Of oxen and horses: semantic shifts in early Chinese colour lexicon

Victoria Bogushevskaya

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in libroContributo a convegno

Abstract

When one utters a colour term, one is not directly pointing to a state of the world, but is connecting or correlating that term with a cultural unit or concept (Eco 1985). Referential usage of a colour term occurs when there is reference to a colour as an abstract concept, while descriptive usage occurs at an earlier stage, when there is a reference to an object which has a particular colour. The present study, based on the data elicited from glossaries, early classics and anthologies, analyses the cases of semantic extension of the lexemes that originally denoted cattle or horses of particular colours (e.g., lí ‘a pure black horse’ → ‘black’ (of mammal hair), wù ‘multi-coloured ox’ → ‘multi-coloured’ (of pelage and textiles)). One of the evolved subgroups includes the peculiar case of the lexeme xīng (red-yellow ox, red-yellow horse → yellowish red). Originally context-restricted, it became an independent semantico-phonetic element and formed a secondary semantic node in the derived lexemes xīng [DET “soil”] ‘red soil’ and xīng [DET “horse”] ‘red horse’. I will also argue that the lexeme liúhuáng—the only disyllabic canonical jiàn sè—originally denoted dun horse, and therefore stood for BROWN and not for GREENISH-YELLOW, as suggested in some explanatory sources. The dichotomy between homochromous and heterochromous animals for sacral and utilitarian purposes had been fundamental in the Chinese society up to the end of the Warring States Period; after which, under the influence of the Xiongnu, the determining factor for animals’ choosing became their physical characteristics, like in the case with Zhuī, the fast and hardy piebald horse of Xiang Yu. Known also as Wūzhuī, it acquired the status of precedent name, lexical unit that possesses a very distinct connotative or associative potential in Chinese cultural tradition.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospitePapers of the International Conference on Languages of Far East, Southeast Asia and West Africa (LESEWA XII)
Pagine42-51
Numero di pagine10
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2016
EventoInternational Conference on Languages of Far East, Southeast Asia and West Africa (LESEWA XII) - Institute of Asian and African Studies, Lomonosov Moscow State University
Durata: 16 nov 201617 nov 2016

Convegno

ConvegnoInternational Conference on Languages of Far East, Southeast Asia and West Africa (LESEWA XII)
CittàInstitute of Asian and African Studies, Lomonosov Moscow State University
Periodo16/11/1617/11/16

Keywords

  • colour term, colour naming, categorisation, precedent phenomena

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