From blood to worms

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The historical record provides evidence of an apparent semantic shift in the denotational range of the Portuguese colour term roxo, whereby its referent, initially designating the colour red, came to designate the colour purple. Drawing on colour term research from the World Colour Survey, prototype theory and cognitive semantics, I argue that such a process was set in motion by an adjacent semantic shift in the colour term vermelho from non-basic to the basic colour term for red in Portuguese. Supported by empirical evidence from historical texts as well as comparative linguistics, I document an overall timeline for this change and argue that extra-linguistic factors involving the dyeing industry in Iberia serve as the motivation for these shifts, a view supported by colour term cognates in other Ibero-Romance varieties such as Catalan and Galician. The evolution of Portuguese roxo and vermelho provides an example of one possible evolutionary path that basic colour terms can take in the history of a language, demonstrating the cognitive mechanics involved in the division and shift of colour category boundaries and the relocation of prototypes.


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