Replicating Color Term Universals through Human Iterated Learning


In 1969, Berlin and Kay proposed that there exist cross-cultural universals in the form of basic color terms. To test this hypothesis, the World Color Survey (WCS) collected color naming data from 110 non-industrial societies, identifying regularities in the structure of languages with different numbers of terms. This leaves us with the question of where these universals come from. We use a simple model of cultural evolution known as ``iterated learning'' to explore the hypothesis that universals emerge from human perceptual and learning biases. We conducted an experiment simulating the process of cultural transmission in the laboratory, and compared the results to the systems of color terms that appear in the WCS data. Our results show that cultural evolution results in convergence of systems of color terms towards a form consistent with the WCS, supporting the hypothesis that universals are the result of perceptual and learning biases.

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