Basic color categories in Mandarin Chinese revealed by cluster analysis

Tsuei Ju Tracy Hsieh, Ichiro Kuriki*, I-Ping Chen, Yumiko Muto, Rumi Tokunaga, Satoshi Shioiri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Previous claims of the number of color categories and corresponding basic color terms in modern Mandarin Chinese remain irreconcilable, mainly due to the shortage in objectively evaluating the basicness of color terms with statistical significance. Therefore the present study applied k-means cluster analysis to investigate native Mandarin Chinese speakers’ color naming data of 330 color chips similar to those used in World Color Survey. Results confirmed that there are 11 basic color categories among modern Mandarin speakers in Taiwan, one corresponding to each basic color term. Results also showed that observers overwhelmingly agreed in their use of Mandarin color terms, including those that had yielded ambiguous results in previous studies (gray, brown, pink, and orange). There is significant cross-language similarity when comparing the distribution of color categories in the World Color Survey chart with American English and Japanese data. The motif analysis and group mutual information analysis suggest that Mandarin color terms used in Taiwan describe very similar categories and are, hence, similarly precise in communicating color information as those in Japanese and American English. These results show that three languages of fundamentally different cultures and histories have very similar basic color terms.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number12
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • basic color terms
  • clustering analysis
  • color categories
  • mandarin chinese


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