SEMIOTICS OF COLOR*

Posted: 13 Agustus 2010 in colour language

Mony Almalech (New Bulgarian University) – Erasmus Programme, March-April 2008 –
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
0
VISUAL SEMIOTICS – THE RED SHOES –
PART II
SEMIOTICS OF COLOR*
MONY ALMALECH
(NEW BULGARIAN UNIVERSITY.
SOUTH EAST EUROPEAN CENTER FOR SEMIOTIC RESEARCHES)
* PUBLISHED AT: http://www.nbu.bg/index.php?l=735
The decoding of the advertisement messages as a manipulative tool on
the consciousness and unconsciousness of the potential client can be done by
analysis of different sign systems. One of them is the system of colors.
I. THE TRIANGLE OF G. FREGE AND THE COLORS AS SIGN.
The triangle of G. Frege (German mathematician and logician who lived at
the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th centuries), is an abstract scheme of
every sign. At about the same time Charles Peirce represented the same idea
involving a new moment – the interpretation of the sign.
The version of Frege is enough for our goals now.
B
A C
Every one of the tops of triangle stands for:
A – the denotate – the object at the reality or the image of this object as
an imaginative reflection at the human’s mind. The denotate is related to the
imaginative thought.
B – the material substance of the sign – this is the word at the natural
language level in its phonic or written form/substance.
C – the referent – this is the notion/concept on the real or imaginative
object. Usually C is connected to the logical thought.
Mony Almalech (New Bulgarian University) – Erasmus Programme, March-April 2008 –
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
1
The colors can be signs in two main cases: 1. When we look, when we
use our eyes, i.e. by our visual perception. 2. When we use the basic color
terms – white, black, red, green etc. This is the case when we name, we
verbalize, and we use words to name the colors.
In the first case B (the physical form / the substance of the color-sign)
is the length of the light waves.
In the second case of B is the sound of human speech but not the light.
In both cases the referent are non-color meanings of the color-sign.
II. COLOR LANGUAGE The area of the colors as a language is
developed in Almalech 1996; 1997; 1999a); 1999b); Almalech, 2001 а);
Almalech, 2001 b); 2002.
To save place here will be given only basic notions and conclusions.
The language of the colors has two forms of existence – verbalized
and non-verbalized.
The non-verbalized form of existence is when we use our visual
perception. The non-verbalized color language is percepted by the ocular
perception, which means, that all colors are percepted simultaneously.
The verbalized form of existence is when we use the natural
language and the color terms. The verbalized color language is subordinate
to the linear or syntax order of the natural language.
The verbalized form has two main versions – context-free and
context-dependent versions. All responses (words-associations) to the
basic color terms-stimulus are considered a context-free version.
All non-color meanings of the color terms, ascribed to them by the
context of a novel/text, are considered a context-dependent version.
The context-free verbalized version is the lexical level of the color
language. The context-dependent version can be regarded as the textual
level of the verbalized color language.
There is strong presence of color synonymy and color antonymy.
Mony Almalech (New Bulgarian University) – Erasmus Programme, March-April 2008 –
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
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The Prototype theory developed by E. Rosch and G. Lakoff treats
the color issue in the terms of universalities – in the area of human`s
thought, culture, language consciousness and language unconsciousness.
In the case of non-verbalized form B (the physical form/substance of
the color-sign) is the length of the light waves. The second case – the
verbalized form of the language of the colors B is a color term, a word
with it`s phonemes. The referent is one or more non-color meanings of the
color-sign, and some context-depending meanings connected to Ideology
(cultural and contextual).
Non-color meanings are found in folklore, in the modern
advertisements and in secret religious-mystic knowledge, and also as
responses to the color-terms stimulus. That is why we recognize nonverbalized
color language (from the area of folklore and in the secret
religious-mystic knowledge) and verbalized color language (from the area of
the associations and textual functioning of the responses).
III. PROTOTYPE THEORY
The term is used by G. Lakoff [Lakoff, 1987] to express the efforts in
philosophy, linguistics and cognitive science to describe the process of
categorization on the basis of prototypes. A special interest for us is E.
