Colour names in different languages

Don’t you think the colour of carrot is orange from eye to eye? Cucumbers are all green instead of blue?

Believe it or not, colour names can be different in various languages.

Numbers of basic colour categories

In English, there are 11 basic colour categories* (red, orange, brown, yellow, green, blue,  purple, pink, black, gray, and white). But in Russian and Greek, they have 13 with dark blue and light blue treated as basic colour categories which is no where to be found in English world.

In sharp contrast, the language of ethnic groups in Papua New Guinea, And Dani languages, only differentiate colours into cool and warm colours (cool/dark colour [blue, green, and black], and warm/light colour [red, yellow, and white].

There are also languages which has 3 basic colour categories (black, white and red).

“Blue and Green are the same colour!”

We all know that green would only be green when we are mixing yellow and blue. Right? In fact, in the world of languages, it can be not the case!

In fact, there are languages which don’t distinguish blue and green.

Languages like Shelha and Ancient Japanese do not distinguish blue and green as basic colour categories, instead they use a cover term spanning both (“Azegzaw” for Shelha, and “Ao 青” for Japanese).

Meet your language’s colour culture

The number of  basic colour categories your language has determines your colour culture! When you see a colour that is not included in your language’s basic colour category, you would tend to describe with the colour similar to it. Such as Japanese, which they do not have a specific term distinguish blue and green, they can’t tell the different like other language user could.

Same colour, different names!

English and Japanese basically have the same basic colour categories. So, they colours should be correspond, but it’s not the case in daily life.

For example, when these two languages speakers saw the same cats, English speaker would say it is an orange cat while Japanese speaker would say it is brown. As a native Japanese speaker, arguing with foreigners that the colour we saw together is pink or purple is part of my daily routine.

But why is this happening? The secret behind is the border of colours between languages

Next time don’t be surprised when you and your foreign friend saw the same colour but answer different colour names!

If you want to know more about colour names in foreign languages, check our app LingoCards and check it out!

*Terms of basic colour 
Monolexemic (*lemon-coloured, *blue-green)
Their extensions aren’t included within those of any other colour terms (*crimson: red, *scarlet: red)
Applications must not be restricted to a narrow class of objects (*blond: humans)
psychologically salient for informants (*crimson, *scarlet, *bluish, …)

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