adjectives and word classes

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Apr 4 11:00:18 UTC 2006

The same is true in German, though to a lesser extent: The colour 
adjectives /rosa/ 'pink' and /lila/ 'purple/violet' do not inflect, at 
least in the standard language (colloquially, they tend to exhibit 
ordinary adjectival inflection, following an additional consonant /-n-/: 
/rosanes/ etc.).

These cases illustrate a larger point: It is very difficult or even 
impossible to make a principled distinction between "parts of speech" 
(the subject of David Gil's query) and "inflection classes". Most 
descriptions of German would not say that /rosa/ and /lila/ belong to a 
different part of speech than /schwarz/ 'black' and /rot/ 'red'; 
instead, they would say that they belong to a special inflection class 
of adjectives. But according to Dixon 2004 (the paper in the volume 
"Adjective classes"), any morphosyntactic distinction can be regarded as 
sufficient to set up a separate part of speech. I'm sure there are 
languages that are described as having a verb/adjective distinction, but 
where the only difference is that verbs inflect but adjectives don't.

So it isn't clear to me that David's query is different from the 
question whether there are further languages where different colour 
words have different morphosyntactic properties.


nigel vincent wrote:

> Italian has some colour adjectives which are in origin nouns and hence 
> do not agree, e.g./ rosa / 'pink',/ viola/ 'purple',/ crema/ 'cream',/ 
> bordeaux/, this last usually translated in English as 'burgundy' even 
> though oenophiles will know they refer to entirely different beverages!
> Nigel
>I'm seeking examples of languages in which different colour words belong 
>to different parts of speech.
>An example of such a language is Hebrew, in which most colour words are 
>adjectives, but one, "txelet", denoting 'pale blue', exhibits the 
>grammatical properties of a noun.
>Does anybody know of any other such examples? 
>David Gil

Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6	
D-04103 Leipzig      
Tel. (MPI) +49-341-3550 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616

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