than
other colors. Among the hues of lesser contrast, yellow/red differ more than
green/blue; green and blue are the most similar of all unique pairs. Since human
visual physiology is invariant throughout the species, axioms 1-3 explain why
there are universals of human color categorization (Berlin & Kay 1969, Kay
& McDaniel 1978).
Axiom 4 is cognitive, since only the mind elects to attend 'more or less' to
what one sees. The axiom is truly a postulate, because it is supported only by
its success in uniting disparate observations regarding the composition, semantics, variation, and change of color categories (MacLaury 1986).
Individuals divide broad color categories into two or three narrow categories
as they foreground perceived differences and suppress similarities; the processes are necessarily reciprocal. Thus broad categories, such as Tzeltal darkcool, red-with-yellow, and green-with-blue, divide into categories equivalent
to English black, red, yellow, green, and blue.
Coupling of axioms 1-3 (invariant perception) with axiom 4 (mutable cog5 'Attend' and 'attendance' have a precedent in psychological literature as technical terms (see
e.g. laccino & Sowa 1989, abstract). The more widely used equivalent, 'attention' (e.g. Wright et
al. 1990), cannot be pluralized as 'attendance' can be, which is why the rarer term is used here.
6
'Unique hue' is used loosely. The term strictly pertains only to yellow, green, and blue; pure
white and pure black are extremes of reflectance, and purest red contains a slight input of yellow.

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

43

nition) allows change that, nevertheless, progresses according to universal regularities. Berlin & Kay note that the maximally contrasting colors, such as red/
green and yellow/blue, are never categorized under the same name in any
language. A language that includes red and yellow in one category will always
categorize green and blue together, although the reverse prediction does not
hold; since red and yellow look more distinct, they will be separately categorized prior to green and blue in an implied evolutionary order as speakers
of a language increasingly attend to distinctiveness.
The same engagement of perception and cognition explains other regularities
of color categorization. First, change in color categorization is always continuous; it never progresses by quantum jumps. Although Berlin & Kay classify
evolving color-category systems in seven stages, an individual can show a
system that is between stages; for example, in Figs. 4a-d, superordinate lightwarm and dark-cool categories are less salient than the cool and warm categories that they subsume. Smoothly advancing change conforms to the model,
which stipulates that people decrease their emphasis on similarity as they emphasize distinctiveness more; the counterbalance of strength between the two
attendances prevents change from surging ahead by a leap from an old system
to a radically different new system.
Second, as systems evolve by division of broad categories into narrow ones,
every category undergoes internal reorganization. For example, the focus and
judgments of higher membership within a category gradually migrate from its
center to its edge; as attendance to distinctiveness is enhanced, half of a category is increasingly contrasted against the other. This process is seen in Figs.
4a,c-d, where the lighter half of the dark-cool category is nonsalient. It is also
seen in Figs. 4a-b, where the focus of ?ah is placed at the outer extreme of
the warm category-at 140 in dark maroon.
Third, reorganization involves an evolution of semantic relationships within
a category from near-synonymy to coextensivity to inclusion to an eventual
division and subsequent complementation. Each semantic type requires
stronger attendance to distinctiveness than its predecessor. Evolution of semantic relationships passes through a continuum of variants that are intermediary to ideal types. Good examples of ideal types are rare (see n. 3 for
references).7

Fourth, individuals shift toward stronger attendance to distinctiveness when


they are exposed to novelty at an increasing rate. They emphasize distinctiveness to sort out new experience and are thereby motivated to evolve color
7 As a category gradually divides, it is not compulsory that it be named with two terms at any
specific point in its development. But whenever a second name is adopted to supplement an older
name, the two names must assume a particular semantic relation on the continuum of types. The
segment of the continuum that the relation represents-that is, the type of relation-will be determined by the cognition of the individual who uses the names, that is, by the balance of attendances that he or she maintains. For example, Figs. 8b-c below show that speaker #8 uses seleste,
which is derived from Spanish celeste 'sky-blue'. But she accommodates the loan word to a coextensive relation throughout the cool category. The other Tenejapa Tzeltal speakers of this sample
have opted not to apply a second term to the cool category.

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LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

categories as part of a general adaptive strategy of regarding the world more


analytically. Exposure to novelty accompanies societal complexity and culture
contact, although it can also arise in small societies under harsh conditions
where people must improvise by many means from one day to the next. Novelty
directly links all such situations with the cognition that propels change in color
categorization.8
Fifth, different members of a society are exposed to different amounts of
novelty, and some will notice novelty more than others. Thus, individuals are
motivated nonuniformly to attend to distinctiveness such that each will attend
at a different strength. Although each person is constrained by physiology to
conform to a universal order in subdividing broad color categories, each will
fall out at a different point along the evolutionary path.
The foregoing provides a very 'individualist' account of the rampant variation
that is attested in the color domain, throughout Mesoamerica and elsewhere.
Under that explanation, the only coherence within the domain is determined
by physiology. Social factors do not stabilize color-category evolution at a
predominantly uniform stage throughout a community. Only unvarying exposure to novelty might tend to stabilize at one stage a large proportion of a
particular population.
However, the individualist account does not explain the qualitative differences among some societies. Tenejapa Tzeltal and Navenchauc Tzotzil exhibit
that type of difference, as will be shown in ?5.3 and ?5.4. Their disparity is of
interest, because it does not follow from axioms 1-4. The difference suggests
that, in some cases, the individualist model might be combined with a socially
oriented account of the kind proposed in Weinreich et al. 1968.
ANALYSIS
5. Before describing color categorization in the two communities, and before
attempting to integrate individual and social models, I will provide some relevant ethnographic information in the form of a sketch of social differences
between Tenejapa and Navenchauc that seemed to be apparent during my visits
there. These differences might influence the process of attending increasingly
to distinctiveness.
5.1. DIFFERENTSOCIETIES.
San Ildefonso Tenejapa and Navenchauc are
corn-farming communities located about twenty miles apart in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Tzeltal is spoken in Tenejapa and Tzotzil is spoken in Navenchauc. The two languages are closely-related members of the Mayan family
(Berlin &
Languages in harsh environs, such as Eskimo (Heinrich 1974) and !Kung Bushman
terms
than
attendant
societal
more
basic
color
complexity might predict.
Kay 1969:33, 75), have
The MCS found that languages in isolated, backland villages have more basic color terms than
languages of large, prosperous farming towns in the orbit of a city; the isolated areas are of poor
soil, which forces people to improvise diverse livelihoods. Baines (1985:283) makes the amazing
observation that Egyptian color terms remained at Stage lia 'from the mid-3rd millennium B.C.
to the Middle Ages', in spite of vast societal transformation over the 3000-year period. However,
although the change was great and the society complex, the pace of change probably was slow in
comparison to that which pervades contemporary Mesoamerica.
8

