giovedì 17 marzo 2011

International Color Idioms and Red Togas

Alan Kennedy's Color/Language Project - Color Idioms in Different Languages has an interesting essay, Linguistic Facts About Color, where we learn, for example, that "Latin originally lacked a generic color word for 'gray' and 'brown' and had to borrow its words from Germanic language sources; Classical Greek is said to not have had different names for blue and black; Biblical Hebrew had no word for blue; Hindi has no standard word for the color 'gray', however, lists for child or foreigner Hindi language learning include 'saffron' [केसर] as a basic color"; and so on.
The paragraphs about color and culture are also very interesting: "(...) colors are used in very different ways in different color idioms across languages. Let's just take green as an example. In English alone, 'he is green' can mean, depending on the context: 1. He is inexperienced 2. He is envious 3. He is environmentally aware. However, green has other associations in other languages such as fear (French), anger (Thai, Greek, Italian), boredom (Russian) off-color sexual content (Spanish), nausea (Mandarin Chinese), harassment (Turkish) and youth (Swahili)."
There is also a spreadsheet, where you can find a set of Color Idioms in Different Languages. There are mistakes, true, but Kennedy is asking readers to help him fix them, and the project is very interesting anyway. The Italian part is more or less okay, except for the weird expression "rendere l'occasione bianco" (translated as "to spoil it") and for the strangely Berlusconian "una toga rossa" ("a red toga") for "magistrate" (for those who don't know it, "toghe rosse" is how Berlusconi calls the Italian magistrates, implying that they are all communists and therefore biased against him).

2 commenti:

  1. Very interesting. Does he discuss Berlin and Kay's contention that in languages with only three color terms these colors are always black, white and red, that in languages four color terms the fourth color can be only either yellow or green, etc.?

  2. Yes, and then it adds: "Studies done since Berlin & Kay have continued to validate the existence of this sequence up to blue (evidence for the rest of the sequence is less consistent), and it remains a fascinating finding. This research has inevitably led some linguists to surmise that the experience of seeing color may be relative for a person and may be influenced by his or her language. British psychologist W.H.R. Rivers conducted experiments in the 1890's with Pacific Islanders (who used their word for "black" to describe the sky) which demonstrated that people can see the difference between all imaginable shades of color, even if names for them are not in their language. Other studies have shown, however, that people can remember and sort colored objects more easily if their language has a name for that color. A recent study by Franklin, Drivonikou and Bevis (2008) suggests that a perception of color which is unfiltered by the language that we speak, i.e. the one we are born with, gives way to one that is more influenced by our language as we become adults."
    The whole article is extremely interesting, and it's worth reading it all. In fact, I'm now going to add another little excerpt to the post!