BASIC COLORS AND METAPHORS

Posted: 13 Agustus 2010 in colour language

BASIC COLORS AND METAPHORS
V.U. Nguyen
ABSTRACT: The paper presents a short a study on etymology of words for
basic colors in Vietnamese. It is shown that lexicon of basic colors was derived
mainly through metaphor, which results from observation of a phenomenon, an
object, an act, or a living creature, and its associated or defining features or
characteristics. The process of metaphoring could be undertaken over a period
of time in the past by speakers of many different languages or dialects, that
eventually evolved and merged into the Vietnamese language, modified
through quốc-ngữ codification using Latin alphabet.
***
For a long time, research in the field of linguistic origins, specifically applied
to the Vietnamese language, has been based almost exclusively on the Treeand-
Branch model, which normally is associated with, or results in the
hypothesis of loan words or lexical borrowing applied to cognates between any
two different languages that may, customarily, share the same branch or tree in
language grouping.
Working from the old folklore about the union of Âu Cơ & Lạc Long Quân and
the 18 reigns of King Hùng Vương, Nguyen [1] has developed a new theory on
the origin of the Vietnamese and their language, and demonstrated through
many case examples, using historical, cultural and linguistic data among others,
that Vietnamese is a historical and evolutionary merger of many languages and
dialects. It has a Mon-Khmer substratum mixed with Thai, Munda, Polynesian
and Negrito, superimposed and interwoven with strata of the ancient Bai Yue
(Bách Việt) groups in Southern China, including most notably ancient tongues
in Zhuang, Guangdong, Fujian, Wu (Shanghai-Zhejiang), Hainan, and
reinforced by the Hakka and Miao-Yao (Hmong-Mien) combination (see also
[14] and [15]). The theory is based on a model, tentatively called the Tree-and-
Soil model, whereby most of the lexicon hitherto considered as loan words,
especially in the long past, could be considered to come from languages and
dialects that contributed to evolutionary formation of Vietnamese. It follows
naturally that lexical borrowing would be relegated to a second-order issue. In
the following, this important feature of the theory will be further examined
through investigation of basic colors, in the Vietnamese language, with a view
to getting a better understanding of the mechanics of lexical merger,
particularly through identification of shared metaphors, among different
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languages or dialects in the formative centuries or millennia, before a singular
and unified language came into being.
Word generation by metaphor
Consider first, some features of lexical generation by metaphor, through
examples surrounding the words “Month” and “Moon”. In many languages, the
word describing the ‘Moon’ is often paired with that meaning ‘Month’, since
‘month’ was conceived very early as one basic cycle of the Moon. For
example: [yue] and [yue] (Chinese), [mah] and [mah] (Persian), [là] and [là]
(Burmese), [bulan] and [bulan] (Malay), [vula] and [vula] (Fijian), [mahina]
and [mahina] (Tongan), [masina] and [masina] (Samoan), [mececev: moon] and
[mesec: month] (Serbo-Croatian), [maan: moon] and [maand: month] (Dutch),
[mane: moon] and [maned: month] (Danish), etc.
In the Vietnamese language, the word for ‘Moon’ came from one compositional
group: Trăng (or ‘blăng’ [2] – similar to ‘Bulan’ in Malay, or ‘tlăng’ in Mường),
and for ‘Month’, from another group: Tháng – compared with: [Thang] in
Fujian, [Căn] for Moon and [Bilan] for Month, in the Champa language [10];
‘La Lune’ (Moon) and ‘Le Mois’ (Month), in French. That is, Month and Moon
are not represented by the same word, in Vietnamese, Chamic, and French. On
examination of neighboring languages, it can be seen that in Vietnamese, Trăng
(Moon) has a cognate ‘Bulan’ in Malay, or ‘tlăng’ in Mường, whereas Tháng
(Month) was most likely derived, as a combination, from Mường [khảng] and
Fujian [Thang] meaning ‘month’ and ‘rising moon’, respectively. Tháng could
also come straight from a Thai word [thaawn], meaning “the moon”. This
would indicate that, metaphorical word pairs in Vietnamese, like French, may
have elements coming from different tongues, both constituting the language as
a whole.
Another word that can be used to illustrate both lexical generation by metaphor
and its complexity is “Kiều”, as in “kiều bào” (expatriates) or “Việt
kiều” (overseas Vietnamese), customarily considered as Sino-Vietnamese in
origin. First “kiều” shares common sound with [kiu] or [k’ieu] in the Hakka
dialect, which in turn is equivalent to [kou]
口 in Mandarin, following the “[iu]-
to-[ou]” phoneme conversion rule among Chinese-BaiYue dialects, as detailed
in [1]. [Kou] is “khẩu” in Vietnamese meaning “mouth” or “Person”. Under
Nôm, khẩu is Miệng or Mồm. The metaphor used here is that “Mouth”
represents “person”, and examples will include: Hộ Khẩu meaning Household
Register listing the names of all persons living in a house; “Nhà này có 3 miệng
ăn” i.e. This household has 3 mouths (persons). Kiều as in kiều bào, denoting a
person residing in a foreign country, is also pronounced similarly as [kiau] in
2
Hakka, and [qiao]
僑 in Mandarin. It is written as 僑 akin to [qiao] 橋
, word for
“bridge”, also called “kiều” or “cầu” (“[iu]-to-[ou]” phoneme conversion), as if
an expatriate was originally a native of one tribe, living in another tribe, as
commonly separated by a bridge.
A word that would best illustrate contribution of ethnic dialects to Vietnamese,
by way of metaphor, is “Peanut” known in Vietnamese as “Lạc” or “đậu
phộng”. “Lạc” and “đậu phộng”, interestingly may appear in different
“forms” but conform to a single metaphor, though under different dialects.
Other names for “Peanut” include “Groundnut” and “Earthnut”, which point to
a metaphor in the English language, denoting that the Nut (or pea) is grown in
the ground or earth, intermingled with, and connected to roots of the plant
(Arachis hypogaea). In the Muong dialect, peanut is also called [lac] like
Vietnamese (northern), but without the nặng accent [11]. Whereas in the Tay-
Nung dialect, which is related to the Zhuang dialect in GuangXi [12], the word
for “Root” is merely “Lạc” [13], identical to Vietnamese “Lạc” for Peanut.
“Đậu phộng” is a term of the southern dialect, also used to denote “peanut”.
“Đậu” means Pea, and “phộng” is a quốc-ngữ phonetic transcription of [pông]
本, with similar sound as [pəng] in Wu, [bun] or [bon] in Cantonese, [ben] in
Mandarin, and [pon] in Sino-Korean, all meaning “Root”, like [lạc] in Tay-
Nung. Similar to the English metaphor “groundnut” or “earthnut”, “phộng”
could be related to [pun] 坋, meaning “earth”, or [pok] 墣, meaning “clod of
earth”, both in Hakka. Thus, Peanut as “Lạc” or “đậu phộng” in Vietnamese is
originally a metaphorical term, denoting its harvest has to go to the roots of the
plant, or down to the earth or soil, itself. It is noted also that the more
commonly-used Vietnamese word “Rễ” for “Root”, came directly from ‘substratum’
Mon-Khmer: [ruih] Khmer, [ré:h] or [rih] or [re:] Pearic, [rơh] Bahnar,
[*rɛs] Proto-Waic, [rɛɛh] Souei, etc. [3].
The present discussion on lexical generation by metaphor will now examine the
etymology of words for basic colors, which in ancient Chinese thought, may
refer to White, Black, Yellow, Red, and Blue (or Green). These 5 colors are
associated with the 5 directions or 5-element in the Five-Element theory: White
goes with West (metal), Black goes with North (water), Blue (or Green) with
East (tree / wood), Red: South (fire), and Yellow: Central region (earth).
White
First, the most popular Vietnamese word for White color is Trắng (màu Trắng).
Under one of the rules of lexical borrowing or Jia Jie (Giả Tá), using tonal
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change, it can be seen, most likely: Trắng being the color of Trăng, ie. White is
the color of the Moon. Ancient Vietnamese thus employed Trăng with some
declension in tone, to form Trắng describing the color White by using the
Moon as metaphor. Another language that also used the Moon as metaphor for
“White” is the Fijian language, where [vula] is the same word for “Month” and
“Moon”, and duplicative [vulavula] is word for color “White”. It is noted that
[vulavula] is duplicative, possibly because the language is not tonal like
Vietnamese or Thai, and [vula] resembles Malay word ‘bulan’ for Moon and
Month, with labiodental “v” substituting for bilabial “b” as initial.