MEASURINGVARIATIONIN COLORSEMANTICS

45

which have been in situ for at least 1500years andwhich sharea pre-Columbian
heritage. Radically distinct circumstancesimpingeon the two communities.
Tenejapais at the end of a twenty-mileroad (paved the year after this field
work was carried out) from the nearest Hispanic center, San Cristobalde las
Casas. Althoughmany outsidersvisit, the remotenessof Tenejapahas shielded
it from other parts of the country. In the context of the heretofore slow pace
of change, its inhabitantsare unlikely to sense destabilizationand are either
neutralin their attitudetowardincorporatingnovelty or eager to do so. During
this fieldwork, a preservationofficer from the National Institute of Anthropology and History informeddisappointedlocal officials that they could not
roof of
pave asphaltover cobbled streets or replace the beam-and-Spanish-tile
the colonial church with two-by-fours and corrugatedtin. Middle-agedand
older people are monolingualand wear indigenousdress, althoughmen have
shed broad-brimmedribbonedheadgearfor commercialhats. People underage
thirty are bilingualand wear commercialclothing. Old and young women alike
comfortably underwent the color interview without seeking consent from a
husband or father. A few men and women have marriedforeigners without
even minor social consequence.
Thirty years before this field work, the Pan-Americanhighway was cut
throughNavenchauc; the village was catapultedfrom the isolation of a mountain valley into the twentieth-centurymainstream.Interviews were arranged
by a native interpeter-spokesman,who had troublefindinganyone who would
participate. He summoned five of his young female relatives, two of whom
would not volunteeruntil others had gone first. The man's mother,about sixty
years old, steadfastlydeclined to be interviewedin spite of the generouswage,
and a fifty-year-oldwidow consented hesitantlywith an eye towardthe reward.
Business was conducted in a house compoundwithin close earshot of diesel
trucks passing on the highway. Despite the presence of a primaryschool in
Navenchauc, all but the spokesmanand youngest interviewee were monolingual, and all wore traditionaldress to the last stitch. Elsewhere all but a few
young construction workers wore indigenous clothing, including the broad
Tzotzil hat. In sum, it appears that the people of Navenchauc are trying to
maintainlinguistic and cultural continuity while undergoingintensive, unsolicited contact with national society.
5.2. EMBLEMS
OF IDENTITY.Navenchauc is more closely engaged with the

world at large than is Tenejapa. Inhabitantsof Tenejapamight still take their


society for granted,but outside influenceintrudeson Navenchaucto the extent
that no one can ignore it or turn it away. Its inhabitantsmust self-consciously
observe traditionif they are to maintainit at all. Such a view can foster socially
sharedemblems or symbolic practicesthat shape the cognitive organizationof
color categorization.
Tenejapadoes not broadcastthe presence of any particularvalue or shared
point of reference that would channel the organizationof color cognition, although an acceptance of the outside world might encourage some Tzeltals to
develop color categories toward the numberused in Spanish. Color categori-

