English Colour Terms in Context

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå universitet

Abstract: This thesis examines usage of English colour terms in context, based on an extensive computerised text corpus, the Bank of English. It describes the ways in which English colour terms may be used to refer to nuances outside their normal area of designation and to attributes outside the colour domain. Usage patterns are analysed on three different levels: with regard to the overall frequency of occurrences, nominal domains and individual tokens, respectively.Cognitive linguistics supplies the theoretical framework employed in the analyses of the observed patterns. The study identifies three types of usage where colour terms refer to peripheral colour nuances or to concepts outside the colour domain: classifying, figurative and marked usage.When a colour term has a classifying function, it can be used outside the normal area of designation. This usage is analysed as a type of reference-point construction where a term referring to a salient point in the colour domain is used to subcategorise an entity whose actual colour may be only a peripheral member of the category named by the colour term. An analysis of the OED and the Bank of English shows that this type of usage is primarily restricted to a few of the most salient basic terms.This study points to the close affinities between classifying and figurative usage. Figurative expressions of colour terms frequently have a classifying function. I argue that figurative meanings are derived through two types of metonymy: +SALIENT ATTRIBUTE FOR OBJECT+ and +SALIENT CONCRETE ATTRIBUTE FOR SALIENT ABSTRACT ATTRIBUTE+.Marked usage arises when specific colour terms are used in nominal domains where the specificity is not expected. This phenomenon is consequently confined to non-basic colour terms.On the basis of the established patterns of usage and the frequency of occurrences, this thesis suggests that the colour category may be analysed as a radial category, with the basic colour terms forming the centre.