Vietnamese use of Moon (trăng) for White (trắng) is very similar to the Thai
way of metaphorizing the color White, by describing in olden times, White
being the color of Rice. In Thai, Rice is called [Khaow] (gạo / cơm –
Vietnamese), and White is [Khaow] (Rice) pronounced with a different tone:
[Khãow] {i.e. [Khaow] (Rice) with a falling-rising tone}.
The Thai way of coupling White with Rice is supported by the Chinese word 白
[Bai]-2, which also has another Jia Jie word having different tone 粺 [Bai]-4
meaning ‘white or polished rice’ [5]. Corresponding Vietnamese sound for
[Bai] is Bạch meaning White. However Bạch could also be metaphorically
linked with [Bak] in Mon Khmer [3] or Bạc in Vietnamese, meaning ‘Silver’.
Another word for the color White in Chinese is 精 [jing] with Sino-Vietnamese
form as Tinh as in trắng tinh. Tinh also means ‘polished rice’, and it is
commonly used in compound words like: tinh-trùng (semen), quỷ-tinh (ghost,
having white color). Another word indicating White is 粉 [fen] (Vietnamese:
phấn) [5], also meaning ‘Flour’.
Vietnamese metaphorical use of Trăng (Moon: Bulan (Malay)) for the color
Trắng (White) also seems to have some support from the French language:
BLANC, which bears strong sound similarity to Trăng’s cognate:
‘Bulan’ (Cham & Malay). In the English language also, ‘to blanche’ (as in
‘blanched peanuts’), and ‘bleach’ could be said to be etymologically related to
the French adjective ‘Blanc’ or ‘Blanche’, all metaphorically linked with Malay
word ‘Bulan’ (Moon), over long distances.
Ancient Vietnamese and Thai also seemed to make metaphors out of the Moon
(Tlăng / Trăng) in other instances, like in Vietnamese: Tlòn => Tròn (round,
circular) and Tlổng => Trống (drum) [2] [11], with Thai equivalent [glohm]
and [glawng], respectively.
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Black
The color Black very often derived its metaphor from ‘night time’, or vice
versa: Đêm (night), giving rise to Đen (Black), or similarly: Tối (night) => màu
Tối (Dark color) (see [4]). In Thai: [see Dam] is Black color, very close to
Vietnamese sắc Đêm or sắc Đen (màu Đêm or màu Đen). It is interesting to
note that a Chinese word for ‘Black’ is 黮, pronounced as [tam] or [tim] in
Hakka, and [taam] in Cantonese, very close to Vietnamese Đêm. The word for
‘Black horse’ is 驔 pronounced as [tim] or [daam] in Cantonese, and [tan] or
[dian] in Mandarin, all very close to Đêm or đen. Đêm (or đen, which
sometimes may be associated with Sậm or Đậm meaning Black, Dark, or
Dense) – with some dialect pronunciation as [Điêm] – and Hakka’s [tam] or
[tim] bear striking similarity in sound with English words: Dim and Dense. In
the Champa language, one word for ‘Black’ is [tăm], with Mon-Khmer
cognates of [təm] or [qitem] or [səm] [3], normally in Vietnamese as compound
word: ‘tối-tăm’ meaning ‘Dark’. While ‘Tối’ meaning Dark and Night, has
traces of Munda ([Toi-gal] Sora) in the substratum mix [17], ‘Tăm’ also has
cognate as *[zəm] or [qudem] in Mon-Khmer [3] [4], [tam-pagal] in Sora
(Munda), and [dahm] in Thai. [Zəm] or [qudem] is close to ‘đậm’, ‘sậm’, ‘đêm’
in Vietnamese. In Chinese: 夜 [Ye] or [Yi], meaning night, and 黟or 黓 [Yi]
meaning ‘dark’, ‘black’ – have similar sounds under Jia Jie. The same sort of
metaphor can be traced in French: Nuit (night) => Noir (black), noting that the
Italian and Portuguese word for ‘Night’ is ‘Notte’ and ‘Noite’, respectively.
There is another Chinese word for Black, called [wu] (Ô or Quạ): 烏
metaphorizing the Crow (Chim Ô). Another Chinese word for ‘Black’ took
metaphor from the black stuff spurting out from an octopus or squid: 墨,
pronounced [mo] or [mei] in Mandarin, and [mak] or [maak] in Cantonese. In
Chinese it refers to ‘black Ink’ or ‘black, dark’. Its sound correspondence in
Thai ([meuk]) and Vietnamese ([mực]), is used to denote ‘Ink’, and ‘Octopus’
or ‘Squid’. This commonality between Thai and Vietnamese will lead to an
introductory remark about the ‘Tree-and-Soil’ model, which would state that
between Thai and Vietnamese, there must be a common constitutive group of
speakers that use the same word [meuk] (mực) to denote both ‘Ink’ and
‘Squid’. Likewise, [Chai] (Thai) or [Xài] (Vietnamese) is used by a common
constitutive group of the two languages to denote BOTH ‘to use’ and ‘to spend
(money)’. Similarly, [Khaow] (Thai) or [Gạo / Cơm] (Vietnamese) is used by
that same, or another, common group of speakers to denote ‘Rice’ or ‘cooked
Rice’, or ‘Meal’.
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In Korean, the word for ‘Black’ is [komun] sounding very similar to
Vietnamese gỗ mun meaning Ebony or Black-wood. The adjective mun
meaning ‘Black’ customarily is used in collocation with Mèo (cat) as: Mèo
Mun being ‘Black Cat’, having the same initial ‘M’. Other Sino-Vietnamese
words for Black are ‘âm’ 陰 & 隂, pronounced the same in Cantonese: [am], and
the sound is commonly used in Hainan for ‘Black’, though written differently:
晚, referring also to Night time. The word Âm 陰above, meaning Black, is
normally metaphorically linked with ‘Negative’ [yin] (as opposed to ‘Positive’
陽 [yang]).
Yellow
In ancient China, the color Yellow came very early from the metaphor
‘Loess’ {[Huang Tu] / Hoàng Thổ}, being yellow-earth or wind-borne deposits
along the Huang He (Yellow River). Its Chinese pronunciation [Huang] gave
rise to sound correspondence [Wang] or [Wong] in some Chinese dialects and
[Vong] in Hakka and “Vàng” in (northern) Vietnamese. The most significant
Chinese metaphor of [Huang] is ‘Huang Di’ meaning Emperor, originally:
Emperor of the Yellow Land. In English, the word ‘Yolk’ in ‘Egg Yolk’ looks
much metaphorically related to ‘Yellow’, which is described in French as
‘Jaune d’oeuf’.
It is of interest to note that English initial [Y] as in “Yellow” has some
correspondence with French [J] as in “Jaune” (yellow), as exemplified in:
young & jeune, yolk & jaune, yoke & joug, yap & japper, yodel & jodler. Quite
similar to sound correspondence between [Y] in Mandarin (and other Chinese
dialects) and [Z] in Hakka, and between northern pronunciation [Dz] and
southern pronunciation [Y] in initial [D] in Vietnamese. For example:
Character 夜 meaning “Night” is pronounced as [ye] in Mandarin and
Cantonese, but could be as [za] in some Hakka dialects, and [Dzạ] or [Yạ] in
northern or southern Vietnamese dialects, respectively.
Red
There is a strong metaphorical link between the color Red and the first colorful
observation by homo sapiens: ‘Blood’. Main Vietnamese words for ‘Red’ are
Hồng and Đỏ, and for ‘Blood’, Huyết and Máu., and it will be demonstrated in
the following that there is a link between words for “Blood” and “Red” in
Vietnamese.
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Whereas [hong] means the Sun in the Tai dialect of the Yunnan area, the
‘official’ use of [hong] for Red in Chinese-Vietnamese dictionaries again tend
to obscure the range of thesaurus and etymology of ‘Red’ in both languages.
Interestingly, Huyết and Máu in Vietnamese have cognates in many languages
thousands of miles away, and thousands of years ago. Words similar to [Huyết]
are: (i) 血 pronounced as [xue] in Mandarin, but closer to ‘Huyết’ as [Hiet] in
Hakka, [Hyut] in Cantonese, and almost identical [Huih?] in Fujian, where [?]
is the glottal stop, a sound between [uh] and [oh] when pronouncing ‘uh-oh’
altogether. (ii) ‘Ver’ in Hungarian, ‘Veri’ in Finnish, ‘Gwyar’ and ‘Gwaed’ in
Welsh. Similar to Máu indicating ‘blood’ also, is the word [Mud] of the
Sumerian language, thousands of years ago [6]; and (iii) [Máóhk] of the
Blackfoot Indians in Canada, quite similar to Máu (Blood – Vietnamese), but
denoting “Red” [6].