46

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

zation is evolving in Tenejapa in much the same way that it is observed in most
other communities visited by the Mesoamerican survey, with neither clear
incentive to speed it along nor desire to hold it back. It might be that the
individualist model pertains fully to Tenejapa.
In Navenchauc the emblem probably is tradition itself. The socially shared
conservativism might encourage preservation of an archaic system of three
essential categories and thereby shape the cognition of color. But the shaping
of cognition involves further complexity: abundant novelty has fostered strong
attendance to distinctiveness, which is uniformly evident among the data from
all five Tzotzil interviewees under age thirty. The enhanced attendance to distinctiveness is in conflict with the social requirement to maintain three superordinate terms. The result is a shared system of color categorization that is
unparalleled by other survey data: highly salient Tzotzil categories named with
Spanish loanwords are subordinated to the archaisms at a taxonomic depth of
four levels, two levels deeper than any known system in Mesoamerica. Broad
mappings of archaic categories are executed fully, but with a multitude of tiny
steps-often a dozen or more-and, again, the numbers are unprecedented
elsewhere. The tension between a cognitive adaptation and a socially prescribed emblem gives rise to an extraordinarily complicated system of color
categories, described in ?5.4.
Data from seven Tzeltal speakers, dis5.3. TZELTALCOLORCATEGORIES.
played in Figs. 2-8c, represent the way that color-category evolution usually
proceeds. That is, they show the range of variation and taxonomic depth that
was observed in most of the communities that were surveyed in Mesoamerica.
The demonstration is valuable for two reasons: it exemplifies the five principles
of change that are outlined in ?4; and this typical case from Tenejapa contrasts
with the extraordinary case from Navenchauc, where the same principles operate under a socially enforced distortion.
In review, the mainspring of change is shift in strength of attendance from
similarity to distinctiveness, a balance that each person manipulates in a private
effort to accommodate novelty in general. In the color domain, the chosen
balance concentrates ease of categorization at a particular point either on one
level or between two levels in a perceptual hierarchy of potential degrees of
inclusion. Among dark-cool colors, the potential levels of inclusion are, from
at level 1, BLACKagainst
broad to narrow, BLACK-WITH-GREEN-WITH-BLUE
at level 2, and BLACKagainst GREENagainst BLUEat level 3.9
GREEN-WITH-BLUE
9 A reviewer asks, 'What does it mean to be at level 1 or level 2? How does one demonstrate
that there is a hierarchy, and what exactly constitutes inclusion?' Inclusion means that one category
encompasses the entire range (or 'contents') of another category plus more. In the cognitive
branches of anthropology, psychology, and linguistics, relations of inclusion are conventionally
discussed and diagrammed as a taxonomic hierarchy, with the most inclusive category highest
(Berlin et al. 1974, figs. 2.1-6; Rosch et al. 1976:386; Taylor 1989, fig. 3.1). In that view, 'level 1'
is highest, 'level 2' is next down, and so forth. Although representation of a taxonomy as a hierarchy
displays relations of inclusion more perspicuously than does any other schema, it is not proven to
be more psychologically real than the alternatives, such as horizontal nesting of categories. At this
point in the discussion of color, the levels consist of the potential groupings and contrasts that are

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

47

A
B

6E1 B
H.

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(3

focus

FIGURES6a-b. Tzeltal, Tenejapa, (a) naming ranges and foci, (b) mappings;
male, age 75, 1980.

An individual who strongly attends to similarity maintains one basic category


at level 1, a dark-cool category as in Figs. 4b-c. An individual who attends
less to similarity and more to distinctiveness maintains two basic categories at
level 2, one black and the other cool, as do the Tzeltal speakers of Figures 6a8c. An individual who attends weakly to similarity and very strongly to distinctiveness maintains three basic categories at level 3; so, for example, English
speakers contrast basic black, green, and blue. By establishing a certain balance
of attendances, an individual determines where in the hierarchy he or she will
make basic contrasts most naturally. Since the two attendances are reciprocal-one weakens while the other strengthens-the preference for basic categorization can slide smoothly through the perceptual hierarchy and can reside
between the levels at any particular time. In that case, Berlin & Kay's characteristics of a basic category, such as superordination and salience, will be
split between levels. For example, a superordinate dark-cool category will be
named with less salience than the cool category that it encompasses, as in Figs.
4a,c-d.
based on perceived likenesses and differences among black, green, and blue; they are perceptual
levels to which categories can pertain. However, the 'basic level' of categorization is cognitive,
because it is the point within the hierarchy where an individual categorizes with least effort. Some
Tzeltals situate their basic level between perceptual levels 1 and 2. Furthermore, 'level' in Figs.
9-10 below refers to actual relations of inclusion between categories, not to perceptual levels per
se. Since these relations of inclusion are cognitive, they do not match the three perceptual levels
one-to-one in every case. For a distinction between perception and cognition, see ?4. Since 'perceptual levels' and 'cognitive levels' can be differentiated, I call them both 'levels' throughout the
discussion rather than designating them by separate terms.

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

48
+

.1A

jua;

'~ G

+?i~~?~?~

,: H

pel.s.

|.s.s.ska

*ihk?
+

1 2345678901234567890

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4

.4

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i
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3 3 rm

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1 2345678901

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 16

? focus

naming 111i1111a11
mapping

FIGURES7a-b. Tzeltal, Tenejapa, (a) naming ranges and foci, (b) mappings;
female, age 70, 1980.
@
1 A

1 2345678901234567890

1111111111222222222233333333334
1 234567890

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oad

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est

age

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tiiiiiiiiiiiiiifemale,

age 37 1980

*-

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

49

The Tzeltal speakers constitute two groups: speakers #2, #3, #4, and #5
maintain a black-focused dark-cool category, whereas #6, #7, and #8 do not.
The first group, as mentioned above (?3), represents Stage II, the second Stage
IIIa. Data from another individual, Tzeltal #A, are not shown; she falls into
the second group, although she alone represents Stage IV. Speaker #8 differs
from the other members of the second group, because only she names the cool
category with coextensive terms.
A numerical correspondence among different data suggests that they accurately reflect cognition. The four who mapped the black-focused category 2ihk'
throughout dark-cool colors designated the cool category yas with a smaller
naming range than those who mapped the black-focused category over only
dark colors. Speakers #2, #3, #4, and #5 named the cool category, respectively, 80, 101, 102, and 86 times-an average of 92 color chips per individual
that were named with the term yas during the first part of the interview. Speakers #6, #7, #8, and #A named the cool category 124, 152, 119, and 160 times,
an average of 139 uses of yas (or coextensive seleste) per individual.
The between-group difference in the size of the cool-category naming range
is explained by the model of a sliding preference for basic categorization: the
four individuals of the first group named the cool category fewer times because
it was more difficult and less natural for them to differentiate at that level than
it was for the four members of the second group. The cognitive shift between
attendances to similarity and to distinctiveness accounts for variation in the
level of basic categorization and the consequent presence or absence of the
dark-cool category; and the shift simultaneously accounts for the further corollary of a difference in size of the cool-category naming range.
This model of cognitive shift predicts, further, that a degree of precision that
is sufficient for one individual who attends strongly to similarity is deficient
for another individual who attends strongly to distinctiveness. The difference
in overview surfaces in the color naming of the Tzeltal speakers at earlier and
at later stages, who appear to name colors sloppily versus neatly; compare
Figs. 2, 3, 4a, and 5a with Figs. 6a and 7a.10 'Sloppiness', however, is an
interpretation that would stem from the assumption that individuals directly
categorize perception and name what they perceive, either accurately or less
so. But the stronger attendance to distinctiveness that is characteristic of later
evolutionary stages simultaneously promotes a sharper notion of accuracy,
even when all speakers name colors with what seems to be equal care for
exactitude.
Finally, the model addresses the grades of variation within each group. In
the first group, only speaker #4 maps the white-focused category with a vestigial light-warm range, and speakers #2, #3, and #4 map the dark-cool category over lighter colors (rows B-J) than does speaker #5 (rows D-J). Speaker
#5 appears to be retracting his dark-cool category toward the restricted dark
range that characterizes the second group.
10The

