Distinction of Blue and Green in Various Languages

Distinction of Blue and Green in Various Languages
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Many languages do not differentiate between certain colors on the visible spectrum and do not have separate terms for blue and green. They instead use a cover term for both (when the issue is discussed in linguistics, this cover term is sometimes called grue in English). For example, in Vietnamese both tree leaves and the sky are xanh (to distinguish, one may use xanh lá cây “leaf grue” for green and xanh dương “ocean grue” for blue). In the Thai language, เขียว (khiaw) means green except when referring to the sky or the sea, when it means blue; เขียวชอุ่ม (khiaw cha-um), เขียวขจี (khiaw khachi), and เขียวแปร๊ด (khiaw praed) have all meant either intense blue or garish green, although the latter is becoming more usual as the language ‘learns’ to distinguish blue and green. Chinese has a word 青 (qīng) that can refer to both, and sometimes black, though it also has separate words for blue (蓝 / 藍, lán), green (绿 / 綠, lǜ), and black (黑, hēi). The Korean word 푸르다 (pureuda) can mean either green or blue. In Japanese, the word for blue (青 ao) is often used for colors that English speakers would refer to as green, such as the color of a traffic signal meaning “go”. Many Bantu languages utilize the same word for blue and green.

The exact definition of “blue” and “green” may be complicated by the speakers not primarily distinguishing the hue, but using terms that describe other color components such as saturation and luminosity, or other properties of the object being described. For example, “blue” and “green” might be distinguished, but a single term might be used for both if the color is dark. Furthermore, green might be associated with yellow, and blue with black or gray.

According to Brent Berlin and Paul Kay’s 1969 study Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, distinct terms for brown, purple, pink, orange and grey will not emerge in a language until the language has made a distinction between green and blue. In their account of the development of color terms the first terms to emerge are those for white/black (or light/dark), red and green/yellow.