Color terms (was Alstroemeria key)

Jane McGary
Sat, 18 Sep 2004 09:26:29 PDT
Many thanks to Jamie Vande for elucidating a section of German color 
 >As to ROT, it is generic.  In German, the colour descriptions are a bit
>different; ROSA is pale pink, PINK is deep pink (in the purple range).  Many
>colours that are perceived as red are quite warm.  I think that BLASSROT
>would be a warm, medium pink to most, while HELLROT would be like cadmium
>pale, in artists colours, sort of scarlet, like a Pelargonium.  DUNKELROT
>would be like a very ripe tomato, while KIRSCHROT would be a deep, cold,

This is the kind of information one never gets from classroom language 
study or reading works on history and other non-artistic subjects. Color 
terminology is such a complex subject across languages that it forms a 
special area of study for linguists. For example, a wide set of languages 
around the world don't distinguish 'blue' from 'green'. 'Red' is another 
area where there is a good deal of complexity. Linguists have also studied 
what kinds of distinctions different groups of people within a language 
community make; for example, women tend to use more different color terms 
than men do (though male horticulturists and artists would know more than 
the average woman, of course).

I wonder if a multilingual horticultural color term chart would be useful 
to many people? I could probably design a questionnaire on which to base 
one, but it would require a sample of a certain size (at least ten 
respondents, I think) for each language. It would be interesting just to 
see, within a language, what different people call the color of a certain 
flower. The present discussion related to Worsleya offers an example: Is it 
'blue'? I think "blue" is used more loosely in English than the equivalent 
color terms in some other European languages -- that is, it seems to extend 
more into the purple range in English. Or is that just horticultural 
wishful thinking?

The existence of widely grown clones and species with little color 
variation offers gardeners an opportunity to define what they call a color 
from samples other than expensive color charts (which may not reproduce 
well over the Internet). Thus, you could elicit your local color term for 
'yellow' (the single quotes indicate a gloss, or meaning; double quotes are 
a word-as-word) by referring to Sternbergia lutea. 'Yellow' is easy; what 
flowers are 'purple', though?

This subject is of great practical interest to me as an editor of botanical 
and horticultural writing. I tend to cringe a little, for instance, when an 
author describes a flower as "mauve," one of the most ill-defined English 
color terms.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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