naming ranges of speaker #8, like those of speakers #2, #3, #4, and #5, also appear
'sloppy', but for a different reason. Speaker #8 adopts seleste and asul as additional names of the
cool category, and she applies coextensive tah to yellow more than do the other Tenejapa Tzeltals.

50

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

belongs to the second group. However,


Speaker #6, who is at StageIla,
his data show qualities that are intermediate to the two groups: he has retracted
the black-focused category to exclusively dark colors, but he has not added
terms in excess of the five that are shared by all speakers.
Speakers #7, #8, and #A have added words for blends of color, such as
kape 'brown' (from Spanish cafe 'coffee/brown'), rosa 'pink' (Sp. rosa 'rose/
pink'),('in 'purple' (Tzel. 'yucca root'), and limun 'chartreuse' (Sp. limon
'lime/chartreuse')-a further corollary of stronger attendance to distinctiveness. Speakers #7 and #8 are more discriminating than #6; they map the blackfocused category over fewer colors. Speaker #8 shows exceptional discrimination by polarizing all foci except that of coextensive k'an; she placed her
other six chromatic foci in the darkest rows, H-I.
In sum, the cognitive model of reciprocal strengths of attendance to similarity
and to distinctiveness accounts for the smooth gradient of variation throughout
stages and substages of Tzeltal color categorization. Theoretically, different
individuals have balanced the strengths of attendances as a personal adjustment
to the novelty that each confronts in a day. Differences between the privately
attained balances cause each person to fall out at a different point along a
continuous sequence of color-category evolution that is constrained only by
physiology.
The Tenejapa Tzeltal might aspire to some emblem of social identity in their
use of color names, although such a construct is not essential to explain the
current variation in Tenejapa.
5.4. TZOTZIL COLOR CATEGORIES.Color

categorization

in Navenchauc

Tzotzil is very different from that of Tenejapa Tzeltal. Four of the six Tzotzil
interviewees preserve the three-category system, and five retain the dark-cool
category. But they preserve it at low salience and as the highest level of a fourtier taxonomy. All three levels of subordinate categories are of greater salience
(see n. 9).
The Navenchauc system is unique among the Mesoamerican data. An explanation of its unusual character requires some special construct in addition
to those of the individualistic variety, perhaps a social variable. Labov (1963)
puts forth the notion of a prestigious variant in his model of socially motivated
phonological change.
The concept of a socially valued linguistic form fits well with the hypothesis
that the people of Navenchauc value the maintenance of many sorts of tradition,
including early-stage color categorization. Traditional practices might provide
a source of social identity under the relentless encroachment of outside influences. Labov notes that 'the linguistic form which began to shift was often a
marker of regional status' (1972:178). His idea is amplified here to construe
any time-honored behavior as a potential marker; the Navenchauc Tzotzil
might seek to stabilize such markers as islands of identity in a world that shifts
around them.
Tzotzil data are represented by Figures 9-11, speakers #9, #10, and #11;
data from the other three speakers (#C, #D, and #E) are omitted. Speaker

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

53

+;; A
Ba
D

B
1

jF

| ,dh__I L:.

1_

11111111111
1S - F
iS3 (

1234567890123456789

focus

asul

d kafe

morero

.B . : : : : : : : : : : : : : ; ; : : : : : : : : ; : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : . b
C

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FIGURES lla-b.

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38

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Vk'

il

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1111111 ll

lilll

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17

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11

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naming 111i1111111
mapping

Tzotzil, Navenchauc, (a) naming ranges and foci, (b-) mappings;


female, age 50, 1981.

Her four-level taxonomy pertains exclusively to dark-cool colors, diagrammed


in Figs. 9b-e. The broadest level consists of a dark-cool category, 2ik', with
a naming salience of only 21 responses.
Figs. 9c-d show the three levels of subordinate categories. All are more
salient than the superordinate dark-cool category; that is, the ratio of size
between naming range and mapping is smaller in all cases. For Tzeltal speakers
#2, #3, #4, and #5, I claimed that the basic preference for categorization is
between perceptual levels, creating a subordinate category more salient than
its superordinate (?5.3). In contrast, one would have to guess which of the
Tzotzil categories are basic, although it is beyond doubt that Berlin & Kay's
criteria of basic categorization cannot be distributed throughout the four tiers
of the taxonomy.12
The extraordinary depth of Navenchauc color categorization can be addressed by uniting the social and individualist constructs. Selection of tradition
as an emblem of identity might encourage perpetuation of an archaic threecategory system, including a dark-cool category. Archaic status of the darkcool category is suggested by its low naming salience. While this emblem is
preserved, infusion of novelty could induce the Navenchauc Tzotzil to attend
strongly to distinctiveness. That outlook probably inspired innovation of multiple narrower categories that are nested inside one another to three further
orders of embedding. One of the categories on the second level is named with
a Tzotzil term, yos, and the other five categories are named with the loanwords
12 The difficulty of
identifying basic color terms does not preclude their presence in the Tzotzil
system: they might be those of the most inclusive salient level, such as kape and yos; or they could
be identified by other procedures (Bolton 1978a).

