color terms

Larry Trask larryt at
Mon Aug 23 14:23:56 UTC 1999

On Mon, 16 Aug 1999 X99Lynx at wrote:

> My suspicion is that in the old days, people did not match colors
> but things - among which natural color or dyes might or might not be
> the common element.
>  How else could we explain the form 'blake' turning up in the old
> text to mean both black and white?

Well, we use `gray' for everything from very pale gray to charcoal gray.
Not so different, really.

We also use `blue' for everything from pale sky-blue to navy blue,
something which surprises the speakers of, say, Russian, which has two
entirely distinct basic color terms to cover this range.

I don't see any great reason to be surprised because speakers of another
language, or speakers of an earlier form of our own language, happen to
apply their color terms in a different way from us.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at

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