Words that have meanings interchanged between ‘Red’ and ‘Blood’, and yield
similar sounds to corresponding Vietnamese words, include: (a) ‘Whero’ in
Maori, meaning Red, but with sound similar to Huyết {Blood} in Vietnamese;
(b) ’Wouj’ in Haitian Creole, also meaning ‘Red’; (c) [Hyoraek] in Korean,
meaning ‘Blood’; (d) 艧 [Wok] in Hakka, and [huo] in Mandarin, meaning ‘red
paint’; (e) Vietnamese word for ‘Blood veins’ or ‘Blood pulse’ is Mạch 脈 / 衇
having Chinese dialect sounds [5]: [mak] Hakka, [maak] Cantonese, with some
similar to Máu: [mo]-4 & [mai]-4 Mandarin, [ma?] Wu, [meh] Fujian, and
[meyk] Sino-Korean – indicating that Mạch (veins) is metaphorically similar to
Máu (Blood); (f) Tibetan word for the color Red is: ‘Mah’, again with ‘Mah’
very close to Máu (Blood); AND most interesting: (g) ‘Dugo’ in Tagalog, and
‘Toto’ in Samoan, Tongan, Tahitian, all meaning “Blood” [7].
It is ‘Dugo’ and ‘Toto’ under monosyllabic influence that would turn into ‘Du’
or ‘To’, being most likely sound cognate of Đỏ (màu Đỏ) or ‘Red’ in
Vietnamese. The color Red, Đỏ, in Vietnamese, with metaphor from Polynesian
‘Blood’ (‘Dugo’ and ‘Toto’), is quite consistent with Nguyen’s theory on the
origin of the Vietnamese [1], in that the Polynesians in ancient times
constituted one of the main ethnicities evolving into the modern-day
Vietnamese. It is noted that, as in the case of La Lune and Le Mois in French,
the Vietnamese language derived Đỏ (Red) and Huyết or Máu (Blood) from
different constitutive sources, and different languages, whilst they are all
metaphorically related.
Blue or Green
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Blue and Green took metaphors mainly from Sky / Sea, and Leaf / Grass,
respectively. Blue color is called xanh da trời (sky blue), xanh dương (ocean
blue) or xanh lam (blue or indigo – [laam]-Cantonese). Green is xanh lục
([luk]-Cantonese), xanh lá cây (leafy green) – which correspond to similar
metaphors in many languages. For example: Irish / Welsh: Glas (with sound
similar to ‘Grass’) meaning ‘Green’ (GRass <=> GReen); Czech: ‘Obloha’
meaning both Sky and Blue [6]. In Chinese, 青 [qing] (thanh – Sino-
Vietnamese) has sound close to: [qian] = sky, and the same sound [qian] written
as 芊means ‘green foliage, green grass’ [5].
Khmer word for “leaf” is [sluhk choe] with [sluhk] quite similar to “lục” in
“xanh lục” for Green”. Word for a kind of leaf in the Hakka dialect is [lo]
荖,
having similar sound to [lo?] in Wu and Sino-Korean for the color Green. In
Thai, “sky blue” is called [faa see], where [faa] means ‘sky’, and [see] is color,
equivalent to Vietnamese ‘sắc’. Burmese word for ‘Green’ is [sein-de], very
close to Vietnamese ‘xanh’. It should be noted that the initial ‘X’ in ‘xanh’
shows a sound correspondence (X <=> Th) between Chinese dialects and
Vietnamese, Burmese and Mon-Khmer varieties. For example: Salween =>
Thalwin (river), both Burmese; [cheng] (Chinese) => thành; rusa (‘deer’ in
Mon-Khmer) => ratha, ritha (Champa); [qing] => xanh = thanh. Sometimes
from afar: French word (le) Singe => Thân (associated with Monkey, being
one of the 12 oriental Zodiac signs).
Brown
A search for metaphors of the color Brown will show that words describing
colors through metaphors, not only may change from one group of speakers to
another, but also could vary with time.
Ancient (northern) Chinese appeared to use the Brown scorpion 蝎 (Mandarin
[he] Cantonese & Hakka [hot]) as metaphor for the Brown color: 褐. Cantonese
at one stage preferred using the Palm Tree 棕 for ‘Brown: 棕色 [zung sik], and
now swapping for coffee color: 啡 色 [fei sik] [9], competing with ‘Chocolate’
in many languages as metaphor for ‘Brown’: [sukkolaa] (Khmer), coklat
(Indonesian), etc. Thai word for ‘Brown’ is [nahm dtahn], which is similar to
words for ‘(brown) sugar’.
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Vietnamese word for Brown is Nâu, having cognates as [nyou-de] in Burmese
[7], and [tnaot] in Cambodian [8], all very likely metaphorically linked with
either (a) Khmer word [tnaot] meaning also “palm fruit”, like Cantonese [zung]
for palm tree; Or: (b) ‘Chinese’ word [niao] 鸟meaning Bird, a brown bird,
such as a female ostrich (Đà-Điểu mái), quoted as Chim nâu (brown bird) in
Alexandre de Rhodes’ dictionary [2]. Nâu (Brown) is thus likely of Mon-
Khmer origin and yet also has Chinese connection via [niao]. This can be
reconciled by noting that according to ancient Chinese texts, (proto) Mon
Khmer groups were called the Di – Qiang [1], present almost everywhere in
China, and often associated with the Western Barbarians (Xi Rong / Tây
Nhung). The legendary King Yu, founder of the Xia Dynasty of China, is said
to have Qiang ethnic origin [1]. Nâu, for Brown, also looks metaphorically
related (in sound) to Nai (Deer) and Gấu (Bear), since these two animals
normally have brown-colored skin. The same can be said of a possible link
between Brown & Black with Cow (under the generic term ‘Bos’) and Bear.
Both Cow/Bull (Bos) and Bear normally bear a Brown or Black color.
DISCUSSION
In the foregoing, it has been shown that Vietnamese words used to describe
colors, are mainly derived from metaphors.
In the first instance, color lexicon was generated from observation of object or
phenomenon, that was most typically identified with the color, by declension in
tone, or phonological shift whilst still retaining the initial, consonant being
most common. Examples include: Trắng (White) being the color of Trăng (the
Moon); Đen (Black) or Tối (Dark), color of Đêm or Tối (the night). Đen or
Đêm is equivalent to Thai word [dahm] for “Black”. Mực (Black or Ink), both
in Thai and Vietnamese, is used interchangeably with squid or octopus, which
can eject a black liquid when under stress.
Lexical generation by metaphor can also be made using the metaphor source
from another language or dialect, which in the orthodox way has been
explained in terms of borrowing. Under the Tree-and-Soil approach, however,
metaphor word source is considered to come from one or several other
contributory dialects of the national language, at some period of time in the
past. This is exemplified by the pair Đỏ (Red) and Máu or Huyết (Blood).
Whereas Máu and Huyết (Blood) have many cognates in languages or dialects
in the north, Đỏ as Red has cognates found in Tagalog and Polynesian sources,
meaning Blood itself. This is quite similar to French word “Noir” for Black,
being closer to Italian and Portuguese word for ‘Night’: ‘Notte’ and ‘Noite’,
respectively, than “Nuit” in French.
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Other characteristics of words for basic colors generated through metaphors
may include:
(a) As life-style, even in ancient times, may change, the original metaphor
could also change with time. For example, word for color Brown in
Cantonese (Hongkong), Vietnamese, and many Asian languages, in the last
century could end up at some places as “Chocolate” color, or “coffee-withmilk”
color.
(b) Metaphor source also may be totally different between neighboring
languages, both sharing a common tongue, being one common substratum
among many, of the languages during formative centuries in the past. This
is the case of Vietnamese use of the Moon compared with Thai use of Rice,
both as metaphor for the color White. This apparent paradox can be
reconciled easily by the present theory, on recognizing the fact that in
ancient times, two different tribes of the same ethnicity may have different
metaphors for the same lexicon, which later on became two different words
for the same connotation or meaning in two neighboring languages, as
exemplified further by a wide range of metaphors and associated lexicon for
other colors, like Brown and Black.
Word generation by metaphor in general has illustrated some thinking process
taking place in the mind of ancient people when a word was first “coined”. It
resulted primarily from observation of a phenomenon, an act, or object, or
living creature, possessing some characteristics or defining features of the
same, or in the vicinity thereof. As it involved some product of the mind of
ancient people, originally, those words generated by shared metaphor, or with
similar metaphorical features may provide a powerful measure to probe into the
mind of ancient people, and to trace, where relevant, the dialect(s) that
contributed to evolutionary formation of a national language, under the present
Tree-and-Soil theoretical formulation (see also [14] and [15]).
