Monday, April 14, 2014

Pigments of imagination: Think Blue, Count Two

Underground transport network: Doin it rong
"What happens if we treat colour words in a language as the stations of an underground train network?" This is the kind of question which often arises after one or two pints of Old Shearing Shed Bière en garde. "You could ask lots of people to list all the colours they can think of, and treat those lists as itineraries through the network, and reconstruct the tube map."

"The maze of his infinity," said the smoko-room radio, which we keep tuned to the Synchronicity Channel broadcasting from Serendip. "The buried city. In the stars."

"Or you could just look it up in the appendices of the Metronomicon, the Book of Naming of Stations," tigris pointed out.
Multiple appendices
Tigris is of course correct. Very few things of import are not covered somewhere in the Book's Appendices, which proliferate and pullulate in such profligate profusion that they are not numbered, nor even lettered, but are identified instead by symbols in the corners of each page. It even shows how tube maps of major cities will appear when they are reproduced after the fall of civilisation, on palimpsestic parchment, limned with gold and foliage and marginalia by monks in future scriptoria.
Left: John Coulthart doin it rite

But I digress. Here without further ado is the tube map for Spanish colour terms, copied from a page in the Metronomicon identified by an anchor drawn with pen and ink as if by a schoolboy's clumsy hand.

Data courtesy of Dr Mari Uusküla of
the Institute of the Estonian Language
If everyone listed terms in the same order then a simple one-dimensional labyrinth trunk line would suffice, but fortunately for those of us with research careers to consider, it is not so straightforward. Many people begin with rojo or azul, these being somehow more colourish than other terms, prototypal exemplars of the concept of colour. But others begin with blanco or negro, which are perfectly cromulent colour names apart from their absence of colour.

Those who begin with one of the 'cardinal direction' primary names find it easy to go on to the other three. Together they form an interlinked chunk of semantic memory. Then people might proceed to the secondary terms like violeta and naranja which form a separate chunk, or to the achromatic basics -- from where there is a stronger link to gris and rosa, terms for which relative brightness dominates chromatic content in their conceptual classification. Those listers might continue to beige or turquesa.

Sad to say, one term is nowhere to be found:
At least there are gaps to show where room might be found for a fictitious term. Pigments of imagination and Colours out of Space fall within the ambit of Riddled Research laboratory. Another Kiwi informs me that an Ambit is what you get from crossing an agenbite with an inwit, but he might have made that up, as any fule kno that 'agenbite' is a semi-precious mineral often found with malachite.

In Turkish, 'dark blue' (lacivert) and 'blue' (mavi) are separate colours at the basic level of naming, and the English habit of stretching a single word to cover both seems as odd as applying a single name to 'red' and 'pink'. This time the trails of word-association-foopball producing these lists included 'brown' among the achromatic terms. This is the norm (for languages converge on a single conceptual map) from which Spanish has departed because reasons.
Russian is another 'two blues' language, as regular subscribers to the Riddled Weekly Encyclopedia of World Knolege are already aware. See the nice rainbow sequence in the tube map, from red to purple, with goluboj or 'light blue' beside sinij 'blue'? Russian children learn the rainbow with a Roy G. Biv mnemonic.*
See too the big gap in the middle of the language, suggesting that Russian is the place to hunt around for missing colour words like Ulfire and Jale.**
We are not having much luck with Fuligin and Argent, but Estonian looks promising.

"How about other semantic domains?" Another Kiwi vouchsafed. "Is there an Appendix for swearing?"
"It's worth a try," I said.
Data from Steven Borgatti
1. Invent new obscenity, tucked into the gaps between existing ones.
2. ?????
* Каждый Охотник Желает Знать' Где Сидит Фазан.

** Missing from the Impossible & Imaginary Colour List: the two new primary colours that the Second Men will experience in the distant future when Homo sapiens is extinct. This is NOT GOOD ENOUGH, Internet, and I want my money back.


Sirius Lunacy said...

Have you seen the little pigments in tubes below the earth
And for all the little pigments the maze is getting worse

Pupienus Maximus said...

I just want to know how to get to ass station without going through pussy. YOUR MAP IS NO HELP.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Imaginin' is hard work.

Here's the answer.

Smut Clyde said...

I just want to know how to get to ass station without going through pussy
Pupienus, you can't just jump on the first train that turns up; if it's the Cock Express of course it's not going to stop at Ass.
Where are you starting? Shit or Damn?

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

We used to play a drinking game in which the players had to come up with new color terms for a "Tweeds" catalogue. My best contribution was "cinderblock".