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date: 02 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

A study of over seventy African languages suggests that Africa displays a strongly areal distribution of different “basic color term” (BCT) systems, and there is obvious impact of salient cultural activities, language contact, urbanization, and education on the evolution of color term systems. The smallest systems, containing BCTs for ‘red’, ‘black’, and white’, are predominantly in western Africa, though some East African Nilo-Saharan languages also appear to have this system. Most West African languages fall into Greenberg’s Niger-Congo phylum, but there is strong debate about whether these are a single genetic group. Southern African “Khoisan” and southern Narrow Bantu often have moderately elaborated systems with around five probable BCTs. The greatest elaboration and variation occur in Afro-Asiatic and some Nilo-Saharan languages of north and eastern Africa, with up to seven or eight BCTs plus salient “color+pattern” vocabulary.

Keywords: color, basic color term, color+pattern vocabulary, areal distribution, language contact

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