On the cultural differences of color and color words

By Monica Dunn,2014-09-15 10:18
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On the cultural differences of color and color words


    Among English words terms of color make up a group of words that are particular in cultural associations .For example, red, yellow, blue, green, white, black, purple. etc . The creative words play an important part in our daily life. The color language also has the meaning of warning .For instance, red means “stop”, while green is a sign of

    “safety . People usually form an idea or the judgment according to there own national culture. Cultural differences exist because of different groups of people in the world with different inhabits and customs, religious belief, geographical conditions, mode of thinking, etc .So color has its cultural differences in sense of value, and its associative meanings are different, so is its usage in language .Now, we will discuss it from the following aspects to better understand the difference of the color words.


1. The Cultural Differences in the View of Value

    1.1Different Nations Have Different Aesthetics View

    For example, there is a custom to paint the teeth black in the western part of the

    Vietnam and the guys and the girls are more beautiful if their tooth are blacker In America., people regard white as a sign of beauty. The white people consider themselves as more superior to the other nations, especially compared to the black people, there exists racial discrimination in this country. In South African, racial apartheid policy is widely existed. For the women, white skin is a tradition in China, while in America and Australia people are fond of having their shin sun-tanned. 1.2The Cultural Differences of the Color can be Reflected in the Taboo

    There exist certain taboos for the people because of the different cultural background. The Japanese regard green as unlucky. In Belgium, blue is unpopular because it reminds people of sadness. In France, the yellow flower is considered to be an unloyal symbol. White isnt accepted by the Indian people. In European countries, black is a symbol of dignity and cant be used in the bedroom.

    1.3The Cultural Differences of the Color Can be Reflected in the Mode of Thinking

    Political belief element

    Red stands for the communism in Sri Lanka The member in this party often wear the red clothes in different occasions.


    Religions belief element

    The feudal rulers are fond of yellow in our feudalist dynasty. The governors were dressed in yellow or purple which means power in Christian. So to be raised to

    the purple has the meaning of getting a high position or popular. It is well-known

    that the Christian culture produced a profound effect on the Western world. The clear feature in the costume is that the bride dressing in white, while the bride-groom dressing in black. Because white is closely related to the purity and innocence and black is associated with dignity.

    Custom element

    In England, females wearing different color words to show their marriage attitude.Yellow stand the half-hope. Green is a sign of agreement .While red means disagree. There is a custom of “new, old, borrow, blue” for the wedding. “New” means

    the brides new dress, which. Symbolizes the beginning of the new life. Old refers to

    the white dress which should be used by her mother to show the deep emotion of her mother “Borrow” means the brides white handkerchief which shows the intimate

    friendship of her good friends. “Blue” refers to the ribbon which symbolizes the loyalty

    of their love.

    Occupation element

    Each occupation has its own clothes in the world and the color of the clothes is

    thclosely concerned. Green is popular in the army .There was a war in the late 19 century.

    British started a war with the South African .The percentage was 5:1.At first, the south


    African failed, but later they found that the British were dressed in red which was easy to be found, while green looked the same with the grass , so it was not to be found and they painted their clothes and weapon green .Finally , they won the war . In some countries, people don not like green; if you want to do business with them successfully, you have to pay special attention to your address, especially the color of the dress. Green is offensive.

    2. The Cultural Differences in the Application of the Color Terms

    Color words are usually rich in associative meanings and the associative meanings are influenced by the nations customs, geographical conditions ,religious belief ,

    cultural background , etc .The American linguist-Pamol says color has a great

    psychological result”. Black is a sign of sadness or unfortunate when something sad or disastrous happens. Sometimes color words have the same or the similar meaning both

     in China and western world. For example, red is often associated with “enthusiasm”

    Black is closely connected with sadness, unfortunate or dignity .Green is largely concerned with being vigorous . But sometimes there exist great differences in the associative meaning[1]. The following examples are examples that display the application of the color words in Chinese and English culture.

