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Differences in the way Russian native speakers describe colored objects vs. English native speakers
Thread poster: dsurfingmark
dsurfingmark
Local time: 07:45
Russian to English
Jan 10, 2013

Hello,

My name is Mark, and I am studying psycholinguistics. I was recently thinking about how language affects thought. In Russian, eyes are usually described as "grey," "brown," or "green." "Blue" eyes are usually reserved for those who have really blue eyes. However, in English, we would usually lump "blue" and "grey" into just "blue" for eye color.

My question is, are there other words that are described with different colors between the two languages? If there are any bilingual speakers out there with some examples, please post! Thank you!


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Nicole Coesel  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:45
Member (2012)
Dutch to English
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Too many differences to mention Jan 10, 2013

Hi Mark,

Good point you have there. As each language and culture has it's peculiarities, so does Russian. In my opinion, being bilingual, Russian is a very rich yet not too complex language and comprises of many, many more words, verbs and expressions than English does. Therefore Russians tend to be a lot more detailed and specific about whatever they are talking about. Simply because they have the words to do so. Since most Russians have a very high educational degree, they are able to make use of that as well.
I find it a beautiful language and applaud what they can describe in their language, but what I am unable to translate into any western language without loosing its "touch".
Furthermore, Russians have an exceptional knowledge on war and history and they love to talk about those subjects, so also from a cultural point of view they really do talk about different subjects than we do.
I could go on and on

Hope this helps. Feel free to contact.

All the best,
Nicole.


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dsurfingmark
Local time: 07:45
Russian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Hey Nicole Jan 10, 2013

Thanks for your response. I too agree that Russian is a very rich, beautiful language. I especially like the poetry and how it flows so well.

I was also wondering if you could give some specific examples (especially when dealing with color) of differences (like the blue/grey eye example)

Thanks!


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:45
German to English
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Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher Jan 10, 2013

See this book - the chapter entitled Russian Blues - for a discussion about the color blue and how it is described by Russian speakers.

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Mark Havill  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:45
Member (2012)
Russian to English
The blues Jan 10, 2013

Of course, the obvious one is синий = dark, navy blue and голубой = light, sky blue. I'm not a native speaker, but it seems from friends that these are perceived as different colors. I'm not sure how they would fit them into the color wheel. Color of hair might be another interesting direction (what is blonde? Red-headed?) as well as color of animals.

It seems that I've also heard that in Japanese green and blue are combined into a single color.

An interesting topic.


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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
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I thoroughly recommend this Jan 10, 2013

Daina Jauntirans wrote:

See this book - the chapter entitled Russian Blues - for a discussion about the color blue and how it is described by Russian speakers.


I'm sure you've come across this book if you're studying psycholinguistics, Mark, but other people may be interested.

Color perception is one of the most important ways in which languages differ, and a lot of research has been done on the subject. For example, there's evidence that the ancient Greeks perceived the sky as being not blue, but a wine color. I found the book riveting.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/12/language-glass-colour-guy-deutscher


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 13:45
English to Croatian
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Blue etc Jan 10, 2013

Over here, for the eye color, we distinguish between blue and gray, while also have gray-green, blue-green, brown, hazel and green.

However, here is an interesting one, our word for "blonde" is "blue-haired"; "plavuša" is a blonde woman. I am not familiar with exact etymology of this, but it's confusing for foreign speakers as to why we call them blue-headed when they are just blonde (or rather technically yellow or white/bleached).


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Alex Khanin  Identity Verified
Germany
German to Russian
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Redhead Jan 10, 2013

Indeed, the color of red hair is ryzhiy (рыжий) rather than red.

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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 13:45
English to Croatian
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Riđa in Serbian Jan 10, 2013

We would say riđa for read-head also, or crvenokosa. Riđa is a bit archaic.

Alex, what is the word for blonde in Russian?


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Maksym Mirzabaiev  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 14:45
English to Russian
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May vary Jan 10, 2013

Lingua 5B wrote:


We would say riđa for read-head also, or crvenokosa. Riđa is a bit archaic.

Alex, what is the word for blonde in Russian?


"Блондин" for male and "блондинка" for female correspondingly in everyday speech. When used towards a girl/woman -- and within a specific context -- this word often bears a negative/joky meaning to describe such female individual as a dumm or small-minded person. "Белокурый парень/белокурая девушка" would fit better in terms of more literary translation.

[Edited at 2013-01-10 23:05 GMT]


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Maksym Mirzabaiev  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 14:45
English to Russian
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Here is... Jan 10, 2013

In Russian, eyes are usually described as "grey," "brown," or "green." "Blue" eyes are usually reserved for those who have really blue eyes. However, in English, we would usually lump "blue" and "grey" into just "blue" for eye color.


Many people out there have a mixed eye color. So, you can say, for example, "У него/нее серо-зеленые/голубые/карие глаза", depending on the mix of colors this particular person has (if you come to know/notice it, of course).

