'GRUE' in Chinese: On the original meaning and evolution of qīng (青)

Victoria Bogushevskaya

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The visible spectrum is a continuum in nature. But just like once it was partitioned in physics by Newton, it is partitioned in languages, and each language does it in a unique manner, depending on the variety of its linguistic means. One of the peculiarities of Chinese colour vocabulary is that different parts of the spectrum are represented by one colour name – 青qīng, which is not only a hyponym for the fuzzy union of green-blue category (expressed in the standard combinations 青草 qīngcăo “[green] grass” and 青天qīngtiān “[blue] sky”), but also denotes achromatic ‘black’ or ‘macro-black’/‘dark’. 青qīng is one of the five canonical colours in China. Although it has a binary wordformation function (as a radical in derived colour lexemes and as a morpheme in compounds), it is not a basic colour term in contemporary Chinese, there are separate psychologically salient terms for ‘green’, ‘blue’ and ‘black’. This paper focuses on the semantic analysis of all the existing meanings of 青qīng, determines the sequence of their acquisition and brings forward the hypothesis about the reasons for such syncretism. For Chinese people the polysemy of 青qīng does not create any confusion. Chinese linguists, however, acknowledge that dictionaries are not always able to give a thorough explanation. We suggest considering the following circumstances: whether the object it describes is coloured naturally or artificially, whether we deal with Classical Chinese text or written vernacular Chinese as well as to what historical period it belongs to.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThinking Colours: Perception, Translation and Representation
EditorsVictoria Bogushevskaya, Elisabetta Colla
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • basic colour term, grue, macro colour category


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