54

LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

uba, kafe, selestre, limun, and asul (whose forms derive from Spanish uva
'grape/purple', 'cafe 'coffee/brown', celeste 'sky-blue', limon 'lime/chartreuse', and azul 'blue'). According to this model, if the broad categories had
not been adopted as emblems of identity, by now they would have retracted
to narrower ranges; that is, dark-cool and coextensively named warm would
have retracted to black, red, and yellow. Since the retraction is discouraged
by a social value, other terms have been innovated to name the finer order of
differentiation mandated by current thinking.
Tzotzil speakers #10 and #11 show variants of the emblematic dark-cool
category that is retracted to row D or E, and #10 shows a variant of the
subordinate complexity.'3 Speaker #11, age 50, shows only two taxonomic
levels; she established color categories as an adult before intrusion of the highway.
5.5. INDEPENDENTEVIDENCEOF COGNITIVEDIFFERENCE.The Tzotzil speak-

ers map color categories with more steps than do the Tzeltal speakers, as is
shown by the following comparison. The comparison presents, first, the range
of each category that is shared between the two languages (e.g. 'dark-cool');
second, the name of the category in Tzotzil and in Tzeltal (e.g. 2ik'/2ihk'); and
third, the average number of steps with which the speakers of each language
mapped the category (e.g. 13.5:8.5), always in the order Tzotzil: Tzeltal for
each name and each average: 'dark-cool' 2ik'/2ihk' 13.5:8.5; 'cool' yo?/yas
7.4:5.0; 'warm' with red focus
5.6:4.0; 'warm' with yellow focus k'on/
?ohl/ah
k'an 7.8:4.0; 'white sak/sak 4.5:2.8.
The consistently larger number of Tzotzil mapping steps indicates that, on
the average and within the present sample, the Tzotzil speakers attend to differences among colors more strongly than do the Tzeltal speakers. These numbers are consistent with the greater taxonomic depth of Tzotzil color
categorization, which I have also attributed to a stronger attendance to distinctiveness. The taxonomic depth and the average number of mapping steps
per category are independent orders of data.
The averages are based on the Tzotzil data from Navenchauc and on the
Tzeltal data both from Tenejapa and from Amatenango del Valle, where three
individuals were interviewed. The differences in averages between Tenejapa
and Amatenango are as follows: 'dark-cool' 2ihk' 9.0:7.5; 'cool' yas 5.75:4;
'warm' with red focus ?ah 4.5:3.0; 'warm' with yellow focus k'an 4.25:3.5;
'white' sak 2.75:3.0. The Amatenango averages are lower than those of Tenejapa, except for the sak averages. However, each Tenejapa Tzeltal average
is lower than its Navenchauc Tzotzil counterpart.
The averages of mapping steps for 'dark-cool', 'warm', and 'cool' can be
calculated only from the data representing the stages that contain those categories, basic or secondary.'4 Two speakers at Stage IV, Tzotzil #E (with a
Tzotzil speakers #C and #D, whose data are not diagrammed, show similar complexity to a
depth of four and three levels respectively, and speaker #E shows a Stage-IV system with two
taxonomic levels.
14
as mapped
Stages II-IV contain the following basic categories: II [white, warm, dark-cool],
13

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

55

total of 37 mapping steps) and Tzeltal #A (with 17 steps), are excluded from
the calculations, although their relevant numbers are: 'cool' yoslyas 15 steps: 7
steps; 'white' saklsak 2:1; 'black' 2ik'/2ihk' 11:3. The three Stage-IIIa Tzeltals
mapped black 2ihk' with 3, 2, and 2 steps, respectively.
DISCUSSION

6. The cognitive model of gradual change has implications for the growing
theory of categorization (e.g. Rosch et al. 1976, Medin & Smith 1984, Taylor
1989). These implications concern the basic level of categorization and the
definition of basic color terms.
Berlin et al. 1974
6.1. MOBILITYOF THE BASIC LEVEL OF CATEGORIZATION.

find that biological folk taxonomies can have as many as five major levels. But
the middle level-which

