Overton Brent Berlin (born 1936) is an American anthropologist, most noted for his work with linguist Paul Kay on color, and his ethnobiological research and bioprospecting among the Maya of Chiapas, Mexico.
He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1964. Until recently, Berlin was Graham Perdue Professor of Anthropology at the University of Georgia, where he was also director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and co-director for the Laboratories of Ethnobiology.
His and Paul Kay's 1969 work Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution initiated the field of color terminology research and has been highly influential in anthropology, linguistics and cognitive sciences. Berlin and Kay concluded that the number of basic color terms in the world's languages are limited and center around certain focal colors, assumed to be cognitively hardwired.
He led the Maya ICGB project, a bioprospecting consortium, supported by the Biodiversity Program for the National Institutes of Health, which was closed in 2001 after accusations of failure to obtain adequate informed consent from the Maya community from which he obtained indigenous knowledge. These allegations were primarily driven by a Canadian based political activist organization, known at the time as RAFI. However, over 30,000 Maya living in dozens of communities signed agreements to participate in the project after a thorough informed consent process and it enjoyed widespread support within indigenous communities. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1981.
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