A Festschrift for Minoji Akimoto
Edited By Merja Kytö, John Scahill and Harumi Tanabe
MEIKO MATSUMOTO Semantic Shifts in the Development of Color Terms in English 197
MEIKO MATSUMOTO Semantic Shifts in the Development of Color Terms in English 1. Introduction The color terms green and blue have undergone interesting semantic shifts in the course of their development. In discussing the use of these terms in the Middle Ages, Johan Huizinga (1954 : 271) argues that “the relative rarity of blue and of green must not be simply as- cribed to an aesthetic predilection. [. . .] They were the special colours of love. Blue signified fidelity; green, amorous passion.” However, in Present- Day English (PDE) blue represents the color of the sky, or a feeling of sadness, and green the color of plants, or environmentalism. The semantic shifts in the development of these terms extend even to the degree to which they denote distinct colors. In discussing the line from Gower, “blak is whyt and blew is grene” (CA.VII.2188), Burnley (1976: 43) observed that grene and blew are as distinct for Gower as blak and whit. However, green and blue are not always as clearly differentiated nowadays, as reflected in the use of both colors by a single term, green, to describe the sea and the ‘go’ signal on traffic lights in PDE. Green originates in the Old English (OE) grēne (Dutch groen/German grün/Old Norse [ON] grenn), and shares the same root as grow and grass. Green was thus originally the color of nature, but at some point in the history of English, green also came to be associated with sickness and jealousy, as in green-eyed (Shake-...
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