Berlin calls FOLKGENERICCATEGORIES is learned first

by children. It pertains to concrete and imageable meanings, and it is named


with simplest terminology, named with the largest inventory of terms, most
frequently named, and named with least effort. This is the level of cognition
on which people achieve basic partitions of their environment and interact most
directly and comfortably with it; for example, tomato is a 'folk-generic' category, as opposed to the superordinate category vegetable or a subordinate
category such as Roman tomato. Rosch et al. (1976; cf. Taylor 1989:46-51)
rename this concept the BASICLEVELof categorization. They couple the concept
category constitutes the
with prototype theory by showing that a BASICOBJECT
most abstract level on which prototypical members manifest the maximum of
attributes that typify the category and a minimum of attributes that characterize
prototypes of other categories. Berlin and his coworkers further show that the
'generic' or basic level is not immutably pegged to physical form, and others
have repeated the finding (Rosch et al 1976:432, Dougherty 1978, Mervis &
Rosch 1981:93). Thus, some items that are originally classified as subtypes of
basic concepts are later promoted to basic status. For example, a few Tzeltals
have promoted a divergent species of oak to the generic level, while the majority
of speakers classify that taxon on the specific level (Berlin 1972:74-79). Or,
from another perspective, it could be said that some Tzeltals have moved their
basic level 'downward' to incorporate the divergent taxon.
The data regarding Tzeltal color categorization shows that in this domain
the basic level is highly mobile. As individuals shift the strength of cognitive
attendances from similarity to distinctiveness, the basic level of color categorization moves toward greater differentiation and specificity. Superordinate
categories fall into disuse and diminish in range; for example, dark-cool pihk'
in Fig. 9b; IlIa [white, warm, black, cool]; IIIb [white, red, yellow, dark-cool]; IV [white, black,
red, yellow, cool]. Stages II and IIIb can include cool as a nonbasic category, as mapped in Fig.
4d. For these reasons, mapping steps are counted for dark-cool categories only from Stage-lI and
Stage-IIIb data, for warm categories only from Stage-lI and Stage-IIIa data, and for white and cool
categories from data of Stages II, liIa, and IIb. Likewise, mapping steps of black categories are
counted only from Stage-IlIa and Stage-IV data. Data regarding Stage-IV cool and white categories
are counted separately, and data regarding red and yellow categories of Stage IIIb and Stage IV
are not counted.

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LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

retracts from green and from blue toward its black focus. Subordinate categories gain in usage and expand in range; for example, cool yas broadens its
range and is named more often during the Munsell interview. In effect, the
basic categorization shifts from the level of combining BLACK-WITH-GREENWITH-BLUE to the level of contrasting BLACK against GREEN-WITH-BLUE. In the

future, Tzeltal speakers might move their basic color categorization to the level
of maximum contrast of BLACKagainst GREENagainst BLUE, as have speakers

of other Mesoamerican languages after they innovated a term for a separate


basic category of BLUE(MacLaury 1986, figs. 8.12a-c).
6.2. SPLITTINGCRITERIAOF BASICCOLORCATEGORIES.Berlin & Kay identify
BASICCOLORTERM-with operational
the basic status of a color category-a

criteria: (1) monolexemic, (2) non-context specific, (3) not included in the range
of another term, and (4) highly salient.'5 Criteria (1) and (2) are not problematical here, but (3) and (4) warrant discussion. In Tzeltal, as the basic level
to the
of categorization moves from the level of BLACK-WITH-GREEN-WITH-BLUE
criterion (3) continues to pertain at
level of BLACKagainst GREEN-WITH-BLUE,

the broader level while criterion (4) gains prominence at the more specific level.
That is, 'dark-cool' 2ihk' of uneven salience continues to encompass consistently salient 'cool' yas.
When does one stop calling 'dark-cool' a basic category and start thinking
of 'cool' as basic? This question has no clear answer, because change occurs
gradually as the basic level continuously moves. Many Tzeltals place the basic
level somewhere between the tight grouping of BLACK-WITH-GREEN-WITH-BLUE
a few have
and the unequivocal contrast of BLACKagainst GREEN-WITH-BLUE;

arrived at the latter, Stage lia. For this reason, it is difficult to specify the
exact number of basic color categories that each Tzeltal speaker maintains.
The fact that there is flux in basic status is not an indictment of the criteria
by which Berlin & Kay define the basic color category. The splitting of criteria
between perceptual levels shows that the definition pertains accurately to real
cognition, which is capable of intermediate states. The criteria should not be
simplified or altered to give the impression of all-or-none decisiveness, because
cognition itself is continuously mutable rather than fixed.
In reference to data that were collected by the earlier acetate method, both
Berlin & Kay 1969 and Berlin & Berlin 1975 implicitly favored as a criterion
salience of naming ranges over the inclusiveness of categories. Berlin & Kay
15Color-category salience is a multifaceted concept and is always a matter of degree. Salience
is gauged in this study by quantifying 'size of naming range' and comparing the numbers between
individuals. Bolton (1978a) establishes a salience scale on the basis of multiple indicators, and he
ranks salience on the aggregate for languages rather than for individuals. More researchers have
identified basic color terms by considering salience than by considering maximal inclusion (nonhyponomy), because most of the data are amenable exclusively to analyses of salience (Pollnac
1975; Bolton 1978b; Friedl 1979; Bolton et al. 1980; Jernudd & White 1983). Inclusion is most
effectively assessed on the basis of mappings, which have rarely been collected (cf. Greenfeld
1986). Crawford (1982) argues that inclusion is more critical than salience. The Tzeltal data suggest
that an interaction between inclusion and salience determines the extent to which a category is
basic.

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

57

classify Tenejapa Tzeltal and other Mayan languages as having five basic terms,
Stage IV. Berlin & Berlin ascribe basic status to the highly salient Aguaruna
cool category, wiyka, although they note that some individuals maintain the
range of black-focused bukusea throughout green and blue. It appears that the
latter group of Aguarunas represent a case between 'stages', as do elder Tenejapa Tzeltals. Since color categorization in both languages is extensively
described, no information has been lost through the lag in theory. However,
now that there are improved descriptive procedures and a cognitive model of
continuous change, it would be more precise to identify intermediate systems,
rather than arbitrarily favoring the criterion of naming salience as diagnostic
of basic categorization. The intermediacy of basic color-term systems is independently noted in Johnson et al. 1986.
CONCLUSION