An example to illustrate the use of shared metaphorical features taken from
[15] is Mắt Cá, Vietnamese word for “ankle”, where Mắt is Eye, and Cá, often
mistaken for Fish, by its quốc-ngữ spelling (cá) which is identical to word for
Fish. By conventional wisdom therefore, mắt cá at best would be explained as
ancient metaphor for “fish eye”. However, when searching for the “real”
metaphor from other languages or dialects, it can be seen that Mắt Cá (Ankle)
should be correctly interpreted as ‘leg’s eye’, since ‘cá’ is in fact a declension
of ‘cẳng’, from other languages contributing to Vietnamese, such as Hakka
[ka], Tay-Nung [kha], meaning ‘leg’. ‘Mắt cá’ with correct meaning of ‘leg’s
eye’, is supported by word for ‘ankle’ in Gorum (Munda) [maD-jig], and in
Cantonese [goek ngaan] 腳 眼, where [maD] and [ngaan] are words for ‘eye’,
and [jig] and [goek], are simply ‘leg’ or ‘feet’, respectively. In sound ‘mắt cá’ is
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closely connected with [kwa] Hakka 踝, or [giok kwa] 腳 踝 (Mandarin [jiao
huai]), and [mo?-suG] Remo (Munda), where [mo?] is ‘eye’ and [suG], leg, as
in compound word [maD-jig] in Gorum, or ‘mắt cá’ in Vietnamese [15].
Since there are many other languages or dialects, that have shared metaphorical
features in words for “Ankle” with Vietnamese, while assisting to uncover the
hidden meaning of “Mắt Cá”, it can be identified that in the long past it was
very likely that the Vietnamese language in its formative stage had contribution
from all the languages or dialects above, especially Hakka, Tay Nung and
Munda dialects, under word for “ankle”. When “Mắt Cá” is viewed with other
words shown above for “Peanut” (lạc and đậu phộng), for example, it becomes
more apparent that lexical analysis through metaphor could offer a new and
powerful tool to trace etymology of words hitherto often considered to be
hidden from scrutiny by conventional approaches.
Such metaphorical analysis could also reveal some effects of codification of
Vietnamese by Latin alphabet, which tend to obscure a variety of phonology of
a wide range of vocabulary in the past. Again, consider two Vietnamese words
for Peanut: lạc and đậu phộng, both deriving from metaphor of “nuts”
harvested from plant roots, as both lạc and phộng come from two different
groups of dialects, and have meaning as “Roots”. Lạc is from Tay-Nung
dialect, and Phộng is a quốc-ngữ phonetic transcription of [pông] 本, with
similar sound as [pəng] in Wu, [bun] or [bon] in Cantonese, [ben] in Mandarin,
and [pon] in Sino-Korean, all similarly meaning “Root”. It is noted further that
the “official” Sino-Vietnamese transcription of character 本 [ben] (Mandarin) as
“bổn” under conventional studies also obscures two important aspects of the
present approach: (a) Vietnamese lexicon may have a wide range of thesaurus
meanings, depending on different tones, dialects, and origins. For example,
“bổn” under the traditional framework would have to conform to a “one-word,
one-meaning” regime, denoting “origin” with only one tone, being the hỏi (?)
tone. And (b) The process of standardization of spelling and pronunciation of
words through quốc-ngữ has overshadowed many parallel and intersecting
arrays of sound correspondence between, words of the same meaning, in
different dialects or tongues that contributed to formation of Vietnamese in the
past. The word phộng in “đậu phộng” (peanut), being equivalent to ““bổn”,
and yet under different tone, initial, and ending, could be seen under the present
theory as an end result of alphabet codification taking account of the following
sound correspondences:
(i) Between [ph] Tay-Nung and [b] Vietnamese [13] {phộng <> bổn}:
11
phổng= băng (to cross); phưa= bừa (rake)
(ii) Between [p] Tay-Nung and [v] & [b] Vietnamese {pông <> bổn}:
pỏn= vốn (byốn [2]) (capital); pỏn tỉ= bản (bổn) địa (indigenous)
(iii) Between [ph] Mường and [b] & [v] Vietnamese [11]:
phố vai= vỗ vai (byỗ byai [2]); phửa= bừa (carefree)
(iv) Between [p] Mường and [b] Vietnamese:
pông= bông (flower); pỏng thổi= bóng tối (dark shadow, night time);
pớ lẽ= vỡ lẽ (byỡ lẽ [2]); pền lô= bền lâu (to last long); pĩ= bị (bag)
(v) Between [ông] and [ôn] {phộng <> bổn}:
tông giáo [16] => tôn giáo (religion)
In summary, study of etymology of words in Vietnamese and other neighboring
languages for basic colors, through metaphors as presented here, has shown
consistent results to lend further support to the Tree-and-Soil formulation
which stated that Vietnamese is a historical and evolutionary merger of many
languages and dialects in the region, with a Mon-Khmer substratum mixed with
Thai, Munda, Polynesian and Negrito, superimposed and interwoven with
strata of the ancient Bai Yue (Bách Việt) groups in Southern China.
REFERENCES & NOTES
[1] V.U. Nguyen (Nguyen Nguyen) (2007) Thử đọc lại truyền thuyết Hùng
Vương. [In search of the origin of the Vietnamese]. (in publication).
[2] Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) Dictionarium Annamiticum – Lusitanum –
Latinum. Translated by: Thanh Lãng, Hoàng Xuân Việt, Đỗ Quang Chính. Pub.
By Vien Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi – HCM 1991.
[3] L. V. Hayes (2001) Austric Glossary –
http://home.att.net/~lvhayes/Langling/Glossary/Glospag1/glosf019.htm
[4] Latvian ‘tumsa’ and Lithuanian ‘tamsa’ could be counted as long-distanced
cognates of Mon-Khmer/Viet ‘tăm / tối tăm’, meaning ‘dark, night’. ‘Tối’ itself,
main Vietnamese word for ‘dark, night’, likely has some sound correspondence
with 夕 [xi] Mandarin, [sit] Hakka, {tịch} S-V, OR: 霄 [xiao] M., [seu] or [siau]
H., {tiêu} S-V, or both. Closest to tối and tăm’, and ‘tối tăm’ together, under
etymology and monosyllabic pressure, however would likely be Munda
lexicon: [tOi-gal] and [tam-pagal] in Sora, [Tok] as in [kimi-tok] (dark night)
and [arke-tok] (moonlit night) in Remo and Gutob, and [raTo] in Korku.
[5] CCDICT v5.1.1: Chinese Character Dictionary by Chineselanguage.org
(1995-2006)
[6] Philip M. Parker, INSEAD (2008) Webster’s Online Dictionary with
Multilingual Thesaurus Translation: http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org
[7] Charles Hamblin (1984) Languages of Asia & The Pacific. Angus &
Robertson Publishers. (1988 Paperback Edition).
12
[8] Richard K. Gilbert & Sovandy Hang (2004) Cambodian for Beginners.
Paiboon Publishing.
[9] Hmong word for ‘Brown’: kas fes (coffee).
[10] GERARD MOUSSAY, Nại Thành Bô, Thiên Sanh Cảnh, Lưu Ngọc Hiến,
Đàng Năng Phương, Lưu Quang Sanh, Lâm Gia Tịnh, Trương Văn Tốn (1971).
Tự Điển Chàm-Việt-Pháp (Champa-Vietnamese-French Dictionary). Trung tâm
Văn-hóa Chàm – Phan-Rang.
[11] Nguyễn Văn Khang (editor), Bùi Chỉ, Hoàng Văn Hành (2002) Từ Điển
Mường-Việt {Mường-Vietnamese Dictionary}. Published by Văn Hoá Dân Tộc
– Hà Nội.
[12] Jeffrey Barlow (2005) The Zhuang: A Longitudinal Study of their History
and their Culture. AT:
http://mcel.pacificu.edu/as/resources/zhuang/contents.html
[13] Hoàng Văn Ma – Lục Văn Pảo – Hoàng Chí (1974) Từ Điển Tày – Nùng –
Việt (Tay-Nung-Viet Dictionary). Published by Viện Ngôn Ngữ Học (The
Linguistics Institute).
[14] V. U. Nguyen (2008) Vietnamese Personal Pronouns. (submitted for
publication).
[15] V. U. Nguyen (2008) Body Parts in Vietnamese. (submitted for
publication).
