Color categorial perception and second language acquisition


  • Jodi L. Sandford University of Perugia



Color Categorial Perception, Category Boundaries, Linguistic Color Perception, Second Language Acquisition


This paper illustrates results of perceptual and linguistic experiments conducted to verify “categorial perception”, naming, and comprehension of color terms in Italian as mother tongue and in English as a second language. I employed Franklin, Clifford, Williamson, and Davies’ [2005] experimental procedure to see if young Italian children, 3- to 5-year-olds would confirm their results of categorial perception in 2- to 4-year-olds. I followed their procedure with the objective of being able to compare the results across the different language groups. Franklin et al. found that categorial perception emerges “irrespective of naming and was not stronger in those children with more developed color term knowledge”, and maintain that “color term knowledge does not modify categorial perception, at least during the early stages of childhood”. This research, differently than the original research, argues that linguistic categorization amplifies the category effect: those showing a correct linguist boundary and a between- category facilitation scored high in focal naming/comprehension, and in the 2-AFC naming score. The tested group demonstrated a good progressive general knowledge of color terms and color fluency, and an apparent interference from second language acquisition showing slightly different linguistic color categories (i.e. blue - blu, azzurro, celeste). This is in keeping with the perceptual reorganization model, which postulates an innate predisposition for category boundaries in the color space, and that language learning modifies the location and extent of categorial perception, and may reorganize the representation of perceptual color space.

Author Biography

Jodi L. Sandford, University of Perugia

Jodi L. Sandford is University Researcher and Adjunct Professor in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Perugia. Her specific research interests are in Cognitive Linguistics, color semantics, embodiment, Conceptual Metaphor Theory, and translation. She has published widely on Color semantics and Manner of Speaking Verbs in English, concentrating on empirical studies regarding entrenchment, conceptualization, categorization, implicit attitudes, and fictive motion.


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How to Cite

Sandford, J. L. (2017) “Color categorial perception and second language acquisition”, Cultura e Scienza del Colore - Color Culture and Science, 7, pp. 69–76. doi: 10.23738/ccsj.i72017.06.