7. People innovate basic color categories as they attend increasingly to


distinctiveness. They increase this selective emphasis in response to the novelty
that impinges on them from external sources. Different speakers of one language are exposed to different amounts of novelty in the course of living and
working in different ways, and some individuals are more aware of novelty
than others. Thus, members of the same community will divide the spectrum
with different numbers of basic color categories. Yet all will acquire the categories in a single evolutionary sequence in accord with universal physiological
determinants.
Close measurement shows that the emergence of basic color categories progresses through a continuum of semantic relations as the ranges of established
basic categories recede toward foci and as secondary terms gain salience. At
an indeterminate point in the process, a relation of inclusion gives way to a
relation of complementation between an old basic category and a newly emergent one.
Such is the usual development, as is exhibited by Tenejapa Tzeltal speakers.
Although some social value or reward might motivate the evolution, the incentive is not in evidence around Tenejapa. It is sufficient to propose that each
individual has achieved a private balance between the attendances to similarity
and distinctiveness, and that each has fashioned a relation among color categories in direct accord with that personal cognition. But whatever balance an
individual achieves, the taxonomic depth is no greater than two levels in any
relation of inclusion.
The color categorization of Navenchauc Tzotzil stands sharply apart from
the usual process. Here an extraordinary impingement of novelty has provoked
two processes at once. First, a social value of retaining tradition bolsters a
threatened group identity. Second, attendance to distinctiveness is enhanced.
The result is an exotic system in which an archaic dark-cool category is maintained at very low salience, and a hierarchy of narrower categories is named
at high salience to a taxonomic depth of three subordinate levels. The emphasis
on distinctiveness is further manifested by the large number and small size of
the steps with which superordinate categories are mapped. Social convention

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LANGUAGE, VOLUME 67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

maintains an ancient category at one level, while cognition has moved far ahead
to encourage innovation of other categories on levels of finer differentiation.
Were it not for the convention, the archaism would have fallen out of use.
The comparison of color categorization in two languages shows that different
motives can govern change in one type of linguistic system. Although the individually inspired motive is ubiquitous, clear identification of a social motive
is harder to establish. Navenchauc Tzotzil provides a rare exception.
APPENDIX

At different times and places, discussants of color ethnography have doubted that the mapping
procedure is reliable. A reviewer of the present study writes:
I find a weakness in ... 'mapping' ... repeatedly pressing interviewees to increase the conceptual
area they are willing to include within any particular color category ... Within the context of
an intensive survey program, where the interviewer is a stranger to the community-to its
primary language, to its cultural idiosyncrasies, and to the individuals themselves who live
there-it would seem almost impossible to evaluate the factors which might affect how or
why interviewees responded the way they did and whether or not 'mappings' elicited in this
way are valid representations of color classification. The key arguments of the paper rest on
this questionable field method.
There is evidence that mappings are reliable. For example, individuals of any single community
who are separately interviewed map a given term with characteristics shared throughout their
community, whereas members of another community map its cognate with different characteristics
which, nevertheless, are shared at that location. In this study, the Tzeltal speakers who were
interviewed at Paraje Nabil in Tenejapa mapped the yellow-focused term, k'an, with a range that
includes purest red. Eleven Chuj speakers were interviewed at Caseria Joom, San Sabastian Coatan,
Guatemala; all mapped the cognate, qan, with only a yellow and orange range. Much farther afield.
in Canada, eight Shuswap speakers mapped the yellow-focused term, kVal-t, throughout both pure
yellow and pure green. These and many finer differences recur time and again among distinct
groups of people, not merely between individuals. The mappings manifest something that is socially
shared, which appears to be color categorization purely and simply.
The reliability of mappings is further substantiated by the correspondence of mapping ranges
and naming ranges. For example, the Tzeltals apply k?an to yellow and to red color chips, but less
often to red ones. The Chujs apply qan to yellow and orange, but never to red. The Shuswaps
apply k"al-t abundantly to yellow and to green. There are straightforward correspondences of this
kind in all of the roughly 85 languages for which mappings have been collected; this suggest that
the procedures are not complicated by extraneous variables.
Interviewees do not seem to be ill at ease or otherwise prone to distort as they perform the
mundane task of placing rice grains on colors of a particular name. The procedure was readily
understood and conscientiously carried out by native speakers everywhere. Tenejapans were notified by messenger that the interviewer would be hiring on the following day, and they showed
up voluntarily. Communication was accomplished through an interpreter. The work on Chuj was
conducted by a Chuj-speaking linguist and native of Caseria Joom. Most of the Shuswap interviews
were conducted in English, although the interviewees did not derive the YELLOW-WITH-GREEN
category from any source but their own minds. During the Mesoamerican survey and the Pacific
Northwest survey, mappings were accomplished under a variety of conditions, but under none
that would invalidate results.
As a further assurance of accuracy, the results of any color interview can be interpreted on the
basis of quantitative correspondences that exceed simple matches of naming ranges, foci, and
mappings. For example, in ?5.3 each Tzeltal BLACK-BLUE-GREEN
mapping of 2ihk' coincides with
a small naming range of yvs 'green, blue', whereas each exclusively BLACKmapping of ihk' coincides with a large naming range of yas. Section 5.5 demonstrates a correspondence between
taxonomic depth and averages among the numbers of mapping steps. Correspondences of even
greater detail are exhibited in the full account of the method (MacLaury 1986, Ch. 3). The study

