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Languages, words for colours, blue/green

 Language Learning Forum : Philological Room Post Reply
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Senior Member
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772 posts - 1474 votes 
Speaks: English*, Japanese, German, Russian
Studies: Georgian

 Message 9 of 20
21 May 2010 at 7:53am | IP Logged 
furrykef wrote:
Incidentally, there's one language (Russian? I'm really not sure)
that considers "blue" and "cyan" to be completely different colors, not shades of each

Yeah, Russian uses goluboi (sorry no Cyrillic) for cyan and sinii for blue.
Incidentally, goluboi is also the Russian word for "gay" so be careful how you use it!
This is also true of Japanese (not the gay part) where aoi means blue and mizuiro is
used for cyan (literally "water colour"). In both languages you will be corrected by a
native speaker if you describe something English-speakers consider to be light blue as

Another interesting colour factlet about Japan is that Japanese people automatically
consider cars to be white in a general sense. When I taught English I used to have my
students list objects of different colours on the blackboard as a kind of relay race,
and under "white" someone always wrote "car". Apparently until recently almost all
private cars in Japan were white. This is certainly not true anymore, but obviously
car=white has remained in people's consciousness.

Edited by TixhiiDon on 21 May 2010 at 7:54am

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Captain Haddock
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Speaks: English*, Japanese
Studies: French, Korean, Ancient Greek

 Message 10 of 20
21 May 2010 at 2:47pm | IP Logged 
I like how when Japanese children draw the sun, it is always red. In Canada and presumably other Anglo-Saxon
countries, the sun will always be yellow.
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Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 5980 days ago

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Speaks: Japanese

 Message 11 of 20
21 May 2010 at 4:50pm | IP Logged 
furrykef wrote:

It's more of a matter that "blue" and "green" aren't fully distinct in the first place. From what I understand, "midori" (green) is seen more as a shade of "aoi" (blue) than a separate color. Hence, "midori" can be called "aoi" but not necessarily vice versa. Compare "blue" and "cyan" in English.

But Cyan is hardly ever used in English: Midori and Aoi are frequently used in Japanese. The world color survey is always interesting for me from a semantic POV

ao is for vegetables and the like midori is for other things. Midori is not a shade of aoi ANYMORE.

As most of us I am sure know the katakana garaigo for green is sometimes used.

I think that it was after WW2 that the differences started happening???

Edited by kidshomestunner on 21 May 2010 at 4:53pm

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Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish
Studies: Swedish, Finnish

 Message 12 of 20
21 May 2010 at 6:53pm | IP Logged 
I have always wondered at the expression (or perhaps it was a book title?), "sailing the wine dark sea". Do they mean the sea is a dark purple? Or just that it's dark?

@ pohaku: I agree, the ocean can be some many different colors. Makes me think of the term "sea foam green", which I've always thought was a great name for that particular shade of green.

English has terms like "sky blue", "snow white", "blood red", etc. I expect other languages have descriptive terms like these, though I don't know of any offhand.
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Speaks: English*, French
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 Message 13 of 20
21 May 2010 at 7:20pm | IP Logged 
The other day, I ran across an article about a cognitive scientist who thinks that the way we experience the world through the categories imposed by our language doesn't just affect how we express ourselves, it affects the things we notice and pay attention to.
Stanford Magazine wrote:
Or consider: Is color perception linked to what we call colors? In another experiment, Boroditsky compared the ability of English speakers and Russian speakers to distinguish between shades of blue. She picked those languages because Russian does not have a single word for blue that covers all shades of what English speakers would call blue; rather, it has classifications for lighter blues and darker blues as different as the English words yellow and orange. Her hypothesis was that Russians thus pay closer attention to shades of blue than English speakers, who lump many more shades under one name and use more vague distinctions. The experiment confirmed her hypothesis. Russian speakers could distinguish between hues of blue faster if they were called by different names in Russian. English speakers showed no increased sensitivity for the same colors. This suggests, says Boroditsky, that Russian speakers have a "psychologically active perceptual boundary where English speakers do not."

(link: ures/boroditsky.html)

I like to talk to myself in languages that I'm studying as a way to keep in touch with it. When I do this with Breton, it always feels strange because the grass is "glas," the leaves are "glas," the sky is "glas" and the water in the reservoir is "glas." In other cases, one works at a language to better understand its finer distinctions. But with something like this, before you can start to understand the distinctions your target language makes, you have to learn to let go of the distinctions your own language makes. And based on the excerpt, there's a real question of whether, even if you master the language perfectly, you can actually experience the world truly and fully through your target language - at least the way a native speaker would. What starts out, at first blush, as a vocabulary curiosity, holds within it the root of one of the biggest challenges we face as language learners - feeling distinctions that we weren't raised to make.
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budbrownonline.Registered users can see my Skype Name
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Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: Tagalog, Vietnamese

 Message 14 of 20
21 May 2010 at 8:14pm | IP Logged 
This is a fascinating topic. The Vietnamese do distinguish green and blue by adding
another sound to xanh
GREEN = xanh la cay (la cay = leaf)

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Speaks: Italian*, English, German
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 Message 15 of 20
21 May 2010 at 8:51pm | IP Logged 
For Italians who start to learn English it is somewhat baffling to have to use only one word (blue) to describe what for us are two different colours: ‘blu’ (dark blue) and ‘azzurro’ (light blue). Moreover, we commonly split what the English see as just blue into three colours: ‘blu’ is dark, ‘azzurro’ is bright and ‘celeste’ is light and has less saturation. Anyway it is conceptually easier for us to bundle together ‘azzurro’ and ‘celeste’ and make do with just one term for both (like ‘light blue’ in English) than bundling together ‘azzurro’ and ‘blu’ (in the English word ‘blue’).
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Joined 4938 days ago

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Speaks: English*, Spanish, Vietnamese
Studies: Cantonese

 Message 16 of 20
23 May 2010 at 5:28am | IP Logged 
It is true that Vietnamese don't distinguish between Blue and Green often, i.e. tra xang (green tea). They do have a way of itentifying these two clolours however, mau xang nouc bien is literally "the colour sea blue" or the coluour normally associated with blue, whereas mau xang la cay is the colour of a green leaf or green.   

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