March 20, 2020

Blue Is Bluea strange thing about learned language

This video brought a fun bit of trivia to my attention: languages differ in how they associate shades of color to words.

For example, in English and Russian:

English Russian
yellow жёлтый
green зелёный
blue голубой
blue синий
purple пурпурный
pink розовый
red красный
orange оранжевый
brown коричневый
black чёрный
gray серый
white белый

From the English-speaking point of view, «голубой» is “light blue”, while «синий» is “dark blue” or just “blue”. But light blue isn’t pronounced «светло-синий», literally “light blue”. It has its own name.

That’s interesting enough on its own. But what really got me was the fact that I know these languages and the difference never occurred to me. In fact, I doubted the video’s English-Russian example, paused on the visual aid, checked the lists, and confirmed for myself.

My Russian’s rusty, but not so rusty that «голубой» and «синий» didn’t slide right off my tongue at the appropriate prompts. Apparently the languages are just different that way, and cohabitate more or less peacefully in my brain, waiting for their turns.

Of course, this is setting aside all the fun of the different non-color connotations of the color words in each language. Non-Russian speakers might be interested to learn that «красный», the word for red, has strong associations with the concept of beauty in Russian, for example. But that’s a topic for another time.

more posts about: Language Russian

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