Rosch’ research [Rosch еt al, 1976]. Е. Rosch has proven that the notion and
categorization on focal colors is universal, trans-cultural and trans-ethnical.
The prototypes for the colors are: for red – fire/flame; for blue – sky/sea; for
green – all plants; for yellow – the sun; for white – the light, snow and/or
milk; for black – coals, darkness.
IV. KENT-ROSANOFF TEST.
Here I shall use data on Bulgarian Norm of Word-Association. The
method is developed by H. Kent and A. Rosanoff, [Kent, Rosanoff, 1910].
Testing took place twice: once throughout the 1978-1982 period by Entcho
Gerganov and his colleagues at the Laboratory for Structural and Applied
Linguistics, Institute for Foreign Students – Sofia, and secondly testing was
done in 1996 at a private employment office at Sofia by me. The first test
included 1000 persons and 200 word-stimulus. The second test had the same
instruction to 100 persons on 30 word-stimulus. Gerganov`s results
[Gerganov et al, 1984] were compared to the results of 1996 testing
[Almalech, 2001]. One of the main goals of the comparison is to check and
list the steady repeated responses.
Both experiments included the following basic color terms: white,
black red, blue, yellow, green. Besides these basic color terms both tests
Mony Almalech (New Bulgarian University) – Erasmus Programme, March-April 2008 –
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
3
included the terms light and dark. The data on light and dark will be not
used at the analysis on the advertisements, but they are given at the data-list
here just to prove that light and white are accepted as synonyms. The
responses to the stimulus white and light are also synonymous. The same
structure, semantics and relations have the results on black and dark.
Some special features of the data are as follows:
1) The usual oppositions/antonym responses are excluded as much as
this cognitive mechanism is well researched [Laffal, 1969] as early as period
of the childhood.
2) The existing full range of relationships (synonymy, antonymy,
attribution, predication etc.) between the word-stimulus and wordassociation
will neither be represented and nor discussed.
3) Artefacts and natural objects as responses are excluded from the
data analysis because they are not useful for our purpose. The other reason
for the elimination of responses which are names of artefacts and natural
objects is the great number of such responses. Many of the natural objects
can be considered as competitives for prototypes. For example lemon, tulip,
daffodil, crocus, primrose, rose, pink/carnation, dandelion, wheat are
competitives which can not succeed in the competition to the real prototype
for yellow – the sun. For the full list of responses see [Almalech, 1997/98;
2001].
4) Statistical data are not included here. It is essential that the highest
frequency, at both experiments, are in terms of the prototypes and their most
important qualities. Some of the semantisations are also very frequent others
are available only once or twice.
5) The responses will be considered as meanings of the colors. The
responses reflect the linguistic consciousness and linguistic unconsciousness
of the tested persons. The responses represent data on the cognitive
processes.
6) Structure of the Norm. The same responses at both experiments are
the kern of the Norm. The kern consist of the language terms for: a. the
prototypes, in terms of E. Rosch, to every focal color.; b. the most important
qualities of the prototypes – warm/heat for fire and blood, clean/immaculate
for snow/milk/light etc.; c. semantisations or cultured meanings on the
prototypes and their most important qualities – love, hate, calm etc.; d.
artefacts and natural objects.
7) The list contains a transcription of the Bulgarian word and
translation in English. Some Bulgarian words have two or more words in
English translation to represent the functional semantics of the Bulgarian
word. Some English words are marked as part of the speech because in the
Mony Almalech (New Bulgarian University) – Erasmus Programme, March-April 2008 –
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
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Bulgarian language the response-word is more than one part of the speech
by conversion.
V. PROTOTYPES AND WORD-ASSOCIATIONS
The results of the Bulgarian Norm show that the biggest statistical
frequency at the norm belongs to the terms on prototypes and most of their
specific qualities. If we recall the main folklore and ritual meanings of colors
[Almalech, 1996, 1997], we shall see that there is a small kern of mutual
meanings. This kern represents the universal non-color meanings of colors.
