Thursday, May 26, 2011

Color in Ancient Greek and Latin

John Lyons. 1999. In Alexander Borg (ed.), The Language of Color in the Mediterranean. An Anthology on Linguistic and Ethnographic Aspects of Color Terms. Almquist & Wiksell International: Stockholm, 38-75.

[40] "The vocabulary of color was frequently used by structuralists, in the heyday of structural linguistics, to illustrate what was meant by the imposition of structure (or form) upon a conceptual or experiential continuum (cf. Hjelmslev 1953; Gleason 1961; Lyons 1963, 1968:56-58). The principal reason for choosing color for this purpose was that the notion of an a priori undifferentiated denotational continuum being differently structured in different languages is for this area of the vocabulary, unlike many others (such as the vocabulary of knowledge and understanding, or of tastes and smell), both readily interpretable and, at first sight at least, eminently plausible."

[48] "This distinction between reference and description is crucial in semantics.
Failure to draw it properly has led to a good deal of confusion in linguistics and in the philosophy of language. As far as the meaning of color terms is concerned, the difference between the two becomes clear as soon as one reflects upon the two interpretations of the ambiguous English utterance That's brown, which under one interpretation means 'That color is brown' and under another interpretation means 'That object (or substance) is brown.' The fact that this utterance is ambiguous in this way depends, in particular, on the syntactic ambivalence of color terms in English: it depends on the fact that they can be used both as nouns (more specifically, in this instance, as mass-nouns) and adjectives. French, like English, but unlike many of the world's languages, has a grammatical distinction between nouns and adjectives, and, within the category of nouns, between count-nouns
and mass-nouns; and most common, Ievel-l and level-2, French color terms are also syntactically ambivalent in respect of this distinction; but there are of course differences of grammatical structure between French and English, such that the ambiguities that they give rise to do not necessarily carry over from one language to the other (and conversely)."

[52] "Various revisions of the original BK-hypothesis have been made over the years, and (as is explained by Robert MacLaury in his contribution to this book) several facts about particular languages have been cited in the literature which would tend to invalidate a very rigid interpretation of the hypothesis. For example, in many languages a term for BK -grey developed earlier than was originally proposed; BK -brown is a problem in Russian, and, as was noted in the preceding section, also in French; and Russian has two basic words for blue, one of which appears to have developed before the term for purple. However, the general opinion among researchers seems to be that the BK -hypothesis is essentially correct, at least as far as the first six color terms in the hierarchy are concerned; and there may well be good neurophysiological and neuropsychological reasons for this."

[53] "To quote Conklin [1955]: "A shiny, wet, brown-colored section of newly-cut bamboo is malatuy (not marara >)" whereas "dried out or matured plant material such as certain kinds of yellowed bamboo or hardened kernels of mature or parched corn are marara>." "

[57] "I think we have to accept that it may be impossible to establish a definitive list of BK -basic color terms for Ancient Greek, Homeric or Classical, in the way that Berlin and Kay and their followers have done for a large number of modern languages. We certainly cannot follow the example of Odysseus and, going down to Hades, tempt with a bowl of blood a representative sample of native speakers to label particular areas of the standard Munsell color continuum with the most salient and the most appropriate everyday color terms! Nor can we rely on what even the most authoritative dictionaries or editorial commentaries on the crucial texts tell us is the meaning of particular terms."

[57] "Having made this point of methodological principle, let me now add a
few further points relevant to the BK-hypothesis and to my earlier assertion [58] that there are parallels between Hanun6o and Ancient Greek. As we have seen, both Gladstone and Platnauer came to the conclusion (as did Conklin for Hanun6o) that luminosity is more important than hue in the color vocabulary of Greek. In coming to this conclusion, neither Gladstone nor Platnauer drew essentially on the works of the philosophers. But there are many well-studied passages in works by Plato, Aristotle and others that strongly support the view that it was more natural to the Greeks than it is to us to think of the basic color terms (whatever they are and however many) as being arrangeable on a scale between melas and leukos at the end points."

[58] "Several commentators also accept that, despite what standard dictionaries
of Greek might say or imply, melas and leukos do not each have two meanings: the distinction between 'black' and 'dark,' on the one hand, and between 'white' and 'light' (or 'bright'), on the other, is an artefact of the process of translation into a language of different structure and is often a matter of arbitrary decision on the part of the translator."

[58] "...we are well on the way to resolving the problems, or pseudo-problems, that linguists and translators encounter, if they operate with the traditional, simplistic, notion that each word in a language has a fixed number of one or more separate (but related) literal meanings, each of which has fixed and sharply drawn, rather than somewhat fuzzy, boundaries."

[60] Lyons argues that the Grk. term khlo^ros is like the Hanuno/o term malatuy, in that its meaning of freshness, unripeness, moistness is never separate from its color signification, and thus an expression khlo^ros plant in Greek is never ambiguous in the way that English "green fruit" is (between green-colored and green-unripe). [NB: this is Bradley's argument about Lat. viridis, but in fact viridis is ambiguous in just the way "green" is, with many uses that are purely chromatic.]

[61] "...there is no empirical evidence to support the commonly held view that every word in the vocabulary of natural languages has a set of one or more determinate (and determinable) literal meanings (which are in contrast with its potential non-literal -- metaphorical, metonymic, or otherwise extended -- meanings); and, second, that there are also no convincing theoretical arguments to support this view."

