Volume 46, Issue 2
  • ISSN 0378-4177
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9978
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



Previous work on colour lexicons focussed on universal patterns in their structure and evolution. We collected new colour naming data in Japanese and three under-described Ryukyuan languages (Amami, Miyako and Yaeyama) to investigate semantic variation and change in the colour lexicon of related languages in a modern context. We found several new colour terms (e.g., and for ‘green’) in the lexicon of Ryukyuan speakers, apparently resulting from contact with Standard Japanese and English. A comparison of our data with historical data suggests that modern Ryukyuan colour systems are closer to modern Japanese than they are to their historic pasts. However, we also found that modern-day Ryukyuan languages are more similar to each other than they are to Japanese. These findings show the scope of semantic changes that can occur through outside influence and highlight the need for fresh empirical data in the study of semantics in related languages.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Athanasopoulos, Panos
    2009 Cognitive representation of colour in bilinguals: The case of Greek blues. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition12(1). 83–95. 10.1017/S136672890800388X
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S136672890800388X [Google Scholar]
  2. Athanasopoulos, Panos, Ljubica Damjanovic, Andrea Krajciova & Miho Sasaki
    2011 Representation of colour concepts in bilingual cognition: The case of Japanese blues. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition14(1). 9–17. 10.1017/S1366728909990046
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728909990046 [Google Scholar]
  3. Berlin, Brent & Paul Kay
    1969Basic color terms: Their university and evolution. California University Press. Berkeley.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Caskey-Sirmons, Leigh A. & Nancy P. Hickerson
    1977 Semantic shift and bilingualism: Variation in the color terms of five languages. Anthropological Linguistics19(8). 358–367.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Cattell, Raymond B.
    1966 The scree test for the number of factors. Multivariate Behavioral Research1(2). 245–276. 10.1207/s15327906mbr0102_10
    https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327906mbr0102_10 [Google Scholar]
  6. Conlan, Francis
    2005 Searching for the semantic boundaries of the Japanese colour term ‘ao’. Joondalup: Edith Cowan University PhD dissertation.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Ember, Melvin
    1978 Size of color lexicon: Interaction of cultural and biological factors. American Anthropologist80(2). 364–367. 10.1525/aa.1978.80.2.02a00100
    https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1978.80.2.02a00100 [Google Scholar]
  8. Haynie, Hannah J. & Claire Bowern
    2016 Phylogenetic approach to the evolution of color term systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences113(48). 13666–13671. 10.1073/pnas.1613666113
    https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1613666113 [Google Scholar]
  9. Heinrich, Patrick
    2005 What leaves a mark should no longer stain. InMike Evans (ed.), Refereed Papers from the 1st International Small Islands Cultures Conference, 61–72. Sydney: Small Island Culture Research Initiative.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Heinrich, Patrick, Shinsho Miyara & Michinori Shimoji
    2015 Introduction: Ryukyuan languages and Ryukyuan linguistics. InPatrick Heinrich, Shinsho Miyara & Michinori Shimoji (eds.), Handbook of the Ryukyuan languages. History, structure, and use, 1–10. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. 10.1515/9781614511151.1
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9781614511151.1 [Google Scholar]
  11. Hendrick-Wong, Esme
    2013 Purple mania: How a snail created the most sought after colour of all time. Textiles Asia4(3). 7–13.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Hirayama, Teruo
    1992Gendai Nihongo Hōgen Daijiten [Dictionary of contemporary Japanese dialects]. Tokyo: Meiji-shoin.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Huisman, John L. A., Asifa Majid & Roeland van Hout
    2019 The geographical configuration of a language area influences linguistic diversity. PLoS ONE14(6). e0217363. 10.1371/journal.pone.0217363
    https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217363 [Google Scholar]
  14. Iijima, Toshiro, Wolfgang Wenning & Heinrich Zollinger
    1982 Cultural factors of color naming in Japanese: Naming tests with Japanese children in Japan and Europe. Anthropological Linguistics24(2). 245–262.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Iwasaki, Shoichi
    2013Japanese. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 10.1075/loall.17
    https://doi.org/10.1075/loall.17 [Google Scholar]
  16. Jäger, Gerhard
    2012 Using statistics for cross-linguistic semantics: A quantitative investigation of the typology of colour naming systems. Journal of Semantics29(4). 521–544. 10.1093/jos/ffs006
    https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/ffs006 [Google Scholar]
  17. Jameson, Kimberley A. & Nancy Alvarado
    2003 Differences in color naming and color salience in Vietnamese and English. Color Research & Application28. 113–138. 10.1002/col.10131
    https://doi.org/10.1002/col.10131 [Google Scholar]