    2.1 Red and its symbol meaning

    The red is usually associated with celebrations and joyful occasions .This is true


    both in English speaking countries and in China .In English we find such expressions as a red letter day , paint the town red and the red carpet A red letter day” refers to

    a day specially looked forward to, or remembered, when something remarkable and usually pleasurable will happen ,or happened , as in My father said the day I was born

    was a red letter day .This expression is from calendars that have days printed in red and other days printed in black . The red carpet” is a symbol of respectful reception

    or attention, as in They neednt expect to be given the red carpet treatment ’’. In China,

    双喜 is either written in red or written on a piece of red paper to symbolize an event of special joy, such as a wedding or opening a business. 红喜事 specially refers to

    weddings. 披红挂i is a traditional way to celebrate an event of happiness. Similarly, in 开门红,the red color is a symbol of good fortune.

    The red color is not always associated with something joyful. In English the red light district refers to a district within a town or city where there are brothels, as in She spent the past 30 years helping the prostitutes in the red light district.

    Running a business in the red means running it at a loss. This expression came from

    the color of the ink used in keeping accounts: figures indicating loss are customarily written in red. Red tape means the rigid application and observation of rules and regulations in all their minute details without regard for the end they are designed to achieve, as in “Beaverbrook simply wanted to get things done. He hated red tape. This

    expression came from lawyers and government official’s former practice of keeping

    their papers and records in bundles tied with red tape.


    Red is also associated with certain emotions in both English and Chinese. In English, to become red- faced or her face turned red shows embarrassment or

    shyness, as 脸红 does in Chinese. But some English expressions involving the color red may not be so readily understood by Chinese, see red, wave a red flag, red rag etc are associated with anger or excitement. See red means to get extremely angry as in

    Its just that I see red when I think anyone is trying to muscle in on my property

    waving a red flag means doing something that could cause quick anger in other

    people. Red meat is simply beef and mutton, in contrast with white meat which

    refers to chicken and other fowls, while red caps refer to potters in American English

    or military policemen in British English.

    In both English and Chinese, red is associated with revolution and communism. In English, the word Red with a capital R is often used as a synonym for a communist,

    usually in a derogatory sense. For example, the English expression Reds under the

    bed refers to communists or left-wing activists. In contrast, red is the color that the Chinese people like. It is perhaps, the most widely used Chinese character in Chinese person names. Sometimes red is a sign of danger or urgency, red alert is associated

    with dangerous. In English, “Red guard” refers to British Royal Army.

    2.2 Yellow and its symbol meaning

    Yellow is in Chinese. It appears in many pejorative expressions such as

    色电影 (obscene films), 黄色书刊filthy publication( 黄色音乐 (vulgar music),

    etc. which mean contain obscene or pornographic materials. And traditionally,


    was associated with the royal family in China. However, yellow does not carry these associations in English. The word yellow originated from America of the

    th19.centuries There were two capitalists, in order to enlarge their business, they put some unhealthy pictures on the newspaper in which there was an article naming Yellow Kid. So, people regarded yellow as a symbol of obscene and this kind of paper was regarded yellow paper. But yellow journalism refers to a kind of journalism with

    heavy emphasis on scandals or presenting ordinary news in a sensational effect. And Yellow pages is a book with the telephone numbers of different shops, restaurants, business, organizations, etc. its pages are yellow, but it is not a 黄书 in the Chinese

    sense of the expression. Besides its basic meaning yellow has the meaning of jealous,

    suspicious, and timid. Person who is yellow has no courage. In ancient China, the

    yellow word symbolized the imperial power. The common people were prohibit from wearing the clothes with color yellow, because only the emperor wore the yellow clothes, which symbolized the emperor had high power and could rule all people. When visiting the palace in China, you will know the yellow word is dignified and powerful. While in Western countries, people admire purple. The kings were dressed in purple. In China , if people go to some place or having important things to do who always choose lucky day which is used in Chinese language. But there is not this expression in English. In addition, there is yellow announcement in ancient China, while is used to register in

    [2]examination, successful people also express lucky.

