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Re: [ontolog-forum] Anthropology of Colour

To: edbark@xxxxxxxx
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2008 12:23:59 -0500
Message-id: <p06230902c40457a2b413@[]>
At 12:38 PM -0400 3/17/08, Ed Barkmeyer wrote:
>Sean Barker wrote:
>>>  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).
>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') ...
>I think Sean had an important idea that got a bit muddled with a related
>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'.
>That is the point I thought should not be lost: Formalization turns
>adjectives, including colour attribution, into predicates ("verbs").    (01)

I wouldn't say for a second that predicates in FOL have any clear 
connection with verbs in English.    (02)

>(It wasn't just a peculiarity of ancient Egyptian.)
>Now, in many of these languages, 'is red' is indistinguishable from
>'turns red' or 'turned red'.    (03)

I wonder if these languages had a construction that we might render 
as 'staying red' or 'maintaining red' which disambiguated in the 
other direction?    (04)

>  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.
>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.)
>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.    (05)

I recall the smell (and taste) of the stuff from my childhood. Dying 
ones tongue blue was a common distraction, and often alarmed ones 
mother in a satisfactory way.    (06)

>  (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.    (07)

Blued steel is much older, though, and is still used (both the 
material and the linguistic formation).    (08)

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