  18. Kaiser, Henry F.
    1960 The application of electronic computers to factor analysis. Educational and Psychological Measurement20(1). 141–151. 10.1177/001316446002000116
    https://doi.org/10.1177/001316446002000116 [Google Scholar]
  19. Kay, Paul, Brent Berlin, Luisa Maffi & William R. Merrifield
    1997 Color naming across languages. InClyde L. Hardin & Luisa Maffi (eds.), Color categories in thought and language, 21–56. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511519819.002
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511519819.002 [Google Scholar]
  20. Kay, Paul, Brent Berlin, Luisa Maffi, William R. Merrifield & Richard S. Cook
    2009The world color survey. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Kay, Paul, Brent Berlin & William Merrifield
    1991 Biocultural implications of systems of color naming. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology1(1). 12–25. 10.1525/jlin.1991.1.1.12
    https://doi.org/10.1525/jlin.1991.1.1.12 [Google Scholar]
  22. Kristol, Andres M.
    1980 Color systems in southern Italy: A case of regression. Language56(1). 137–145. 10.2307/412646
    https://doi.org/10.2307/412646 [Google Scholar]
  23. Kruskal, Joseph B.
    1964 Multidimensional scaling by optimizing goodness of fit to a nonmetric hypothesis. Psychometrika29(1). 1–27. 10.1007/BF02289565
    https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02289565 [Google Scholar]
  24. Kuriki, Ichiro, Ryan Lange, Yumiko Muto, Angela M. Brown, Kazuho Fukuda, Rumi Tokunaga, Delwin T. Lindsey, Keiji Uchikawa & Satoshi Shioiri
    2017 The modern Japanese color lexicon. Journal of Vision17(3). 1–18. 10.1167/17.3.1
    https://doi.org/10.1167/17.3.1 [Google Scholar]
  25. Kusakabe, Fumio
    1964 Aka to Ao – Okinawa, Miyako, Yaeyama o megutte [Red and blue around Okinawa, Miyako and Yaeyama]. Kokugogaku58. 60–75.
    [Google Scholar]
  26. Levinson, Stephen C.
    2000 Yeli Dnye and the theory of basic color terms. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology10(1). 3–55. 10.1525/jlin.2000.10.1.3
    https://doi.org/10.1525/jlin.2000.10.1.3 [Google Scholar]
  27. Lillo, Julio, Fernando González-Perilli, Lilia Prado-León, Anna Melnikova, Leticia Álvaro, José A. Collado & Humberto Moreira
    2018 Basic color terms (BCTs) and categories (BCCs) in three dialects of the Spanish language: Interaction between cultural and universal factors. Frontiers in Psychology9. 761. 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00761
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00761 [Google Scholar]
  28. Lucy, John A.
    1997 The linguistics of color. InClyde L. Hardin & Luisa Maffi (eds.), Color categories in thought and language, 320–346. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511519819.015
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511519819.015 [Google Scholar]
  29. MacLaury, Robert E.
    1986 Color in Meso-America: Vol I. A theory of composite categorization. Berkeley: University of California PhD dissertation.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. 1991 Social and cognitive motivations of change: Measuring variability in color semantics. Language67(1). 34–62. 10.2307/415538
    https://doi.org/10.2307/415538 [Google Scholar]
  31. 2001 Color terms. InMartin Haspelmath, Ekkehard König, Wulf Oesterreicher & Wolfgang Raible (eds.), Language typology and language universals, 1227–1251. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. MacLaury, Robert E., Gordon W. Hewes, Paul R. Kinnear, Jan B. Deregowski, William R. Merrifield, Barbara A. C. Saunders, James Stanlaw, Christina Toren, J. Van Brakel & Roger W. Wescott
    1992 From brightness to hue: An explanatory model of color-category evolution [and comments and reply]. Current Anthropology33(2). 137–186. 10.1086/204049
    https://doi.org/10.1086/204049 [Google Scholar]
  33. Majid, Asifa, Fiona Jordan & Michael Dunn
    2011Evolution of semantic systems: Procedures manual. Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. 2015 Semantic systems in closely related languages. Language Sciences49(1). 1–18. 10.1016/j.langsci.2014.11.002
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langsci.2014.11.002 [Google Scholar]
  35. Miyara, Toso
    1930Yaeyama Goi [Yaeyama vocabulary]. Tokyo: Toyo Bunko.