[16] Trần Trọng Kim (1971) Nho Giáo (Confucianism). Published by: Trung
Tâm Học Liệu (Centre for Teaching Materials) – Saigon
[17] Patricia J. Donegan and David Stampe (2004) Munda Lexical Archive.
http://www.ling.hawaii.edu/faculty/stampe/AA/Munda/ETYM/Pinnow&Munda
http://ling.lll.hawaii.edu/faculty/stampe/AA/Munda/Dictionaries/00README
13BASIC COLORS AND METAPHORS
V.U. Nguyen
ABSTRACT: The paper presents a short a study on etymology of words for
basic colors in Vietnamese. It is shown that lexicon of basic colors was derived
mainly through metaphor, which results from observation of a phenomenon, an
object, an act, or a living creature, and its associated or defining features or
characteristics. The process of metaphoring could be undertaken over a period
of time in the past by speakers of many different languages or dialects, that
eventually evolved and merged into the Vietnamese language, modified
through quốc-ngữ codification using Latin alphabet.
***
For a long time, research in the field of linguistic origins, specifically applied
to the Vietnamese language, has been based almost exclusively on the Treeand-
Branch model, which normally is associated with, or results in the
hypothesis of loan words or lexical borrowing applied to cognates between any
two different languages that may, customarily, share the same branch or tree in
language grouping.
Working from the old folklore about the union of Âu Cơ & Lạc Long Quân and
the 18 reigns of King Hùng Vương, Nguyen [1] has developed a new theory on
the origin of the Vietnamese and their language, and demonstrated through
many case examples, using historical, cultural and linguistic data among others,
that Vietnamese is a historical and evolutionary merger of many languages and
dialects. It has a Mon-Khmer substratum mixed with Thai, Munda, Polynesian
and Negrito, superimposed and interwoven with strata of the ancient Bai Yue
(Bách Việt) groups in Southern China, including most notably ancient tongues
in Zhuang, Guangdong, Fujian, Wu (Shanghai-Zhejiang), Hainan, and
reinforced by the Hakka and Miao-Yao (Hmong-Mien) combination (see also
[14] and [15]). The theory is based on a model, tentatively called the Tree-and-
Soil model, whereby most of the lexicon hitherto considered as loan words,
especially in the long past, could be considered to come from languages and
dialects that contributed to evolutionary formation of Vietnamese. It follows
naturally that lexical borrowing would be relegated to a second-order issue. In
the following, this important feature of the theory will be further examined
through investigation of basic colors, in the Vietnamese language, with a view
to getting a better understanding of the mechanics of lexical merger,
particularly through identification of shared metaphors, among different
1
languages or dialects in the formative centuries or millennia, before a singular
and unified language came into being.
Word generation by metaphor
Consider first, some features of lexical generation by metaphor, through
examples surrounding the words “Month” and “Moon”. In many languages, the
word describing the ‘Moon’ is often paired with that meaning ‘Month’, since
‘month’ was conceived very early as one basic cycle of the Moon. For
example: [yue] and [yue] (Chinese), [mah] and [mah] (Persian), [là] and [là]
(Burmese), [bulan] and [bulan] (Malay), [vula] and [vula] (Fijian), [mahina]
and [mahina] (Tongan), [masina] and [masina] (Samoan), [mececev: moon] and
[mesec: month] (Serbo-Croatian), [maan: moon] and [maand: month] (Dutch),
[mane: moon] and [maned: month] (Danish), etc.
In the Vietnamese language, the word for ‘Moon’ came from one compositional
group: Trăng (or ‘blăng’ [2] – similar to ‘Bulan’ in Malay, or ‘tlăng’ in Mường),
and for ‘Month’, from another group: Tháng – compared with: [Thang] in
Fujian, [Căn] for Moon and [Bilan] for Month, in the Champa language [10];
‘La Lune’ (Moon) and ‘Le Mois’ (Month), in French. That is, Month and Moon
are not represented by the same word, in Vietnamese, Chamic, and French. On
examination of neighboring languages, it can be seen that in Vietnamese, Trăng
(Moon) has a cognate ‘Bulan’ in Malay, or ‘tlăng’ in Mường, whereas Tháng
(Month) was most likely derived, as a combination, from Mường [khảng] and
Fujian [Thang] meaning ‘month’ and ‘rising moon’, respectively. Tháng could
also come straight from a Thai word [thaawn], meaning “the moon”. This
would indicate that, metaphorical word pairs in Vietnamese, like French, may
have elements coming from different tongues, both constituting the language as
a whole.
Another word that can be used to illustrate both lexical generation by metaphor
and its complexity is “Kiều”, as in “kiều bào” (expatriates) or “Việt
kiều” (overseas Vietnamese), customarily considered as Sino-Vietnamese in
origin. First “kiều” shares common sound with [kiu] or [k’ieu] in the Hakka
dialect, which in turn is equivalent to [kou]
口 in Mandarin, following the “[iu]-
to-[ou]” phoneme conversion rule among Chinese-BaiYue dialects, as detailed
in [1]. [Kou] is “khẩu” in Vietnamese meaning “mouth” or “Person”. Under
Nôm, khẩu is Miệng or Mồm. The metaphor used here is that “Mouth”
represents “person”, and examples will include: Hộ Khẩu meaning Household
Register listing the names of all persons living in a house; “Nhà này có 3 miệng
ăn” i.e. This household has 3 mouths (persons). Kiều as in kiều bào, denoting a
person residing in a foreign country, is also pronounced similarly as [kiau] in
2
Hakka, and [qiao]
僑 in Mandarin. It is written as 僑 akin to [qiao] 橋
, word for
“bridge”, also called “kiều” or “cầu” (“[iu]-to-[ou]” phoneme conversion), as if
an expatriate was originally a native of one tribe, living in another tribe, as
commonly separated by a bridge.
A word that would best illustrate contribution of ethnic dialects to Vietnamese,
by way of metaphor, is “Peanut” known in Vietnamese as “Lạc” or “đậu
phộng”. “Lạc” and “đậu phộng”, interestingly may appear in different
“forms” but conform to a single metaphor, though under different dialects.
Other names for “Peanut” include “Groundnut” and “Earthnut”, which point to
a metaphor in the English language, denoting that the Nut (or pea) is grown in
the ground or earth, intermingled with, and connected to roots of the plant
(Arachis hypogaea). In the Muong dialect, peanut is also called [lac] like
Vietnamese (northern), but without the nặng accent [11]. Whereas in the Tay-
Nung dialect, which is related to the Zhuang dialect in GuangXi [12], the word
for “Root” is merely “Lạc” [13], identical to Vietnamese “Lạc” for Peanut.
“Đậu phộng” is a term of the southern dialect, also used to denote “peanut”.
“Đậu” means Pea, and “phộng” is a quốc-ngữ phonetic transcription of [pông]
本, with similar sound as [pəng] in Wu, [bun] or [bon] in Cantonese, [ben] in
Mandarin, and [pon] in Sino-Korean, all meaning “Root”, like [lạc] in Tay-
Nung. Similar to the English metaphor “groundnut” or “earthnut”, “phộng”
could be related to [pun] 坋, meaning “earth”, or [pok] 墣, meaning “clod of
earth”, both in Hakka. Thus, Peanut as “Lạc” or “đậu phộng” in Vietnamese is
originally a metaphorical term, denoting its harvest has to go to the roots of the
plant, or down to the earth or soil, itself. It is noted also that the more
commonly-used Vietnamese word “Rễ” for “Root”, came directly from ‘substratum’
Mon-Khmer: [ruih] Khmer, [ré:h] or [rih] or [re:] Pearic, [rơh] Bahnar,
[*rɛs] Proto-Waic, [rɛɛh] Souei, etc. [3].
The present discussion on lexical generation by metaphor will now examine the
etymology of words for basic colors, which in ancient Chinese thought, may
refer to White, Black, Yellow, Red, and Blue (or Green). These 5 colors are
associated with the 5 directions or 5-element in the Five-Element theory: White
goes with West (metal), Black goes with North (water), Blue (or Green) with
East (tree / wood), Red: South (fire), and Yellow: Central region (earth).
White
First, the most popular Vietnamese word for White color is Trắng (màu Trắng).
Under one of the rules of lexical borrowing or Jia Jie (Giả Tá), using tonal
3
change, it can be seen, most likely: Trắng being the color of Trăng, ie. White is
the color of the Moon. Ancient Vietnamese thus employed Trăng with some
declension in tone, to form Trắng describing the color White by using the
Moon as metaphor. Another language that also used the Moon as metaphor for
“White” is the Fijian language, where [vula] is the same word for “Month” and
“Moon”, and duplicative [vulavula] is word for color “White”. It is noted that
[vulavula] is duplicative, possibly because the language is not tonal like
Vietnamese or Thai, and [vula] resembles Malay word ‘bulan’ for Moon and
Month, with labiodental “v” substituting for bilabial “b” as initial.
Vietnamese use of Moon (trăng) for White (trắng) is very similar to the Thai
way of metaphorizing the color White, by describing in olden times, White
being the color of Rice. In Thai, Rice is called [Khaow] (gạo / cơm –
Vietnamese), and White is [Khaow] (Rice) pronounced with a different tone:
[Khãow] {i.e. [Khaow] (Rice) with a falling-rising tone}.
