Hannah Haynie and Claire Bowern publish article in PNAS

December 7, 2016

Associate professor Claire Bowern and former postdoc Hannah Haynie (Colorado State) have published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) titled “Phylogenetic approach to the evolution of color term systems” based on their work in the Yale Pama-Nyungan Lab. The study was featured in this week’s YaleNews, and the abstract appears below.

The naming of colors has long been a topic of interest in the study of human culture and cognition. Color term research has asked diverse questions about thought and communication, but no previous research has used an evolutionary framework. We show that there is broad support for the most influential theory of color term development (that most strongly represented by Berlin and Kay [Berlin B, Kay P (1969) (Univ of California Press, Berkeley, CA)]); however, we find extensive evidence for the loss (as well as gain) of color terms. We find alternative trajectories of color term evolution beyond those considered in the standard theories. These results not only refine our knowledge of how humans lexicalize the color space and how the systems change over time; they illustrate the promise of phylogenetic methods within the domain of cognitive science, and they show how language change interacts with human perception.