Basic colour terms in Modern Greek: Twelve terms including two blues

In: Journal of Greek Linguistics
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  • 1 1Universities of Surrey UK
  • 2 2Northumbria UK
  • 3 3Universities of Surrey UK
  • 4 4Universities of Surrey UK
  • 5 5Universities of Surrey UK
  • 6 6Complutense Spain


We describe an investigation of Modern Greek colour terms intended to establish its set of basic colour terms (BCTs). Pilot work suggested that Greek had terms for each of the Berlin & Kay (1969) eleven ‘universal categories’. These terms, plus [γalázjo] “light blue”, were the most frequent terms in Greek texts. Four naming studies with varying stimuli (Munsell, Color-aid and NCS), lighting (daylight, illuminant C and fluorescent), instructions (no restriction on terms or only essential terms), and informants (bilingual Greek-English students and monolingual Greek speakers from Crete) were carried out. Measures of basicness included frequency, consistency and consensus of use, naming time and ‘necessity’. The results supported the analysis of texts, suggesting that Greek has twelve BCTs, including two terms for blue. The ranges of the two blue terms differ mainly in lightness, and this division is similar to the equivalent divisions in Russian and Turkish. However, the positions of the best examples vary across the three languages presenting difficulties for a common account of the origins of the additional term. The use of BCTs was reasonably stable across variations in methods, stimuli, lighting and informants, suggesting that field studies with limited control over these variables may nevertheless be able to identify BCTs.

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