The Thai way of coupling White with Rice is supported by the Chinese word 白
[Bai]-2, which also has another Jia Jie word having different tone 粺 [Bai]-4
meaning ‘white or polished rice’ [5]. Corresponding Vietnamese sound for
[Bai] is Bạch meaning White. However Bạch could also be metaphorically
linked with [Bak] in Mon Khmer [3] or Bạc in Vietnamese, meaning ‘Silver’.
Another word for the color White in Chinese is 精 [jing] with Sino-Vietnamese
form as Tinh as in trắng tinh. Tinh also means ‘polished rice’, and it is
commonly used in compound words like: tinh-trùng (semen), quỷ-tinh (ghost,
having white color). Another word indicating White is 粉 [fen] (Vietnamese:
phấn) [5], also meaning ‘Flour’.
Vietnamese metaphorical use of Trăng (Moon: Bulan (Malay)) for the color
Trắng (White) also seems to have some support from the French language:
BLANC, which bears strong sound similarity to Trăng’s cognate:
‘Bulan’ (Cham & Malay). In the English language also, ‘to blanche’ (as in
‘blanched peanuts’), and ‘bleach’ could be said to be etymologically related to
the French adjective ‘Blanc’ or ‘Blanche’, all metaphorically linked with Malay
word ‘Bulan’ (Moon), over long distances.
Ancient Vietnamese and Thai also seemed to make metaphors out of the Moon
(Tlăng / Trăng) in other instances, like in Vietnamese: Tlòn => Tròn (round,
circular) and Tlổng => Trống (drum) [2] [11], with Thai equivalent [glohm]
and [glawng], respectively.
4
Black
The color Black very often derived its metaphor from ‘night time’, or vice
versa: Đêm (night), giving rise to Đen (Black), or similarly: Tối (night) => màu
Tối (Dark color) (see [4]). In Thai: [see Dam] is Black color, very close to
Vietnamese sắc Đêm or sắc Đen (màu Đêm or màu Đen). It is interesting to
note that a Chinese word for ‘Black’ is 黮, pronounced as [tam] or [tim] in
Hakka, and [taam] in Cantonese, very close to Vietnamese Đêm. The word for
‘Black horse’ is 驔 pronounced as [tim] or [daam] in Cantonese, and [tan] or
[dian] in Mandarin, all very close to Đêm or đen. Đêm (or đen, which
sometimes may be associated with Sậm or Đậm meaning Black, Dark, or
Dense) – with some dialect pronunciation as [Điêm] – and Hakka’s [tam] or
[tim] bear striking similarity in sound with English words: Dim and Dense. In
the Champa language, one word for ‘Black’ is [tăm], with Mon-Khmer
cognates of [təm] or [qitem] or [səm] [3], normally in Vietnamese as compound
word: ‘tối-tăm’ meaning ‘Dark’. While ‘Tối’ meaning Dark and Night, has
traces of Munda ([Toi-gal] Sora) in the substratum mix [17], ‘Tăm’ also has
cognate as *[zəm] or [qudem] in Mon-Khmer [3] [4], [tam-pagal] in Sora
(Munda), and [dahm] in Thai. [Zəm] or [qudem] is close to ‘đậm’, ‘sậm’, ‘đêm’
in Vietnamese. In Chinese: 夜 [Ye] or [Yi], meaning night, and 黟or 黓 [Yi]
meaning ‘dark’, ‘black’ – have similar sounds under Jia Jie. The same sort of
metaphor can be traced in French: Nuit (night) => Noir (black), noting that the
Italian and Portuguese word for ‘Night’ is ‘Notte’ and ‘Noite’, respectively.
There is another Chinese word for Black, called [wu] (Ô or Quạ): 烏
metaphorizing the Crow (Chim Ô). Another Chinese word for ‘Black’ took
metaphor from the black stuff spurting out from an octopus or squid: 墨,
pronounced [mo] or [mei] in Mandarin, and [mak] or [maak] in Cantonese. In
Chinese it refers to ‘black Ink’ or ‘black, dark’. Its sound correspondence in
Thai ([meuk]) and Vietnamese ([mực]), is used to denote ‘Ink’, and ‘Octopus’
or ‘Squid’. This commonality between Thai and Vietnamese will lead to an
introductory remark about the ‘Tree-and-Soil’ model, which would state that
between Thai and Vietnamese, there must be a common constitutive group of
speakers that use the same word [meuk] (mực) to denote both ‘Ink’ and
‘Squid’. Likewise, [Chai] (Thai) or [Xài] (Vietnamese) is used by a common
constitutive group of the two languages to denote BOTH ‘to use’ and ‘to spend
(money)’. Similarly, [Khaow] (Thai) or [Gạo / Cơm] (Vietnamese) is used by
that same, or another, common group of speakers to denote ‘Rice’ or ‘cooked
Rice’, or ‘Meal’.
5
In Korean, the word for ‘Black’ is [komun] sounding very similar to
Vietnamese gỗ mun meaning Ebony or Black-wood. The adjective mun
meaning ‘Black’ customarily is used in collocation with Mèo (cat) as: Mèo
Mun being ‘Black Cat’, having the same initial ‘M’. Other Sino-Vietnamese
words for Black are ‘âm’ 陰 & 隂, pronounced the same in Cantonese: [am], and
the sound is commonly used in Hainan for ‘Black’, though written differently:
晚, referring also to Night time. The word Âm 陰above, meaning Black, is
normally metaphorically linked with ‘Negative’ [yin] (as opposed to ‘Positive’
陽 [yang]).
Yellow
In ancient China, the color Yellow came very early from the metaphor
‘Loess’ {[Huang Tu] / Hoàng Thổ}, being yellow-earth or wind-borne deposits
along the Huang He (Yellow River). Its Chinese pronunciation [Huang] gave
rise to sound correspondence [Wang] or [Wong] in some Chinese dialects and
[Vong] in Hakka and “Vàng” in (northern) Vietnamese. The most significant
Chinese metaphor of [Huang] is ‘Huang Di’ meaning Emperor, originally:
Emperor of the Yellow Land. In English, the word ‘Yolk’ in ‘Egg Yolk’ looks
much metaphorically related to ‘Yellow’, which is described in French as
‘Jaune d’oeuf’.
It is of interest to note that English initial [Y] as in “Yellow” has some
correspondence with French [J] as in “Jaune” (yellow), as exemplified in:
young & jeune, yolk & jaune, yoke & joug, yap & japper, yodel & jodler. Quite
similar to sound correspondence between [Y] in Mandarin (and other Chinese
dialects) and [Z] in Hakka, and between northern pronunciation [Dz] and
southern pronunciation [Y] in initial [D] in Vietnamese. For example:
Character 夜 meaning “Night” is pronounced as [ye] in Mandarin and
Cantonese, but could be as [za] in some Hakka dialects, and [Dzạ] or [Yạ] in
northern or southern Vietnamese dialects, respectively.
Red
There is a strong metaphorical link between the color Red and the first colorful
observation by homo sapiens: ‘Blood’. Main Vietnamese words for ‘Red’ are
Hồng and Đỏ, and for ‘Blood’, Huyết and Máu., and it will be demonstrated in
the following that there is a link between words for “Blood” and “Red” in
Vietnamese.
6
Whereas [hong] means the Sun in the Tai dialect of the Yunnan area, the
‘official’ use of [hong] for Red in Chinese-Vietnamese dictionaries again tend
to obscure the range of thesaurus and etymology of ‘Red’ in both languages.
Interestingly, Huyết and Máu in Vietnamese have cognates in many languages
thousands of miles away, and thousands of years ago. Words similar to [Huyết]
are: (i) 血 pronounced as [xue] in Mandarin, but closer to ‘Huyết’ as [Hiet] in
Hakka, [Hyut] in Cantonese, and almost identical [Huih?] in Fujian, where [?]
is the glottal stop, a sound between [uh] and [oh] when pronouncing ‘uh-oh’
altogether. (ii) ‘Ver’ in Hungarian, ‘Veri’ in Finnish, ‘Gwyar’ and ‘Gwaed’ in
Welsh. Similar to Máu indicating ‘blood’ also, is the word [Mud] of the
Sumerian language, thousands of years ago [6]; and (iii) [Máóhk] of the
Blackfoot Indians in Canada, quite similar to Máu (Blood – Vietnamese), but
denoting “Red” [6].
