A colourful question

Posted by on February 11, 2011

It’s interesting how the importance of colour varies from culture to culture, and the way that impacts on language. In Western countries, white is the colour of weddings, because it’s supposed to represent purity, while black is sombre and suited to sad occassions like funerals. Our language reflects that, with white representing ‘good’ and black representing ‘bad’. In China, though, weddings are traditionally red, symbolizing joy, while white is the colour for funerals.

It’s the same with blue and green. In English, blue often means ‘dirty’ in the sexual sense – blue movie – but in Spanish, green is used in the same context.

I wonder if different colours are used in your or your students’ native languages, and whether that’s ever caused confusion in the classroom?

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Comments (7)
  • This is a fascinating topic. The other day I picked up these couple of articles on the web, both relating to the perception of colour: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/03/babies-see-pure/ and http://news.softpedia.com/news/You-Detect-Colors-According-to-Your-Mother-Tongue-Language-53608.shtml. In both cases, language has a part to play.

    Posted by Kati on 11th February, 2011
  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by macmillanelt, Macmillan Dictionary. Macmillan Dictionary said: A colourful question for you: http://bit.ly/dVDVy3 […]

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  • In Italian, the noun “giallo” (yellow) is the word commonly used for “crime book” because they all used to have yellow covers.

    Posted by Paolo on 12th February, 2011
  • Interesting. In China, the movies with sexual contents are being called Yellow Movies.. I am quite sure why it is yellow not blue though… and another good one is called “Green hats”. It is a bad name for a man being called with green hat on, as this means his wife has laid with someone, everyone knows it but only him, again, why green being picked here, I am not sure..

    Posted by Tom on 13th February, 2011
  • I haven’t seen any confusion in the classroom yet, although I do get confused a lot – especially when reading foreign literature, most of all poetry. I have been thinking about it quite a lot, because I feel I am losing some subtle but important meanings in “cultural translation”.

    Posted by Jay Banks on 13th February, 2011
  • This is interesting, there are clearly lots of variations – thanks for sending them in.

    Any more anyone?

    Posted by Sharon Creese on 14th February, 2011
  • Exciting topic!!
    In Italian we use green “Sono al verde” = meaning “I’m broke”, or “verde d’invidia” the colour of envy. Green is also the colour for hope (verde speranza)
    Black is for sad things “Vedo nero” = I can’t see a way out, but “Vedo rosa” (pink) for the positive side of it.

    Posted by Ivana Grofi on 16th February, 2011
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