Japanese color terms, from 400 C.E. to the present: Literature, orthography, and language contact in light of current cognitive theory

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The aim of this chapter is to describe the history of Japanese color naming and relate it to current models in color nomenclature research. Though Japanese was among the twenty languages most carefully examined in the original Berlin and Kay (1969) investigations thirty years ago, the complexity and history of its color-term nomenclature system have yet to be fully explored. I will analyze evidence fromthe first classical texts that reveals how this vocabulary might have operated 1500 years ago, and present a possible evolutionary sequence of Japanese color terminology from circa 400 CE to the present. I will examine this sequence in light of the Berlin and Kay standard model, and show how it fails to account for certain data. Other explanations, such as those offered by MacLaury (2001), give more robust accounts, and elucidate much in a very succinct fashion. Nonetheless, there appear to be aspects of the Japanese color sequence that defy formalmodeling.


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