Words that have meanings interchanged between ‘Red’ and ‘Blood’, and yield
similar sounds to corresponding Vietnamese words, include: (a) ‘Whero’ in
Maori, meaning Red, but with sound similar to Huyết {Blood} in Vietnamese;
(b) ’Wouj’ in Haitian Creole, also meaning ‘Red’; (c) [Hyoraek] in Korean,
meaning ‘Blood’; (d) 艧 [Wok] in Hakka, and [huo] in Mandarin, meaning ‘red
paint’; (e) Vietnamese word for ‘Blood veins’ or ‘Blood pulse’ is Mạch 脈 / 衇
having Chinese dialect sounds [5]: [mak] Hakka, [maak] Cantonese, with some
similar to Máu: [mo]-4 & [mai]-4 Mandarin, [ma?] Wu, [meh] Fujian, and
[meyk] Sino-Korean – indicating that Mạch (veins) is metaphorically similar to
Máu (Blood); (f) Tibetan word for the color Red is: ‘Mah’, again with ‘Mah’
very close to Máu (Blood); AND most interesting: (g) ‘Dugo’ in Tagalog, and
‘Toto’ in Samoan, Tongan, Tahitian, all meaning “Blood” [7].
It is ‘Dugo’ and ‘Toto’ under monosyllabic influence that would turn into ‘Du’
or ‘To’, being most likely sound cognate of Đỏ (màu Đỏ) or ‘Red’ in
Vietnamese. The color Red, Đỏ, in Vietnamese, with metaphor from Polynesian
‘Blood’ (‘Dugo’ and ‘Toto’), is quite consistent with Nguyen’s theory on the
origin of the Vietnamese [1], in that the Polynesians in ancient times
constituted one of the main ethnicities evolving into the modern-day
Vietnamese. It is noted that, as in the case of La Lune and Le Mois in French,
the Vietnamese language derived Đỏ (Red) and Huyết or Máu (Blood) from
different constitutive sources, and different languages, whilst they are all
metaphorically related.
Blue or Green
7
Blue and Green took metaphors mainly from Sky / Sea, and Leaf / Grass,
respectively. Blue color is called xanh da trời (sky blue), xanh dương (ocean
blue) or xanh lam (blue or indigo – [laam]-Cantonese). Green is xanh lục
([luk]-Cantonese), xanh lá cây (leafy green) – which correspond to similar
metaphors in many languages. For example: Irish / Welsh: Glas (with sound
similar to ‘Grass’) meaning ‘Green’ (GRass <=> GReen); Czech: ‘Obloha’
meaning both Sky and Blue [6]. In Chinese, 青 [qing] (thanh – Sino-
Vietnamese) has sound close to: [qian] = sky, and the same sound [qian] written
as 芊means ‘green foliage, green grass’ [5].
Khmer word for “leaf” is [sluhk choe] with [sluhk] quite similar to “lục” in
“xanh lục” for Green”. Word for a kind of leaf in the Hakka dialect is [lo]
荖,
having similar sound to [lo?] in Wu and Sino-Korean for the color Green. In
Thai, “sky blue” is called [faa see], where [faa] means ‘sky’, and [see] is color,
equivalent to Vietnamese ‘sắc’. Burmese word for ‘Green’ is [sein-de], very
close to Vietnamese ‘xanh’. It should be noted that the initial ‘X’ in ‘xanh’
shows a sound correspondence (X <=> Th) between Chinese dialects and
Vietnamese, Burmese and Mon-Khmer varieties. For example: Salween =>
Thalwin (river), both Burmese; [cheng] (Chinese) => thành; rusa (‘deer’ in
Mon-Khmer) => ratha, ritha (Champa); [qing] => xanh = thanh. Sometimes
from afar: French word (le) Singe => Thân (associated with Monkey, being
one of the 12 oriental Zodiac signs).
Brown
A search for metaphors of the color Brown will show that words describing
colors through metaphors, not only may change from one group of speakers to
another, but also could vary with time.
Ancient (northern) Chinese appeared to use the Brown scorpion 蝎 (Mandarin
[he] Cantonese & Hakka [hot]) as metaphor for the Brown color: 褐. Cantonese
at one stage preferred using the Palm Tree 棕 for ‘Brown: 棕色 [zung sik], and
now swapping for coffee color: 啡 色 [fei sik] [9], competing with ‘Chocolate’
in many languages as metaphor for ‘Brown’: [sukkolaa] (Khmer), coklat
(Indonesian), etc. Thai word for ‘Brown’ is [nahm dtahn], which is similar to
words for ‘(brown) sugar’.
8
Vietnamese word for Brown is Nâu, having cognates as [nyou-de] in Burmese
[7], and [tnaot] in Cambodian [8], all very likely metaphorically linked with
either (a) Khmer word [tnaot] meaning also “palm fruit”, like Cantonese [zung]
for palm tree; Or: (b) ‘Chinese’ word [niao] 鸟meaning Bird, a brown bird,
such as a female ostrich (Đà-Điểu mái), quoted as Chim nâu (brown bird) in
Alexandre de Rhodes’ dictionary [2]. Nâu (Brown) is thus likely of Mon-
Khmer origin and yet also has Chinese connection via [niao]. This can be
reconciled by noting that according to ancient Chinese texts, (proto) Mon
Khmer groups were called the Di – Qiang [1], present almost everywhere in
China, and often associated with the Western Barbarians (Xi Rong / Tây
Nhung). The legendary King Yu, founder of the Xia Dynasty of China, is said
to have Qiang ethnic origin [1]. Nâu, for Brown, also looks metaphorically
related (in sound) to Nai (Deer) and Gấu (Bear), since these two animals
normally have brown-colored skin. The same can be said of a possible link
between Brown & Black with Cow (under the generic term ‘Bos’) and Bear.
Both Cow/Bull (Bos) and Bear normally bear a Brown or Black color.
DISCUSSION
In the foregoing, it has been shown that Vietnamese words used to describe
colors, are mainly derived from metaphors.
In the first instance, color lexicon was generated from observation of object or
phenomenon, that was most typically identified with the color, by declension in
tone, or phonological shift whilst still retaining the initial, consonant being
most common. Examples include: Trắng (White) being the color of Trăng (the
Moon); Đen (Black) or Tối (Dark), color of Đêm or Tối (the night). Đen or
Đêm is equivalent to Thai word [dahm] for “Black”. Mực (Black or Ink), both
in Thai and Vietnamese, is used interchangeably with squid or octopus, which
can eject a black liquid when under stress.
Lexical generation by metaphor can also be made using the metaphor source
from another language or dialect, which in the orthodox way has been
explained in terms of borrowing. Under the Tree-and-Soil approach, however,
metaphor word source is considered to come from one or several other
contributory dialects of the national language, at some period of time in the
past. This is exemplified by the pair Đỏ (Red) and Máu or Huyết (Blood).
Whereas Máu and Huyết (Blood) have many cognates in languages or dialects
in the north, Đỏ as Red has cognates found in Tagalog and Polynesian sources,
meaning Blood itself. This is quite similar to French word “Noir” for Black,
being closer to Italian and Portuguese word for ‘Night’: ‘Notte’ and ‘Noite’,
respectively, than “Nuit” in French.
9
Other characteristics of words for basic colors generated through metaphors
may include:
(a) As life-style, even in ancient times, may change, the original metaphor
could also change with time. For example, word for color Brown in
Cantonese (Hongkong), Vietnamese, and many Asian languages, in the last
century could end up at some places as “Chocolate” color, or “coffee-withmilk”
color.
(b) Metaphor source also may be totally different between neighboring
languages, both sharing a common tongue, being one common substratum
among many, of the languages during formative centuries in the past. This
is the case of Vietnamese use of the Moon compared with Thai use of Rice,
both as metaphor for the color White. This apparent paradox can be
reconciled easily by the present theory, on recognizing the fact that in
ancient times, two different tribes of the same ethnicity may have different
metaphors for the same lexicon, which later on became two different words
for the same connotation or meaning in two neighboring languages, as
exemplified further by a wide range of metaphors and associated lexicon for
other colors, like Brown and Black.
Word generation by metaphor in general has illustrated some thinking process
taking place in the mind of ancient people when a word was first “coined”. It
resulted primarily from observation of a phenomenon, an act, or object, or
living creature, possessing some characteristics or defining features of the
same, or in the vicinity thereof. As it involved some product of the mind of
ancient people, originally, those words generated by shared metaphor, or with
similar metaphorical features may provide a powerful measure to probe into the
mind of ancient people, and to trace, where relevant, the dialect(s) that
contributed to evolutionary formation of a national language, under the present
Tree-and-Soil theoretical formulation (see also [14] and [15]).
