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Subject: Re: colors
From: TAKASUGI Shinji (tssf.airnet.ne.jp)
Date: Fri, 16 Jan 2004 05:40:57 GMT
References: 1, 2, 3


> It has been noted (see Color Appearance and the Emergence and Evolution of Basic Color Lexicons by Paul Kay and Luisa Maffi for an intro) that some colors are more "basic" than others.

You might be intereseted in the following documents too:

Bayesian Learning of Linguistic Categories (Word document)
Color Naming and the Phototoxic Effects of Sunlight on the Eye

Paul Kay wrote that if a language has six basic color terms, they will be white, black, red, yellow, green, and blue. But according to R. E. MacLaury (quoted in the upper link), it's possible that other color terms such as brown can emerge before the green-blue term splits to green and blue. This is more appropriate for Japanese.

Ancient Japanese had four basic color terms as Key expected: siro (white), kuro (black), aka (red), and awo (green-blue). Their adjective forms were sirosi, kurosi, akasi, and awosi. It is believed to have had only two before that: aka (light/warm) and kuro (dark/cool), from which the modern adjectives akarui (light) and kurai (dark) were derived. I think Japanese has ten basic color terms today: shiro (white), kuro (black), aka (red), ao (blue), kiiro (yellow), chairo (brown), murasaki (purple), midori (green), haiiro/nezumiiro/gurê (gray), and daidai/orenji (orange). Momoiro/pinku (pink) is not a basic color term. But they are not equally important.

NounAdjective
(-i)
ReduplicationEmphasis
(maQ-)
Verb
-mu-ramu-zumu-bamu
Whiteshiroshiroishirojiromasshiroshiromu-shirozumushirobamu
Blackkurokuroikuroguromakkurokuromu-kurozumukurobamu
Redakaakaiakaakamakkaakamuakaramu-akabamu
Blueaoaoiaoaomassaoaomu-aozumuaobamu
Yellowkiirokiiroi-makkiiro---kibamu
Brownchairochairoi-matchairo----
Purplemurasaki------murasakibamu
Greenmidori-------
Grayhaiiro-------
Orangedaidai-------

Brown seems more important than green in modern Japanese. KUSHIMA Shigeru explains this with the light/dark axis and the warm/cool axis.

Ancient Japanese:
← warmcool →

light
siro
(white)
aka
(red)
awo
(green-blue)
dark
kuro
(black)


Modern Japanese:
← warm  cool →

light
kiiro
(yellow)
shiro
(white)
aka
(red)
ao
(blue)
dark
chairo
(brown)
kuro
(black)


English also shows a difference of importance, which is red-centered. The five less common basic colors are inserted between the six basic colors (underlined).

   yellow
orange
greenred
purple
blue


white
pink
grayred
brown
black


In addition, only three colors can take the verbal suffix -en: whiten, blacken, and redden.



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