adjectives and word classes

Hannu Tommola hannu.tommola at UTA.FI
Wed Apr 5 10:54:33 UTC 2006

Martin writes: "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."

Most descriptions of Finnish distinct between nouns and adjectives, 
although they belong to identical morhological patterns; the part-of-speech 
distinction cannot be made on morphological grounds. Genuine colour terms 
in Finnish are of two types, with or without a "typically adjective" suffix 
-ne/-se (in some cases both occur):

- musta 'black'; vihreä 'green'; ruskea 'brown'; harmaa 'grey'
- valkea OR valko-i-nen 'white'
- puna-i-nen 'red'; sini-nen 'blue'; kelta-i-nen 'yellow';

Later loan-words are of the first type (cf. Italian and German _lila_ 
etc.), though they are regularly inflected:
oranssi 'orange'; beige, beessi 'beige'; turkoosi 'turquoise'; pinkki, 
roosa 'pink'; li(i)la 'violet'

In Russian, colour terms are inflected as adjectives; the newer borrowings 
also tend to move over to this pattern (at least, in colloquial speech), 
even if codified as non-inflected:

bordo > bordo-vyj 'bordeaux'; bezh > bezhevyj 'beige'
lil-o-vyj 'violet'; roz-o-vyj 'pink', turkoz-nyj 'turqoise', lazor-e-vyj, 
lazur-nyj 'azure, sky-blue'; oranzhe-vyj 'orange'


At 14:00 4.4.2006, Martin Haspelmath wrote:
>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!
>Hannu Tommola
>Professor of Russian Language, School of Modern Languages and Translation 
>FIN-33014 University of Tampere, Finland
>Tel.: +358-(0)3-3551 6102, Fax:(0)3-3551 7200

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