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Colour in language

Proposition (after Lyons 1995): human societies tend to lexicalise material, brightness and texture, but not often colour. In societies with colouristic painting traditions, there is an emphasis on varying shades as opposed to demarcated blocks of colour; when the society then develops technologies for producing wide ranges of artificial pigments, the vocabulary follows with individual 'colour terms'. In the case of Ancient Egyptian language, the following terms are attested. They correspond roughly to some modern terms, but did not operate within a Newtonian concept of light.

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(For the convention of representing Egyptian consonants, see Coffin Texts Word Index- Manuel de Codage)

km dark ('black')

HD light ('white')

dSr bloody ('red')

wAD verdant ('green')

xsbD lapis ('blue')


Consider the recurrent oppositions for certain of these terms, similar to our attributive use of colours, but again probably more related to material and texture in Egyptian context.

Dark/light and night/day (black/white)

Fertile soil vs desert (black/red)

Blood vs pure (red/white)


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