[62] "We also must not forget one of the major [63] theoretical points that I have made above, first of all with respect to the French brun and then with respect to the Ancient Greek words that are used to refer to what we have assumed to be BK-green, especially khlo^ros: that there may be a considerable difference between the (first-order) descriptive use of a word (which is often collocationally restricted) and its (context-independent) use for (second order) reference to a particular color. As we have seen, khlo^ros can be used, in particular contexts, to describe things that are in fact not green, but yellow; but when it is being used for reference to color as such, the color in question is undoubtedly what in English we would describe as green." In other words, the color that someone might name in the BK/Munsell naming task, as well as its focal point and boundaries, might also be used contextually to communicate some things quite different. Lyons had earlier argued that French brun is collocationally restricted.

[65] "When we talk about Latin, however, we must remember that we are referring to a language that was used as a spoken and written language over many centuries, at different social levels and in many different contexts; and it was used for a thousand years thereafter in Western Europe, as the international language of science and scholarship. Any global statements about either the grammatical or the lexical structure of Latin have to be duly qualified therefore in relation to period and style."

[65] "Exactly how many basic, level-l, color terms there were in Classical Latin
it is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to determine. It can be argued, plausibly enough, that there were words for at least the first five, and possibly the first six, BK-basic colors: niger (BK-black), albus (BK-white), ruber (BK-red), viridis (BK-green), flavus (BK-yellow), caeruleus (possibly BKblue). It also seems to be clear that, in general, chromaticity (including principally hue) played a more important role in the color vocabulary of Latin than it did in that of Ancient Greek. In this respect, Latin was more similar to English, French, and many other modern languages, than it was to Ancient Greek."

[66] "There are alternative, apparently no less basic, words for black, white, red and yellow, and scholars have had great difficulty in deciding how these alternative words for what appears to be the same color differ from one another, if at all, semantically. In some instances, one word was contextually or stylistically more restricted than its alternate: for example, rufus (like the French roux) was most commonly used of hair (and horses) in Classical Latin, but it was used in a wider range of contexts in more popular Latin, as also in later Latin. 14 In other instances, most notably in the case of the alternative terms for black and white (ater and candidus), one word might be more expressive (in some sense) than another or might denote a color of greater luminosity, without being structurally less basic than it (i.e., without being one of its hyponyms)"

[66] "As to viridis, the word that I have given for green, this was much more
obviously a basic color term than the Greek khloros was. But, like khloros, it
was used prototypically, not only of color, but also of the freshness and
texture of growing vegetation."

[66 note 14] "14 Interestingly enough, it is rufus, rather than ruber, that is etymologically more directly related to what is assumed to be the Proto-Indo-European ancestor of the word for BKred in many modern languages belonging to different Indo-European sub-families. The Latin ruber is generally assumed (on phonological grounds) to have been borrowed from a neighboring Italic dialect in the pre-Classical (or indeed pre-Latin) "period.

[67] "There is no evidence that I know of to suggest that luteus is not a level-1 word."

[67] "Let us grant that Classical Latin was, in terms of the Berlin and Kay evolutionary
hypothesis at stage V, if not higher. Whether it was a higher-than stage-
Y language depends, of course, on whether it had BK-basic terms for
brown, purple, pink, orange or grey. I will not go into this question (which
is perhaps undecideable on the evidence available to us) in detail in the present
brief treatment of Latin color vocabulary. It may be suggested, however,
that Classical Latin had up to three further BK-basic color terms. It
this is so, it would be a stage-VII language.
Two of the words already discussed are possible candidates for BK -basic
status, as words for orange and grey, luteus and caesius, respectively. It will
be obvious from what has been said, above however, that, at least when they
are used attributively, on the one hand, the focal, or prototypical denotation
of luteus19 does not seem to be orange (though it may be) and, on the
other, caesius (like the Ancient Greek glaukos in contrast with phaios)
appears to have some degree of chromaticity.
A rather stronger case can be made for the thesis that BK -brown was
lexicalized in Classical Latin. The word fulvus is commonly translated with
the English word brown (or the French brun): like flavus, it is frequently
used to describe the color of hair, but clearly, in such contexts and more
generally, it denotes a darker color ('app[arently] ranging between a dull
yellow and a reddish-brown,' OLD). It also denotes a darker color than
luteus, and it does not seem to be a hyponym of ruber (or, of course, rufus)."

[68] "Although there are other words in Latin that could be, more or less
confidently, classified as level-1 color terms, none of them would seem to
denote either pink or purple. The Latin purpureus (which comes from porphureos,
one of the Ancient Greek words for red discussed above, and is the
source of English purple, French pourpre, etc.) did not denote BK-purple in
classical times (any more than the French pourpre does20
); and, though it
was in frequent use (especially in poetry and in certain collocations), is best
regarded as a level-2, non-basic, color term for the classical period. On the
other hand, it is a word with an especially interesting history in the Mediterranean
world, and I will use it to exemplify one of the points I wish to
make in the following section."

In the rest of the article, he makes the case that cultural and historical factors (such as technical development in dyes) have a profound effect on the color vocabulary. [But this is acknowledged by BK in their original book]

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