The possibility of such universal kernel meanings of the colors is due
to the archetype character of these meanings. The archetype character of
these meanings is based on reasons shown by G. Lakoff:
“Color concepts are embodied in that focal colors are partly
determined by human biology. Color categorization makes use of human
biology, but color categories are more than merely a consequence of the
nature of the world plus human biology. Color categories result from the
world plus human biology plus cognitive mechanism has some of the
characteristics of fuzzy set theory plus a culture-specific choice of basic
color categories. The Kay-McDaniel theory seems to work well for
characterizing the focal colors corresponding to color categories. But it does
not work as well at the boudoirs between colors. (…) Color categories, thus,
are generative categories (…) They have generators plus something else.
The generators are the neurophysiologiclly determined distribution
functions, which have peaks where the primary colors are pure: black, white,
red, yellow, blue, and green. These generators are universal; they are part of
human neurophysiology. (…) MacLaury shows, color cognition is by no
means all the same across cultures. Nor is it by any means arbitrarily
different across cultures.” [Lakoff, 1978, pp. 29-30]
The responses at the word-association test can be considered as
linguistic and non-linguisticaly subconscious and conscious knowledge on
the kernel meanings of the colors. The paradigm of responses has ability to
mirror personal subconscious knowledge based on individual experience
plus social formed meanings. That is why the list of word-associations
represents the universal meanings and the non-universal meanings of colors.
Thus at the color language we have the next possibility to observe “a
scandal” case in the terms of Cl. Levi-Strouss [Levi-Strouss, 1958, p. 9] and
J. Derida [Derida, 1997, p. 415], when a nature phenomena becomes a
cultured one in indissoluble relations.
See the following table.
VI. UNIVERSAL NON COLOR MEANINGS OF THE COLORS
OR KERNEL MEANINGS AT THE COLOR LANGUAGE
Mony Almalech (New Bulgarian University) – Erasmus Programme, March-April 2008 –
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
5
FOLKLORE AND SECRET
RELIGIOUS-MYSTIC KNOWLEDGE
COLOR VERBALIZED COLOR
LANGUAGE (IN, AND OUT
OF CONTEXT)
’gives association to fire’ – Islam RED ’warmness’, ’fire’, ’flame’,
’warm’, ’to burn’, ’heat’,
’hot’, ’fiery’
’warmness’, ‘heat’- Islam RED ’warmness’, ’heat’
’aggression’ – Bulgarian marriage
flag
RED ’aggression’
’absolute red is like burning fire’ –
Jewish mysticism
RED ’fire’, ’flame’, ’to burn’,
’warm’, ’warmness’,
’heat’, ’hot’, ’fiery’
’a symbol of fire’ – Ancient Greece,
Rome
RED ’fire’, ’flame’, ’to burn’,
’warm’, ’warmness’,
’heat’, ’hot’, ’fiery’
’the garments of the diseased’ –
ancient Sparta
RED ’death’, ’war’, ’died’,
’pain’, ’anger/wrath’
’the menstrual blood’ – Ndembu; the
maternal blood’ – Ndembu;
‘the blood of feminine virginity’ –
Bulgarian marriage
RED ’blood’, ’bloody’
’the blood of femininity’ – Ndembu,
Balkan marriage’
RED ’femininity’ − contextual
verbalization in novels of
E. Stanev
’the blood of murder or stabbing or
killing’ – Ndembu
RED ’blood’, ’death’, ’bloody’
’blood’ and ’fire’ at the Orphic cults
to Zagrei’ – Thracian Balkans before
and during Old Greece times [Fol,
1991]
RED ’blood’, ’bloody’,
’strongly’, ’power’,
’might’, ’warmness’, ’fire’,
’flame’, ’warm’, ’to burn’,
’heat’, ’hot’, ’fiery’
’red things have power’ – Ndembu RED ’strongly’, ’power/might’
’cold’ – Islam GREEN ’cold’
’water’- Islam GREEN ’water’
’hope’ – Islam GREEN ’hope’
’fertility’ – Balkan folklore GREEN ’nature’, ’fertility’,
’vegetation’
Mony Almalech (New Bulgarian University) – Erasmus Programme, March-April 2008 –
