A Study of Chinese Colour Terminology
Australian National University
This study represents a comprehensive investigation of Chinese colour
terminology through both synchronic and diachronic perspectives.
We find that: In Modern Stander Chinese, basic colour categories are
designated by eight basic colour terms which anchor the nomenclature
system. Tertiary terms are often morphologically derived from, and
semantically defined by, the basic terms. Secondary terms provide
interesting evidence of language change. There is no single internal
semantic structure constant across basic and non-basic terms.
The potentiality of syntactic function and collocation versatility of
colour terms are generally determined by their morphological structures and
semantic attributes. The gradual increase of varieties of functions; of
overt grammatical constraints; and of the probability of syntactic
extension is the trend in the development of syntactic function of colour
Some figurative usages of colour terms stemmed from universal psychological
associations, others were based upon Chinese-specific etymological or
cultural factors. Western languages and cultures have significantly
influenced MSC colour terminology. New colour terms used to be created
overwhelmingly through semantic derivation. In more recent times they have
been created mainly through morphological combination and affixation. The
development of Chinese colour terminology conforms by and large to Berlin
and Kay's universal evolutionary ordering.