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Re: [ontolog-forum] Anthropology of Colour

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2008 12:38:45 -0400
Message-id: <47DE9E95.1000803@xxxxxxxx>
Sean Barker wrote:    (01)

>> That is, there is a continuing evolution of the
>> conceptualisation of colour from an adjectival to nominal concept -
>> noting that in ancient Egypt, colour terms were verbs (to become red)
>> rather than adjectives. (English has verbal forms for the first three
>> terms in the BCT sequence - blackening, whitening, reddening, but not
>> *bluening, with greening having restricted usage not *greening a shirt).    (02)

And Pat Hayes said:
> In my native dialect, "blueing" is fine. One can 
> blue a shirt (it actually, for odd reasons, means 
> to make it a brighter white by 'removing the 
> yellow') ...    (03)

I think Sean had an important idea that got a bit muddled with a related 
one.    (04)

There are several languages in which certain kinds of "adjectives", 
colours among them, always have a verbal form.  "The red car" is "the 
car that 'is red'".  Apparently ancient Coptic is among them.  A similar 
approach is often used to capture "adjectival attributions" in 
formalizations of natural language, where the adjective is turned into a 
predicate:  E.g., "All red cars are cop-magnets" becomes:
  (FORALL x)(IF (AND (car x) (red x)) (cop-magnet x))
And the predicate red() has the meaning 'is red', just as car() means 
'is a car'.    (05)

That is the point I thought should not be lost: Formalization turns 
adjectives, including colour attribution, into predicates ("verbs").
(It wasn't just a peculiarity of ancient Egyptian.)    (06)

Now, in many of these languages, 'is red' is indistinguishable from 
'turns red' or 'turned red'.  This is probably a result of observation 
that redness is a result of change, whether persistent or not.  When 
humans 'turn red', there is clearly a change, but in nature, flowers and 
berries 'turn red' as they grow, and cloth is 'turned red' as a 
consequence of application of some dye.  This seems to apply to turning 
yellow, green, blue and brown as well, but not usually to white and black.    (07)

But in Western languages, AFTER colour attribution was an "adjective", 
we developed derived terms for processes that produce colour change. 
The examples that Sean and Pat used are of this kind: blacken, redden, 
blue(-ing), yellow(-ing), etc.  (It may be that this is just a 
chicken/egg issue in language development.)    (08)

BTW, Pat's observation about laundry "bluing" that makes brighter whites 
is derived from a mid-19th century product, "Reckitts blue", that was a 
synthetic blue dye added to washloads in small quantities to overcome 
the yellow or grey tint that whites acquired from many washings in 
public water supplies.  (The practice may be older, but Prussian Blue 
and French Blue dyes were expensive; the synthetic was cheap.)  By 1900 
similar products were marketed under a dozen names in England, the US, 
and much of Europe, and they were all called "blue" or "bluing". 
Household bleaches and other chemical whiteners finally drove them out 
of the market around 1960.    (09)

-Ed    (010)

P.S. I share Pat's view of green paint.  All of the artist's acrylic 
greens, at any rate, seem to have an identifiable yellow or blue (or 
sometimes grey) cast.  I don't know what a pure green looks like anymore.    (011)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                        Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263                Tel: +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263                FAX: +1 301-975-4694    (012)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (013)

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