    [Google Scholar]
  36. Naroll, Raoul
    1970 What have we learned from cross-cultural surveys?American Anthropologist72(6). 1227–1288. 10.1525/aa.1970.72.6.02a00030
    https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1970.72.6.02a00030 [Google Scholar]
  37. Özgen, Emre & Ian R. L. Davies
    1998 Turkish color terms: tests of Berlin and Kay’s theory of color universals and linguistic relativity. Linguistics36(5). 919–956. 10.1515/ling.1998.36.5.919
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.1998.36.5.919 [Google Scholar]
  38. Paramei, Galina V.
    2005 Singing the Russian blues: An argument for culturally basic color terms. Cross-Cultural Research39(1). 10–38. 10.1177/1069397104267888
    https://doi.org/10.1177/1069397104267888 [Google Scholar]
  39. Pellard, Thomas
    2015 The linguistic archeology of the Ryukyu Islands. InPatrick Heinrich, Shinsho Miyara & Michinori Shimoji (eds.), Handbook of the Ryukyuan languages. History, structure, and use, 13–38. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. 10.1515/9781614511151.13
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9781614511151.13 [Google Scholar]
  40. Regier, Terry, Paul Kay & Naveen Khetarpal
    2007 Color naming reflects optimal partitions of color space. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences104(4). 1436–1441. 10.1073/pnas.0610341104
    https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0610341104 [Google Scholar]
  41. 2009 Color naming and the shape of color space. Language85(4): 884–892. 10.1353/lan.0.0177
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.0.0177 [Google Scholar]
  42. Shibatani, Masayoshi
    1990The languages of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  43. Shogakukan
    Shogakukan (2000) Nihon Kokugo Daijiten [Unabridged Dictionary of the Japanese Language]. Tokyo: Shogakukan.
    [Google Scholar]
  44. Stanlaw, James
    1987 Colors, culture, and contact: English loanwords and problems of color nomenclature in modern Japanese. Champaign: University of Illinois PhD dissertation.
    [Google Scholar]
  45. 2007 Japanese color terms, from 400 CE to the present: Literature, orthography, and language contact in light of current cognitive theory. InRobert E. MacLaury, Galina V. Paramei & Don Dedrick (eds.), Anthropology of color: Interdisciplinary multilevel modeling, 295–318. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 10.1075/z.137.18sta
    https://doi.org/10.1075/z.137.18sta [Google Scholar]
  46. 2010 Language, contact, and vantages: fifteen hundred years of Japanese color terms. Language Sciences32(2). 196–224. 10.1016/j.langsci.2009.10.005
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langsci.2009.10.005 [Google Scholar]
  47. Tsuhako, Toshiko
    1992 Okinawa Chūnanbu Hōgen [Dialects of central and southern Okinawa]. InTakashi Kamei, Rokuro Kono & Eiichi Chino (eds.), Nihon Rettō no Gengo [Languages of the Japanese archipelago], 829–848. Tokyo: Sanseido.
    [Google Scholar]
  48. Uchikawa, Keiji & Robert M. Boynton
    1987 Categorical color perception of Japanese observers: Comparison with that of Americans. Vision Research27(10). 1825–1833. 10.1016/0042‑6989(87)90111‑8
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0042-6989(87)90111-8 [Google Scholar]
  49. Wierzbicka, Anna
    2008 Why there are no ‘colour universals’ in language and thought. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute14(2). 407–425. 10.1111/j.1467‑9655.2008.00509.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9655.2008.00509.x [Google Scholar]
  50. Zollinger, Heinrich
    1988 Categorical color perception: Influence of cultural factors on the differentiation of primary and derived basic color terms in color naming by Japanese children. Vision Research28(12). 1379–1382. 10.1016/0042‑6989(88)90069‑7
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0042-6989(88)90069-7 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): colour; Japonic; language variation and change; Ryukyuan; semantics
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error