Towards a diachrony of Maltese basic colour terms
... <i/><i>la perception de la couleur n’est pas entièrement elucidée quand on en a precisé 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 〈abjad〉 “white”, 〈iswed〉 “black”, 〈aħmar〉 “red”, 〈aħdar〉 “green”, 〈isfar〉 “yellow”, 〈ċelesti〉 “sky blue”, 〈blu〉 “dark blue”, 〈kannella〉 “brown”, 〈roża〉 “pink”, 〈griż〉 “grey”, 〈oranġjo〉 “orange” and 〈vjola〉 “violet”. 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 – a Europeanized Arabic vernacular – 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.