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
6
’freshness of nature’ – Balkan
folklore, Islam
GREEN ’fresh’, ‘freshness’
’fertility’ – Balkan folklore, Islam GREEN ’nature’, ’growth’
’freshness of nature’, ’freshness’ –
marriage meaning that is signed over
the bride and groom – Bulgaria,
Romania, Greece
GREEN ’fresh’, ’freshness’,
’vegetation’, ’nature’,
’growth’
’vitality of the masculine’ – Calus in
Romania and Bulgaria
GREEN ’alive’, ’live’, ’vitality’
’vegetation on the Earth’ – Jewish
Kabbalah
GREEN ’planet’, ’vegetation’
’purity’ /ritual and physical/ –
marriage and burial at the Balkans,
Rome, ancient Greece, Egypt, among
Jews, Christian and Muslims
WHITE ’purity’, ’pure’,
’immaculate’, ’cleaned’,
’immaculacy’
’unstained’ – Islam, Rome, ancient
Greece, Egypt, among Jews,
Christian and Muslims
WHITE ’purity’, ’pure’,
’immaculate’, ’cleaned’,
’immaculacy’
’immaculacy’, ‘virginity’ – marriage
– in our days for all monotheistic
religions, at the burial of Rome,
ancient Greece, Egypt, Jews
WHITE ’immaculacy’, ’purity’,
’virginity’
’white veil’ – from 20th century for
all of the three monotheistic religions
WHITE ’marriage’, ’veil’, ’bride’
’the pure light’ – Islam, Jewish
Kabbalah
WHITE ’light’, ’bright’, ’pure’,
’clean’, ’cleaned’
’color of God’ WHITE ’God’, ’angel’, ’spiritual ’,
’mental ’, ’intellectual’,
’severe/strict’,
’wise/prudent/reasonable’,
’magnificent/splendid’,
’sparkling’, ‘blinding’,
’death’, ’veil’, ’world’,
’sanctuary’, ’skin’
’color of the eternity’ – Judaism,
Christianity, Islam
WHITE ’eternity’
WHITE
’eternal life’ – Jewish tradition;
’life’ – Ndembu
WHITE ’life’, ’angel’, ’God’
Mony Almalech (New Bulgarian University) – Erasmus Programme, March-April 2008 –
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
7
’death’ – Old Europe ( 6000 before
Christ) burial –
WHITE ’death’
’cloth of the dead’ – ancient Greece,
Egypt, Jewish and Islam burial
WHITE ’death’, ’eternity’, ’purity’,
’pure’, ’immaculate’,
’cleaned’, ’immaculacy’,
’magnificent/splendid’,
’white mourning’ – Slavs, ancient
Greece, Egypt
WHITE ’angel’, ’God’, ’death’,
’pure’, ’immaculate’,
’eternity’
’black mourning’ – current color for
mourning among all monotheistic
religions, Rome, some periods of
ancient Greece
BLACK ’mourning’, ’death’,
’grave’, ’burial’, ’tears’,
’grief/sorrow’, ’pain’,
’unhappiness/misery’,
’riddle/enigma’
’preserving/protection’ (’hiding’,
’disguise’) of the relatives and
friends of a dead person from the
powers of death – as goals-meanings
of the “black mourning”
BLACK ‘invisible/unseen’, ’secret’,
’night’, ’darkness’,
’burial’, ’sorrow’
’death’ – Ndembu, all monotheistic
religions
BLACK ’death’, ’mourning’, ,
’grave’, ’burial’, ’tears’,
’grief/sorrow’, ’pain’,
’unhappiness/misery’,
’riddle/enigma’
VII. COMMUNICATION AND MANIPULATION BASED ON
KERNEL MEANINGS OF COLORS.
Communication through a language is carried out via some most
important features of a language. The speaker and the listener should both
“know” the mutual language. The understanding of the signs goes by what
Grice [Grice, 1975] calls the cooperative principle – speakers work tacitly
together to achieve a norm of coherent and effective exchanges. In the case
of language of colors the area of a norm of coherent effective exchanges is
unconsciousness. Coherency is assured by transcultural, universal and kernel
meanings of colors.
Correspondingly, a manipulation at advertisement industry should use
the kernel meanings to reach the goal – to stimulate to buy.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Mony Almalech (New Bulgarian University) – Erasmus Programme, March-April 2008 –
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
8
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Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
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