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Blue grass and skies

From:John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Date:Wednesday, August 9, 2000, 21:15
I received a private message to the effect that it's odd that sky blue
and leaf green should ever be named by the same color word.

Nonetheless, many languages, including Latin, Classical Greek, and Welsh,
make no such general distinction.  That is not to say that they cannot say
sky color" or "grass color", but rather that the normal, universally applicable,
unqualified color word covers both meanings.

There is a hierarchy of languages in this respect:

        The simplest have only "white" (covering all light colors) and
        "black" (covering all dark colors).

        The next group have "white" (cool light colors), "black" (dark
        colors), and "red" (hot colors).

        The next group have "white", "black", "red", and "blue/green".

        Then blue and green are separated, yellow is added, and so on.
        English has IIRC thirteen basic color words.

In making these determinations, color words that apply only to a limited
range of objects (like "blond") and ones that are transparent compounds
(like "sky blue") are excluded.

How do we know that in the first group "white" means "white" and not just
"light"?  Because when asked to point to a prototype white, "the whitest white",
speakers point to chalk white, and likewise with "black".  The boundaries
of the color regions are variable, but their centers are fairly universal.


Schlingt dreifach einen Kreis um dies! || John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Schliesst euer Aug vor heiliger Schau,  ||
Denn er genoss vom Honig-Tau,           ||
Und trank die Milch vom Paradies.            -- Coleridge (tr. Politzer)