There is also a brightness scale used to describe a color more specifically. For instance:

- зеленый (plain green);
- светло-зеленый (light green);
- ярко-зеленый (brilliant green);

Hope that helps,
Maksym


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:45
Member (2000)
Russian to English
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Difference in black eyes Jan 11, 2013

Compare the Russian song "Очи чёрные" and the English song "Two Lovely Black Eyes". Black eyes in Russian refers to the colour of the eyes themselves, but "black eyes" in English means eyes blackened (bruised) by being hit in the face.

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dsurfingmark
Local time: 07:45
Russian to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks everyone so far! Jan 11, 2013

I just wanted to say thanks for all your comments. I've definitely thought about the голубой distinction in Russian. And the example about blue hair is amazing (even if not in Russian).

If you all have any more examples, I'd love to hear them. Plus, if you think anything else is particularly interesting, go ahead and post it.

For anyone interested, look up Lera Boroditsky. She is a researcher doing this kind of research in California (Stanford). Her work is really interesting.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:45
Russian to English
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Hi, Mark. Jan 11, 2013

I think most colors are different in Russian as well as in various Indo-European languages compared to English. It also depends if you have in mind the colors commonly used by 90% of the society, or the colors used by the artists. Russian, in everyday life (as many other Indo-European languages), uses a few words for colors, whereas English has closer to a hundred -- many nouns as well, not just adjectives (names of flowers, plants and fruits) are used as colors, for example plumb, avocado, melon, sage, etc. It is really a fascinating subject. Russian artists use many more words for colors than an average person would. You could check the color charts in an art store.

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Alexander C. Thomson  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 13:45
Dutch to English
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‘Placid’ vs. ‘lurid’ colour distinction Jan 11, 2013

Some languages neighbouring Russian, including non-Indo-European ones such as Georgian, have a similar lexical distinction between dark blue and light blue: in Georgian, itʼs ლურჯი /lurdji/ for dark blue and ცისფერი /tsisperi/, which literally means ‘sky-coloured’, for light blue, but note that the sky can also be described as lurdji if brooding or darkening. The fin-de-siècle Georgian poets formed a club with a short-lived esoteric literary magazine that they called Tsisperi q'antsebi (‘Light blue [sky-coloured] [drinking-]horns’) to publish their fantastical notions in, and to call a man tsisperi is also a Georgian insult for ‘namby-pamby’, so there are all kinds of hints there that to be that shade denotes otherworldliness, unworldliness, a lack of earthy vigour.

A good friend did a whole thesis at Tbilisi State University on the poetic use of colour terms in C20th writer Konstantine Gamsakhurdia: one of his poems that has become a song is entitled Zghvisperi gakvs tvalebi, literally ‘Sea-coloured are the eyes you have’. Also, colour terms in the ancient Greek poets was once a Ph.D. thesis topic, by (if Iʼm not mistaken) Alice Kober, one of the pioneers in the decipherment of Linear B.

Also, Finnish or its precursor language appears to have borrowed (or to have lent?) the Russian/Slavic word: in Finnish, ‘blue’ is sininen (N.B.: -inen is the adjectival suffix), although here there is not, to my knowledge, a discernible difference in spectral range covered by the Finnish word versus the word for ‘blue’ in a Western European language.

If you look at the David Crystal-type overviews of the worldʼs languages, which go down to almost anthropological level about this, it would seem that the tribal languages with more restricted lexical bases, especially those spoken in the tropics (which is most of them anyway), have at the very least a distinction between a word or words for red (the colour that the human eye is most alert to the presence of and to different shades of, due to the importance of spotting blood and perhaps also ripe berries/fruit) and a word or words for background or dull shades (some languages have a single word covering both black and white, albeit not all shades of impure black or impure white). If a third (or fourth, if black and white are distinguished) word is found in these ‘pared-down’ colour systems, then it tends to be a word covering both green and neighbouring colours (either yellow one way and/or blue the other way).

This ‘primitivity’ continues well into the recorded development of the Indo-European languages in northern climes where shades of blue and green in sky and earth and peopleʼs irises are more varied than in the equatorial regions. The Celtic languages to this day have literary conventions for language terms that vary sharply from Germanic or Romance or Slavic languages: in Welsh, gwyrdd is ‘verdant green’ (of foliage, etc.) whereas glas is ‘light green’ verging on blue, and the cognate word glas in the Goidelic (Gaelic) languages is usually translated ‘grey’ (even though the Goidelic languages have the word liath for that too, e.g. slate, horses) but can also be ‘vivid green’. It would seem that the proto-Celtic root glas- denoted a wide range of ‘restful’, background shades that betokened neither threat nor life. See http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/glas and http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/liath (where there are etymological hints that the very essence of the historical meaning is that of lying fallow or lifelessness).

In this regard, mankind is the opposite of horses, who with their grass diet can tell apart green and yellow from each other and from other colours but who apparently have little perception of red, blue or the differences between them or between other shades!

[Edited at 2013-01-11 08:02 GMT]


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