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PostPosted: Thu Jun 08, 2017 11:36 am 
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rainwarrior wrote:
I think it's dubious to try to extrapolate ideas about the historical concept of "blue" from Homer's stock adjective for describing the sea


Admittedly, that point is a very thin case on its own and is perhaps mostly an attention grabber. Especially as it's not a naturalist description, but has higher priorities (such as both being interesting to listen to and easy to remember, through the device of repeated, memorable descriptions, such as rose-fingered Eos, etc). I can easily subscribe to the "dark as wine" theory - especially as light and dark seemed to play a rather dominant role in colour descriptions.

What is a bit more convincing is the frequency on colour names: There's zero descriptions of blue in the work of Homeros. On its own, it's just a peculiarity, but when other texts from different places have comparable frequencies, it starts to amount to something.

And then, philosophers of the time argued about what colours exist and how they should be named and categorized, such as the argument that the rainbow has four bands. Their business was understanding nature, so it's a pretty hands-on insight into what scholars thought at that time in that region, if you can overlook the varying inadequacy of translations.

adam_smasher wrote:
Happily, there's no need to guess about this stuff thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary

Got to love etymology. Those dictionaries can take you on the weirdest rides!

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 08, 2017 12:13 pm 
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lidnariq wrote:
If you want a really simple and somewhat reductivist example... take the color "orange".

I don't really understand what this is an example of something related to what I had just said, but it's nice as an example of the changing use of words at least, which I do enjoy.

I just meant that "the word blue was applied differently in the past" is quite demonstrable (though I strongly doubt that Homer's description of the sea is an example of this), but trying to make an argument about its actual impact on human thought is a hard case.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis seems likely enough in vague terms, but it's not easy to get into the specific consequences of a given vocabulary. There's a big leap between "this person couldn't write about orange" and "this person didn't really think about orange as a separate colour". It would actually be very interesting to me if you could find an anecdote that really demonstrates the latter, but I think that's an extremely difficult thing to demonstrate.


I few years ago I bought a dictionary that was on sale, because I needed one. When I looked up certain words I was a little bit confused by the symbols used to indicate pronunciation. It had two different sound symbols to represent alternatively the letter a in law and father, and in my dialect of English these are the same sound. I quickly realized that this was a British dictionary, and was quite amused.

Anyhow, there are ways to deduce the kinds of things you're hinting at, I think, but it takes a lot of luck with the available sources, and a lot of dilligent research. In an extreme way, it's much harder to study on historical language too, rather than with modern living languages where you can directly interview and test people.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 08, 2017 12:21 pm 
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Oh hey, in the article for Sapir-Whorf there's actually a link to a whole article on colour: Linguistic relativity and the color naming debate

That's neat. Ha ha. (Lots of sources to dive into here.)

Among other things, there's an argument in there that blue and brown are kind of low on some universal colour priority scale, and tend to appear later as languages develop? That seems relevant to this thread. :)


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 08, 2017 1:17 pm 
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Brown has always stood out to me as a colour with no coherent body of meaning of its own. If i say brown and my friend says brown, we're very likely to think of two nuances that look very far apart when compared. But if we say red, both are likely to imagine an intense "perfect" red you'd expect from plastics, more or less #ff0000.

On sources, i really recomnend reading a chapter or two from Michel Foucault on this. Archaelogy of knowledge is both enjoyable and helpful in forming a solid concept of post-structuralist thinking re: language/knowledge, power and discourse. Foucault's definition of "power" is especially useful, though that's more in other texts. It's a bit of a commitment though so choose passages wisely or find the cliff's notes.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2017 5:45 pm 
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rainwarrior wrote:
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis seems likely enough in vague terms, but it's not easy to get into the specific consequences of a given vocabulary. There's a big leap between "this person couldn't write about orange" and "this person didn't really think about orange as a separate colour". It would actually be very interesting to me if you could find an anecdote that really demonstrates the latter, but I think that's an extremely difficult thing to demonstrate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ao_(color) Note that the blue-green distinction['s import] is not introduced amid hoary ancient history but mid-20th century. I am told that Japanese persons will, on seeing a blue object and a green vegetable, agree to "these are the same color", though I expect this will be becoming less true over time.

hey, wait, this appears to be a counterexample to that specific color-evolution hypothesis you linked…despite Japanese appearing in the list.


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