Monday, November 3, 2014

Blue Apples and Spring Beans

I'm going on week 22 of my Japanese lessons, and we've been learning about colors. In Japanese, common color terms fall into two grammar categories.

One group, which includes red (aka) and blue (ao), acts like adjectives.

The red kimono.

The blue tea kettle.

The other group, which includes green (midori), pink (pinku), and orange (oranji), acts like nouns.

The kimono has orangeness, for example, though this is a bad translation.

As I was annoying my teacher with various philosophical questions about how the Japanese people might be categorizing these different color groups in their minds, someone volunteered that, in Chinese, green and blue were once both considered "blue."

In other words, people once saw the variation between green and blue to be smaller and not necessarily worth differentiating. Like the spectrum of musical sounds being broken into notes, we have used labels to categorize colors, and it's interesting how these categories have changed, and perhaps gotten more specific. The way the history of our perception is captured in language is fascinating too.

What's Peanut eating? Cucumbers.


  1. I'm always fascinated when the basic structure of a language is quite different than that of English. Colors as nouns is strange.

    In Russian, many sentence structures are based around objects rather than subjects, to emphasize the use of things rather than the owner of them. For example, instead of saying "I have a headache," you'd say something closer to "with my head, there's pain." Or instead of "you need aspirin," you'd say "aspirin is necessary for you." the head and the aspirin are the primary words in the sentences, not "me" or "you." There's also a weird thing in Russian where the location of something is the primary syntactic idea, even when location is not what's being discussed. The language sort of points away from the speaker, to actions and things being acted upon. Much different from English or German.

    Hello, Davin!

  2. Hi Mr. B! I have been wanting to email you. Have you ever read "A Month In The Country" by J. L. Carr? It's a lovely novella that I think you'd like.

    Your Russian examples are why I think passive English sentences have value. I often find myself wanting to write passively when I feel that the emphasis should be on something or something else.

    How is your Russian going?

    1. Dr M! I haven't read A Month in the Country, but it's on my list. It does look like something I'd like. We may have it at home; I'll have a look.

      I agree with you about passive sentences. Sometimes you want to approach the emphasized elements obliquely. Why do we have the passive voice if not to use it?

      Mostly I'm brushing up on my German right now, but in the last couple of days I've been reading a little bit of Russian here and there. My Russian is still at the tourist conversational level. Though I read a story about a little squirrel lost in the forest that was quite sweet.

    2. I'm glad you're all set should you need to have a tourist conversation with a Russian squirrel.

      Lately I've been wondering if I should take some German lessons, as our niece on Troy's side is half Austrian.

      But I'm guessing it would be wiser to focus on French and Japanese, since I could not carry out meaningful conversations with squirrels from either country yet. A Thai squirrel, though. I Thai squirrel I could get to know. And if I Spanish squirrel were driving a blue car to the supermarket, I could ask it about that, no problem.

    3. I could talk to a Russian squirrel about blue cars and the supermarket. Say, maybe we can organize a Multilingual Squirrels in Cars Day!

      Does Troy have relatives in Austria? Relatives who'd let some nice Americans stay with them during a vacation?

    4. Troy's brother-in-law is Austrian, and I believe he and Troy's sister have a vacant apartment there walking distance to a ski lift and, I imagine, slopes. Plus, they are very nice and generous people!

    5. I declare this, November 3, the first official Multilingual Squirrels in Cars Day! Put on your festive Multilingual Squirrels in Cars Day ears and bake your Multilingual Squirrels in Cars Day nut loaf!

  3. Hier soir, nous avons mangé des noix et couru autour d'un arbre!

  4. The Japanese also have a word for the royal blue, a "bluer than blue," which I've been told is Ai. Pronounced "eye."