Innocence Seekers: The Black Rose – Colour terms in Namari

This will be the first of a series of posts on the vocabulary of Namari. The topic of this post is colours. Here I will detail the colour terms used in Namari, their meanings, and their etymological history.

Whereas English has eleven basic colour terms (white, black, red, green, yellow, blue, purple, orange, pink, brown, grey), Namari has a twelfth basic colour term (which corresponds to English “light blue” or “aqua”). They are listed below:

  • White: shiyo (also shiya-)
  • Black: kuyo
  • Red: aka
  • Green: medoi
  • Yellow:
  • Blue: ao
  • Brown: kogā
  • Purple: muyasaki
  • Orange: momichi
  • Pink: momo
  • Grey: pai
  • Aqua: mezu

The first six terms listed (the abstract terms) may occur with or without the -eyo suffix. The last six (the descriptive terms) must occur with this suffix, as they otherwise mean different things without the suffix:

  • Brown: bark
  • Purple: purple gromwell (Lithospermum erythrorhizon)
  • Orange: autumn leaves
  • Pink: peach (Prunus persica; from Proto-Japonic *momo “peach”)
  • Grey: ash (from Proto-Japonic *papi “ash”)
  • Aqua: water (from Proto-Japonic *men-tu “water”)

Old Namari only had five basic colour terms, namely those for white, black, red, yellow and green/blue. They are listed as follows, along with their Proto-Japonic forms:

  • White: shiro (from *siro)
  • Black: kuro (from *kuro)
  • Red: aka (from *aka)
  • Yellow: ki (from *koy)
  • Green/Blue: awo (from *awo)

The modern word for green, medoi, was derived from Old Namari medori (“bud, sprout”; infinitive of medoru) and ultimately originated from Proto-Japonic *məin-tər-i (whence Okinawan miduri, and Japanese midori “green”), based on the root *mə-(y)- (“bud, sprout”; whence Namari ). By the Middle Namari period, medori/medoi came to acquire the meaning “green”; however, it was considered a shade of ao. It was only in the Modern Namari period when medoi became a basic colour term in its own right.

The other six colour terms also only became basic in the Modern Namari period. In the Middle Namari period, five of these terms were universally considered shades of the basic colours (brown, purple, orange and pink with red, and aqua with green/blue), while Middle Namari pahi, which was commonly used for grey, was seen by some speakers as “separate” from white and black.

In the modern language, two terms are used for brown, kogā (“bark”) and chā (“tea”; suffixed form chaeyo), but the former is standard. The word kogā is a compound of ko- (“tree”; free form ; from Proto-Japonic *kə-(y)-) and (“skin”; from Proto-Japonic *kapa). The latter term, chā, is a Chinese loanword.

The term for purple derives from Old Namari murasaki and is of unclear etymology. A hypothesis is that it is a compound of mura (“gathering”) and saki (infinitive of saku “to bloom”).

There are two terms for orange in the modern language, momichi (“autumn leaves”) and daidai (“bitter orange”), but the former is standard. The term momichi is the infinitive of the now-obsolete verb momitu (“to become red (of leaves in autumn)”), and it is of unclear etymology. A hypothesis suggests that it may be related to the verb moyu (“to burn”; from Proto-Japonic *moya-y-), reflecting the changing of leaves to a colour reminiscent of fire. The latter term, daidai, is a Japanese loanword.

One thing to add, is the word ai (“indigo”). Traditionally, it is a shade of ao, but it actually shares the same etymology (ao comes from *awo; ai comes from *awoy). In terms of colour, ai is actually closer to the English purple than to blue; in fact, in Namari the seven colours of the rainbow (nojino nanaeyo) are listed as aka, momichi, kī, medoi, mezu, ao, ai, and muyasaki is better translated as “magenta” rather than “purple”.

That will be all for now.