Knowing color terms enhances recognition: further evidence from English and Himba

J Exp Child Psychol. 2009 Feb;102(2):219-38. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2008.06.002. Epub 2008 Aug 8.


Two experiments attempted to reconcile discrepant recent findings relating to children's color naming and categorization. In a replication of Franklin and colleagues (Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 90 (2005) 114-141), Experiment 1 tested English toddlers' naming and memory for blue-green and blue-purple colors. It also found advantages for between-category presentations that could be interpreted as support for universal color categories. However, a different definition of knowing color terms led to quite different conclusions in line with the Whorfian view of Roberson and colleagues (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 133 (2004) 554-571). Categorical perception in recognition memory was now found only for children with a fuller understanding of the relevant terms. It was concluded that color naming can both underestimate and overestimate toddlers' knowledge of color terms. Experiment 2 replicated the between-category recognition superiority found in Himba children by Franklin and colleagues for the blue-purple range. But Himba children, whose language does not have separate terms for green and blue, did not show a cross-category advantage for that set; rather, they behaved like English children who did not know their color terms.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Namibia
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Semantics*
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • United Kingdom