MEASURING VARIATION IN COLOR SEMANTICS

59

of coextensive ranges of the warm category shows a statistically significant correspondence between size of naming range, centrality of focus, and size of mapping (MacLaury 1987b). I would
urge questioners of the procedures to scrutinize those numbers.
Others have addressed sampling procedures, including two current reviewers:
... key arguments concerning one of the two languages reported on are based on data received from perhaps only six persons from one Tzotzil town, all of them members of the same
family ...
One is taken aback ... by the small size of the sample ... [8 Tenejapa Tzeltals, 3 Amatenango
Tzeltals, and 6 Tzotzils]. Although these are indeed closely related languages, one might have
expected data from other villages pertaining to each, especially for Tzotzil, whose pattern of
variation is said to be unique. The cultural uniqueness of the Tzotzil village, Navenchauc, is
certainly surprising: were no other sites in the MCS under recent acculturative influence?
[Bracketed words are added.]
The preferred minimum sample-size of the MCS was ten speakers and of the WCS twenty-five;
the latter survey did not collect mappings. MCS samples, whenever possible, were collected from
members of a tightly-knit group, such as the Navenchauc Tzotzil co-residing sisters and cousins
or the Tenejapa Tzeltal residents of Paraje Nabil, an outlying hamlet. Small but concentrated
samples determine whether color naming systems are uniform or variant within micro-populations.
In Paraje Nabil, different types of systems loosely correspond with age, although even elders vary.
Thirty miles to the south, in one ward of Amatenango del Valle, three female Tzeltal potters were
interviewed. They have systems similar to those of the elders of Paraje Nabil. The five young
Tzotzil relatives share their unusual complexity, although they differ between four and three taxonomic levels, differ in assigning one or two terms to the deepest level, and differ in assigning the
same term, selestre, to level 3 or level 4. These five complex systems differ from that of the fiftyyear-old Tzotzil speaker. She categorizes much like the elder Tzeltal, except that she retracts her
dark-cool range from the lightest colors and maps categories in smaller, more numerous steps.
Although the Tzotzil sample covers only one family and age level, the complexity is corroborated
by Collier's 1966 study of Tzotzil color in San Lorenzo Zinicantan, the municipal seat of peripheral
Navenchauc. Collier, using the Farnsworth-Munsell 100 Hue Test, documents substantial use of
Spanish loans and calculates a probability curve for each usage. However, heights of the curves
correspond to only two of the four taxonomic levels of categories established for the Navenchauc
women. Although more data would be welcome, the present information suggests that both the
Tzeltal interviewed in Paraje Nabil of Tenejapa and the Tzotzil sisters and cousins in Navenchauc
are representative of their micro-communities and age classes.
Kay (1975) and Dougherty (1977) find that individual members of small societies vary greatly in
number and arrangement of basic color categories. The WCS, the MCS, and the Pacific Northwest
Survey confirm their finding. What is gained, then, by a sample of over ten individuals in a community is an overview of the range of variation, which can appear progressively immense as the
sample expands. However, there are shared regularities in a community (or in some segment
thereof) in spite of variation, such as those listed above for Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Chuj, and Shuswap.
Regularities can be identified in a sample of ten or, in the case of Navenchauc Tzotzil, as few as
five.
Most important, identification of unique shared characteristics is not achieved in a vacuum. It
is accomplished against the backdrop of samples from 200 languages, which provide a basis for
comparison. In this regard, the three and four taxonomic levels of Navenchauc Tzotzil are truly
unique, if not patently aberrant. Although many other languages in the survey samples name color
with loanwords, only the five young Tzotzil women attain this four-tier depth. Thus, there are
grounds for recognizing the social nature of this system and for seeking a special explanation, even
though the sample is small.
The sample of six Tzotzils can be contrasted with Jernudd & White's 1983 sample of 173 For!
Arabic bilinguals. Whereas the MCS used 330 Munsell chips and three procedures to gain deep
understanding of a few people, Jernudd & White asked for one name each for 18 colored pencils
to obtain a statistically analyzable aggregate. The MCS explored category relations; Jernudd &

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LANGUAGE, VOLUME67, NUMBER 1 (1991)

Whiteexploredvariabilityin numberand choice of terms. Differentaims commanddifferentkinds


and sizes of samples.
A third concern is lightingconditions. For example, Cairo (1977, esp. figs. 12-17) surveyed
Yucatec Maya, Mixe, and Popolucacolor categorizationwith a monochromaticprojectorand a
portabledarkroom.He harshlycriticizes the techniqueof interviewingwith Munsellchips in the
open air under normalambientdaylight. However, Cairo's diagramsof his measurementsshow
color-categoryboundariesthat are absolutelyuniformamongthe differentlanguages,which is a
virtualimpossibilitygiven what is known of variation.Rather,it appearsthat the 330-chipopenairinterviewis the moresensitiveprocedure,becauseit bringsout the inevitabledifferencesamong
individualsand among languages.The descriptiveaccuracyof such diverse data is substantiated
by the correspondencesbetween independentresultsof the three-partmethod, such as those discussed in ?5.3 and ?5.5.

Boynton (1979, 1990), duringforty years of work, has establishedlaboratorycontrols for the
study of color perception, devoting majorattentionto lighting.In comparingthe results of his
methodswith those froman open-airsurvey, we agreethatthey hardlydiffer(Boyntonet al. 1989).
Hurvich (1981:195)details some of the physiologicalmechanismsof 'color adaptation',changes
in the eye's sensitivity that compensatefor the spectralqualityof light. Finally, De Valois & De
Valois (1975)show how color discriminationis a responseto inputratiosof three cone-types, but
not to absolutequantitiesof photons. The ratiosremainconstantacrossa rangeof brightnessthat
is far broaderthanany rangeencounteredduringan outdoorinterview(cf. MacLaury1987a:11516).
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139-AN. TyndallAve.
Tucson, AZ 85719

[Received 12 September1989;
revisionreceived 29 May 1990;
accepted 17 October 1990.]