‘Italian blues’: A challenge to the universal inventory of basic colour terms

Paramei, Galina V. and D'Orsi, Mauro and Menegaz, Gloria (2014) ‘Italian blues’: A challenge to the universal inventory of basic colour terms. Journal of the International Colour Association, 13. pp. 27-35. ISSN 2227-1309

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‘Blue’ is one of the 11 basic colour terms (BCTs) in languages with a developed colour term inventory [1]. In a challenge to the Berlin-Kay model, Italian appears to require more than one BCT to name the blue area: blu ‘dark blue’, azzurro ‘light (-and-medium) blue’ and celeste ‘light blue’. We addressed the proposition of multiple Italian ‘blue’ BCTs in a psycholinguistic study. Eight Munsell charts embracing the BLUE area of colour space (7.5BG-5PB, Value 2-9, Chroma 2-12) were employed to explore colour name mapping in Italian speakers compared to English speakers. Participants were Italian monolinguals (N=13, Alghero; N=15, Verona) and English monolinguals (N=19; Liverpool). An unconstrained colour naming method was used; this was followed by indicating the best example (focal colour) of blu, azzurro and celeste (Italian) or blue and light blue (English). Choices of focal colours, in Munsell notation, are reported for each of the terms. In addition, distances between centroids of the focal colours, in CIELAB notation, are reported for each of the three participant groups. The dominant focal English blue and Italian blu appeared to concur in Hue (2.5PB, 5PB), but not in lightness (blue: Value 5; blu: Value 2-3). Italian speakers required, in addition, the azzurro term for naming light/medium blue colours. Notably, for the Algherese, azzurro indicates the ‘medium blue’ and is complemented by celeste for denoting light blue shades, similar to English light blue. In contrast, the Veronese use azzurro for ‘light-and-medium blue’; celeste was named conspicuously less frequently, overlapping with azzurro. The present study adds to psycholinguistic evidence that Italian possesses two BCTs, blu and azzurro, differentiating ‘blues’ along the lightness dimension. Celeste is a contender for a third BCT for the Alghero speakers. Cognitive representation (i.e. prototype) of azzurro as well as the status of celeste appear to vary markedly across Italian dialects.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Italian language; Blue colour terms; diatopic variation; Italian dialects; Colour naming; Munsell; CIELAB; focal colours; centroids
Faculty / Department: Faculty of Science > Psychology
Depositing User: Philippe Chassy
Date Deposited: 17 Sep 2015 13:25
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2016 08:45
URI: https://hira.hope.ac.uk/id/eprint/496

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