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Towards a diachrony of Maltese basic colour terms

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Abstract

... <i/><i>la perception de la couleur n&#8217;est pas enti&#232;rement elucid&#233;e quand on en a precis&#233; les domaines physiques et physiologiques. Il y a une histoire humaine de la perception</i>. [colour perception cannot be fully explained merely by a precise specification of the relevant physical and physiological domains; perception is itself a product of human history.](Ignace Meyerson 1957: 7)The vernacular of the Maltese archipelago displays a twelve-term colour paradigm comprising &#12296;abjad&#12297; &#8220;white&#8221;, &#12296;iswed&#12297; &#8220;black&#8221;, &#12296;a&#295;mar&#12297; &#8220;red&#8221;, &#12296;a&#295;dar&#12297; &#8220;green&#8221;, &#12296;isfar&#12297; &#8220;yellow&#8221;, &#12296;&#267;elesti&#12297; &#8220;sky blue&#8221;, &#12296;blu&#12297; &#8220;dark blue&#8221;, &#12296;kannella&#12297; &#8220;brown&#8221;, &#12296;ro&#380;a&#12297; &#8220;pink&#8221;, &#12296;gri&#380;&#12297; &#8220;grey&#8221;, &#12296;oran&#289;jo&#12297; &#8220;orange&#8221; and &#12296;vjola&#12297; &#8220;violet&#8221;. The dual systemic split of the blue category is a striking feature of Maltese, inviting comparison with the situation obtaining in Italian and other Mediterranean languages. The hybrid (basically Arabic/Italian) composition of the Maltese colour system presents the linguistic researcher with an intriguing cultural synthesis reached by an erstwhile medieval vernacular of Arabic spoken by a small island community exposed to complex linguistic and cultural currents endemic in its regional and local history. The case of Maltese &#8211; a Europeanized Arabic vernacular &#8211; highlights the crucial role of external influences on cognitive processes monitoring the acquisition of colour categories, and evokes the need for a linguistic model incorporating an elaborate cultural dimension restricting universalist claims commonly associated with the Berlin and Kay paradigm.

References

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