15 February 2008

If I didn't have to worry, I'd be studying languages and anthropology

via »AWAD newsletter #291

Here in Japan, the light does not turn "green", it turns "blue"!

The Japanese word for green is "midori" (yes, of liqueur fame), and the word for blue is "ao", however, as I understand it (though I am no lexicographic historian), midori is a much younger word than ao. For reasons few seem able to articulate, Japanese historically had a somewhat limited verbal palette for the infinite variety of colors, though it is augmented by such natural constructions as "ha-iro" for "ash-color" (gray) or "mizu-iro" for the blue color of water.

Traffic signals are the same color as in the U.S. (a blue-green), but are universally referred to here as "ao-shingo" (blue light) (nothing to do with K-mart).

It's not just that they choose to label one ambiguous color as being on the other side of the line; "ao" simply has a broader meaning. Green tree frogs are "ao-gaeru", and one's youth may be referred to as "seishun" (blue spring).

I could go on about the colors of tea and others, but that's enough for now.

Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinguishing_blue_from_green_in_language

When I was learning Japanese, I did notice that the kanji for blue 青い is green, but didn't think about it after that since it caused me no confusion at all. Maybe it is not confusing because we have the same blue-green conflation of the word in the Chinese language as well.

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