Towards a historical and cultural atlas of colour terms in the Near East

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This chapter addresses evolutionary aspects tangential to the categorization of green and blue in selected contemporary varieties of Arabic and Aramaic spoken in the Near East. Its objective is to focus attention on the need for a combined linguistic and cultural study of this region on a macro-areal scale, after the model of R. E. MacLaury’s (1997) Mesoamerican colour survey. The present research intimates that the Bedouin Arabic hybrid colour paradigm – with its minimal set of basic categories, lexicalized alongside an elaborate word-stock for non-basic, (though functionally salient) unsaturated, natural hues (of livestock, steppe terrain, and more) – represents an early evolutionary stage in Semitic colour categorization focused essentially on brightness values. Hence the undifferentiated dark / cool region of the Old Arabic spectrum covered by the basic term axd̩ar “green, blue, and black”. The comparative chromatic data here adduced from ancient and modern Semitic suggest that the tendency to fuse green and blue into a single category in this region represents a relic trait in certain parts of the Near East, concomitant with a still ongoing shift from brightness to hue categories.


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