An example to illustrate the use of shared metaphorical features taken from
[15] is Mắt Cá, Vietnamese word for “ankle”, where Mắt is Eye, and Cá, often
mistaken for Fish, by its quốc-ngữ spelling (cá) which is identical to word for
Fish. By conventional wisdom therefore, mắt cá at best would be explained as
ancient metaphor for “fish eye”. However, when searching for the “real”
metaphor from other languages or dialects, it can be seen that Mắt Cá (Ankle)
should be correctly interpreted as ‘leg’s eye’, since ‘cá’ is in fact a declension
of ‘cẳng’, from other languages contributing to Vietnamese, such as Hakka
[ka], Tay-Nung [kha], meaning ‘leg’. ‘Mắt cá’ with correct meaning of ‘leg’s
eye’, is supported by word for ‘ankle’ in Gorum (Munda) [maD-jig], and in
Cantonese [goek ngaan] 腳 眼, where [maD] and [ngaan] are words for ‘eye’,
and [jig] and [goek], are simply ‘leg’ or ‘feet’, respectively. In sound ‘mắt cá’ is
10
closely connected with [kwa] Hakka 踝, or [giok kwa] 腳 踝 (Mandarin [jiao
huai]), and [mo?-suG] Remo (Munda), where [mo?] is ‘eye’ and [suG], leg, as
in compound word [maD-jig] in Gorum, or ‘mắt cá’ in Vietnamese [15].
Since there are many other languages or dialects, that have shared metaphorical
features in words for “Ankle” with Vietnamese, while assisting to uncover the
hidden meaning of “Mắt Cá”, it can be identified that in the long past it was
very likely that the Vietnamese language in its formative stage had contribution
from all the languages or dialects above, especially Hakka, Tay Nung and
Munda dialects, under word for “ankle”. When “Mắt Cá” is viewed with other
words shown above for “Peanut” (lạc and đậu phộng), for example, it becomes
more apparent that lexical analysis through metaphor could offer a new and
powerful tool to trace etymology of words hitherto often considered to be
hidden from scrutiny by conventional approaches.
Such metaphorical analysis could also reveal some effects of codification of
Vietnamese by Latin alphabet, which tend to obscure a variety of phonology of
a wide range of vocabulary in the past. Again, consider two Vietnamese words
for Peanut: lạc and đậu phộng, both deriving from metaphor of “nuts”
harvested from plant roots, as both lạc and phộng come from two different
groups of dialects, and have meaning as “Roots”. Lạc is from Tay-Nung
dialect, and Phộng is a quốc-ngữ phonetic transcription of [pông] 本, with
similar sound as [pəng] in Wu, [bun] or [bon] in Cantonese, [ben] in Mandarin,
and [pon] in Sino-Korean, all similarly meaning “Root”. It is noted further that
the “official” Sino-Vietnamese transcription of character 本 [ben] (Mandarin) as
“bổn” under conventional studies also obscures two important aspects of the
present approach: (a) Vietnamese lexicon may have a wide range of thesaurus
meanings, depending on different tones, dialects, and origins. For example,
“bổn” under the traditional framework would have to conform to a “one-word,
one-meaning” regime, denoting “origin” with only one tone, being the hỏi (?)
tone. And (b) The process of standardization of spelling and pronunciation of
words through quốc-ngữ has overshadowed many parallel and intersecting
arrays of sound correspondence between, words of the same meaning, in
different dialects or tongues that contributed to formation of Vietnamese in the
past. The word phộng in “đậu phộng” (peanut), being equivalent to ““bổn”,
and yet under different tone, initial, and ending, could be seen under the present
theory as an end result of alphabet codification taking account of the following
sound correspondences:
(i) Between [ph] Tay-Nung and [b] Vietnamese [13] {phộng <> bổn}:
11
phổng= băng (to cross); phưa= bừa (rake)
(ii) Between [p] Tay-Nung and [v] & [b] Vietnamese {pông <> bổn}:
pỏn= vốn (byốn [2]) (capital); pỏn tỉ= bản (bổn) địa (indigenous)
(iii) Between [ph] Mường and [b] & [v] Vietnamese [11]:
phố vai= vỗ vai (byỗ byai [2]); phửa= bừa (carefree)
(iv) Between [p] Mường and [b] Vietnamese:
pông= bông (flower); pỏng thổi= bóng tối (dark shadow, night time);
pớ lẽ= vỡ lẽ (byỡ lẽ [2]); pền lô= bền lâu (to last long); pĩ= bị (bag)
(v) Between [ông] and [ôn] {phộng <> bổn}:
tông giáo [16] => tôn giáo (religion)
In summary, study of etymology of words in Vietnamese and other neighboring
languages for basic colors, through metaphors as presented here, has shown
consistent results to lend further support to the Tree-and-Soil formulation
which stated that Vietnamese is a historical and evolutionary merger of many
languages and dialects in the region, with a Mon-Khmer substratum mixed with
Thai, Munda, Polynesian and Negrito, superimposed and interwoven with
strata of the ancient Bai Yue (Bách Việt) groups in Southern China.
REFERENCES & NOTES
[1] V.U. Nguyen (Nguyen Nguyen) (2007) Thử đọc lại truyền thuyết Hùng
Vương. [In search of the origin of the Vietnamese]. (in publication).
[2] Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) Dictionarium Annamiticum – Lusitanum –
Latinum. Translated by: Thanh Lãng, Hoàng Xuân Việt, Đỗ Quang Chính. Pub.
By Vien Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi – HCM 1991.
[3] L. V. Hayes (2001) Austric Glossary –
http://home.att.net/~lvhayes/Langling/Glossary/Glospag1/glosf019.htm
[4] Latvian ‘tumsa’ and Lithuanian ‘tamsa’ could be counted as long-distanced
cognates of Mon-Khmer/Viet ‘tăm / tối tăm’, meaning ‘dark, night’. ‘Tối’ itself,
main Vietnamese word for ‘dark, night’, likely has some sound correspondence
with 夕 [xi] Mandarin, [sit] Hakka, {tịch} S-V, OR: 霄 [xiao] M., [seu] or [siau]
H., {tiêu} S-V, or both. Closest to tối and tăm’, and ‘tối tăm’ together, under
etymology and monosyllabic pressure, however would likely be Munda
lexicon: [tOi-gal] and [tam-pagal] in Sora, [Tok] as in [kimi-tok] (dark night)
and [arke-tok] (moonlit night) in Remo and Gutob, and [raTo] in Korku.
[5] CCDICT v5.1.1: Chinese Character Dictionary by Chineselanguage.org
(1995-2006)
[6] Philip M. Parker, INSEAD (2008) Webster’s Online Dictionary with
Multilingual Thesaurus Translation: http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org
[7] Charles Hamblin (1984) Languages of Asia & The Pacific. Angus &
Robertson Publishers. (1988 Paperback Edition).
12
[8] Richard K. Gilbert & Sovandy Hang (2004) Cambodian for Beginners.
Paiboon Publishing.
[9] Hmong word for ‘Brown’: kas fes (coffee).
[10] GERARD MOUSSAY, Nại Thành Bô, Thiên Sanh Cảnh, Lưu Ngọc Hiến,
Đàng Năng Phương, Lưu Quang Sanh, Lâm Gia Tịnh, Trương Văn Tốn (1971).
Tự Điển Chàm-Việt-Pháp (Champa-Vietnamese-French Dictionary). Trung tâm
Văn-hóa Chàm – Phan-Rang.
[11] Nguyễn Văn Khang (editor), Bùi Chỉ, Hoàng Văn Hành (2002) Từ Điển
Mường-Việt {Mường-Vietnamese Dictionary}. Published by Văn Hoá Dân Tộc
– Hà Nội.
[12] Jeffrey Barlow (2005) The Zhuang: A Longitudinal Study of their History
and their Culture. AT:
http://mcel.pacificu.edu/as/resources/zhuang/contents.html
[13] Hoàng Văn Ma – Lục Văn Pảo – Hoàng Chí (1974) Từ Điển Tày – Nùng –
Việt (Tay-Nung-Viet Dictionary). Published by Viện Ngôn Ngữ Học (The
Linguistics Institute).
[14] V. U. Nguyen (2008) Vietnamese Personal Pronouns. (submitted for
publication).
[15] V. U. Nguyen (2008) Body Parts in Vietnamese. (submitted for
publication).
[16] Trần Trọng Kim (1971) Nho Giáo (Confucianism). Published by: Trung
Tâm Học Liệu (Centre for Teaching Materials) – Saigon
[17] Patricia J. Donegan and David Stampe (2004) Munda Lexical Archive.
http://www.ling.hawaii.edu/faculty/stampe/AA/Munda/ETYM/Pinnow&Munda
http://ling.lll.hawaii.edu/faculty/stampe/AA/Munda/Dictionaries/00README
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