    2.3 White words symbol meaning and its usage in idioms


    To native speakers of English or Chinese white connotes purity, innocence. This is why the brides are dressed in white in Western countries and A white lie is a lie that

    does no harm and is merely more convenient or polite than telling the truth, as in “I said

    there was no more drink in the housea white lie amply justified by the need to get him

    sobered up. But in China, the color white sometimes expresses the unfortunate things, when someone dies, people always wear white clothes. So, we must pay attention to the color white.

    In some English expressions white has other associations A white Christmas

    refers to snow at Christmas time, as in The women rubbed her hands and observed that

    it was cold enough to have a white Christmas. This expression is in contrast with a

    green Christmas that refers to “a Christmas without snow. A white-collar job is a

    professional, business or clerical employment as in The expansion of higher education

    lead an increasing number of people to expect white-collar jobs. “A white hope refers

    to a talented person who is likely to bring success or victory as in Our white hope

    wrecked his knee on the eve of the matchso we were doomed from the start.

    In English speaking countries, the color white isnt necessarily associated with

    something good. In a white elephant, the white feather and a white night”, white

    has bad or unpleasant connotations. A white elephant is something useless, seldom

    .[4]used or too costly to be worth maintaining” The white feather, derived from

    cock-fighting, where a game cock displaying the white rim of feather under his hackle acknowledges defeat, wants to give up, is a symbol of fear cowardice or timidity, A


    white night is simply a sleepless night, as in I was not particularly tired or sleepy after my white night. And a white slave refers to a white skinned prostitute, especially

    one inveigled into a foreign country by promise of other employment. As in people say

    that Earls court is center of the white slave trade I wouldnt doubt it There is a

    continual sexual electricity in the air .In English ,white can also be a symbol of

    hypocrisy , white sepulcher has the meaning of immortality (Bible )

    White has the other meanings of being honest, liable. .If someone says “This is

    very white of you , you should feel pleasant. White in Chinese is different from the white in English .When referring to the human race ,we can say the white people

    or the black people , but “这个女孩皮肤白” we cant say the girl has a white

    complexion It should be translated into The girl has a fair complexion’’ .It should be

    noted that when referring to the complexion ,the word fair has the same meaning with 白色 in Chinese

    In our country , 白色 is closely related to death , and it symbolizes the sadness and unfortunate .White in English words sometimes doesn’t have the meaning of

    in Chinese ,such as white coffee. When translating the Chinese into English , we should pay special attention to “白”which has nothing to do with white .For

    example , 白开水-plain boiled water , “白痴 - idiot ,白菜-Chinese cabbage .

    2.4 Black words symbol meaning

    In both English and Chinese black is often associated with negative qualities , as in

    blacklist ,black market and black hearted .More examples in English may include


a black day , a black spot, a black sheep , a black mood , a black comedy and

    a black look . A black day ’’ is a day or some less specific point of time when something sad or disastrous happens , as in If your superiors take the same hopeless attitudes as you do , it will be a black day for your country . A black spot is a place

    or area where unpleasant and unwanted things occur regularly and without much chance of improvement . A black sheep” refers to the member (of a family or other groups) who is thought to be a disgrace to other members, as in Now every profession has of

    course got its black sheep.” A black mood refers to a fit of depression, bad temper.

    etc. as in This is not time to ask the boss for a favor , he has been in a black mood ever since the Board Meeting.

    Interestingly, in business English, “in the black has a good meaning: running a

    business profitably, as in Since he became the manager ,the company has been running in the black.

    In some expressions black has neutral associations .In black and white, for

    example, means something in writing or in print , as black letters on white paper . In old

    Chinese, black is a symbol of justice.

    2.5 Blue and its symbol meaning

    In Chinese, blue will remind people of the sky and wide sea or a bright future ,while in Western culture, blue is usually associated with unhappy feelings .He

    was blue over his dismissal simply means He was sad for his dismissal . More ever,

    either in a blue mood or having the blues means a sad ,gloomy or depressed mood


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