Notes following the Sixteenth Meeting, 1st February 2012



The sixteenth meeting of the GCSG took place in Room 1, English Language, University of Glasgow. Thanks are due to Carole Hough, who acted as master of ceremonies, and to Christian Kay who organized the refreshments.


Our speakers were David Robinson and Peter Drummond, both from Celtic and Gaelic, School of Humanities, University of Glasgow.


David Robinson spoke on ‘Colours in Scottish Languages’


His abstract is as follows:


“This paper will examine the words that have been used in Scotland over the centuries to describe colours, in the range of languages used here from before the Gaels came over from Ireland to the present day, including English, Scots, Gaelic, Norn and British. Colour words from different periods, places and languages will be presented, and the movement of words from one language to another will provide evidence that not all colours are equal: there are several different words for 'black' whereas most of these languages have a word denoting ‘red’. Words for 'orange' and 'purple' have been borrowed from English. This data will be used as evidence of the colour systems that have been used in Scotland and of evolution within those systems.”


Commentary (Carole Biggam):


David presented the Basic Colour Terms of the languages of Scotland, as listed in his abstract. He pointed out that Gaelic ruadh ‘red’, which has cognates in most Indo-European languages, has a focus which leans towards orange. New red words have developed in both Welsh (coch) and Gaelic (dearg), and the latter carries negative connotations. It is also often used of things which have been processed, such as smoked herring, the colour of which appears to be appropriate for ruadh, but which is described as dearg. David suggests that Gaelic has two basic colour categories in the red region, denoted by the BCTs ruadh and dearg. This would mean that Gaelic has twelve basic categories, as opposed to the eleven categories in English.


David also discussed the contrast between Germanic and Celtic languages in the area of blue and green. In Germanic, these are separate colour categories, but Celtic languages have a ‘grue’ category (green+blue+grey), referred to as glas. Newer Gaelic words in this area are uaine, denoting a vivid green, and gorm indicating a bluer green. Brown is denoted in Gaelic by donn which is cognate with the only colour loan-word in English (dun) from a Celtic language. The Scots word for orange was first borrowed from Dutch (oranje), and latterly from English. With the shift to universal education and increased anglicization from the late nineteenth century, colour translations between, particularly, Gaelic and English were often confused and misleading.


Peter Drummond spoke on ‘Gaelic Colour Words in the Landscape’


His abstract is as follows:


“I will examine the use of colour adjectives in place-names in Scotland, both from Gaelic and Scots, and with particular reference to hills. Among other points, I will consider why Gaelic colour adjectives in the toponyms often precede the noun to which they relate, contrary to the normal rule in the language whereby adjectives follow the noun.”


Commentary (Carole Biggam):


Peter began with an overview of colour terms in hill names. Blaven (Blà Bheinn) ‘Blue Hill’on Skye includes the Norse colour term bla, but blue names are generally rare. Gaelic colour names abound in hill names, the most common being: white names with geal, bàn and fionn; black names with dubh; red names with ruadh and dearg; and yellow names with buidhe. There are at least 200 peaks with dubh-names, while ruadh occurs mainly in the north-west where the Torridonian sandstone (reddish and brownish) occurs. Other Gaelic colour terms occurring in hill-names are: grey and greyish names with glas, liath and riabhach; green and greenish names with gorm and uaine; brown and brownish names with donn and odhar; and speckled names with breac. The Cairngorms is a well-known gorm-name which, originally, referred only to a particular peak (Càrn Gorm). Scots colour words in hill names are: blue, black, brown, dun, green, red, white and yellow. They often occur in pairs for neighbouring hills, especially black and white.


Hills are very commonly named with colour words in Scotland, but less so elsewhere in the British Isles. Of the highest Scottish hills, the Munros, 24 per cent have colour names, whereas 18 per cent of Welsh hills have colour names, 10 per cent of Irish hills, and only 7 per cent of the hills in the English Lake District. Colour terms occur, of course, in other toponyms, such as Gaelic buidhe in Kilbowie and dubh in Bardowie. English colour terms also occur in other toponyms but brown occurs only in hill names, for example, Brown Cow Hill.


Colour in place-names can have a contrastive function, as in the White Cart (river) and the Black Cart, but they can also stand alone, as in Red Burn and Greens (a farm) which have no nearby colour names. Distribution maps show that some areas have large numbers of colour names, as in the area south and west of Fort William, and the region above Drumochter, while Rannoch Moor has several names with buidhe which may indicate the palish grasses that grow there. The reasons for naming locations with colour terms, however, are not always obvious. ‘White’ names sometimes indicate the presence of quartzite rock, but they are unlikely to denote snow, since that does not occur all year round. Some hill-tops, however, may be devoid of heather with only palish grasses managing to survive, and this may explain a ‘white’ name.





 Contents of New Directions in Colour Studies (for publication details, see under ‘News’ above)


Theoretical Issues:

Illusions of colour and shadow, Frederick A. A. Kingdom.

Universal trends and specific deviations: multidimensional scaling of colour terms

from the World Colour Survey, David Bimler.

Touchy-feely colour, Mazviita Chirimuuta.

Towards a semiotic theory of basic colour terms and the semiotics of Juri Lotman,

Urmas Sutrop.


Languages of the World:

Basic colour terms of Arabic, Abdulrahman S. Al-Rasheed et al.

Red herrings in a sea of data: exploring colour terms with the SCOTS Corpus, Wendy


Towards a diachrony of Maltese basic colour terms, Alexander Borg.

Rosa Schätze – Pink zum kaufen: stylistic confusion, subjective perception and

semantic uncertainty of a loaned colour term, Claudia Frenzel-Biamonti.

Kashubian colour vocabulary, Danuta Stanulewicz and Adam Pawłowski.

Colour terms: evolution via expansion of taxonomic constraints, Ekaterina V.

Rakhilina and Galina V. Paramei.

Preliminary research on Turkish basic colour terms with an emphasis on blue, Kaidi


Terms for red in Central Europe: an areal phenomenon in Hungarian and Czech, Mari



Colour in Society:

Colours in the community: surnames and bynames in Scottish society, Ellen S.


Hues and cries: Francis Bacon’s use of colour, Nicholas Chare.

Colour appearance in urban chromatic studies, Michel Cler.

Aspects of armorial colours and their perception in medieval literature, Michael J.


Warm, cool, light, dark or afterimage: dimensions and connotations of conceptual

colour metaphor/metonym, Jodi L. Sandford.

The power of colour term precision: the user of non-basic colour terms in nineteenth-

century English travelogues about northern Scandinavia, Anders Steinvall.


Categorical Perception of Colour:

Investigating the underlying mechanisms of categorical perception of colour using the

event-related potential technique, Alexandra Clifford et. al.

Category training affects colour discrimination but only in the right visual field, Gilda

Drivonikou et al.

Effects of stimulus range on colour categorization, Oliver Wright.


Individual Differences in Colour Vision:

Colour and autism spectrum disorders, Anna Franklin and Paul Sowden.

Red-green dichromats’ use of basic colour terms, Julio Lillo, Humberto Moreira and

Ian R. L. Davies.

Synaesthesia in colour, Julia Simner.

Towards a phonetically-rich account of speech-sound → colour synaesthesia, Rachel

Smith et al.

Perceiving ‘grue’: filter simulations of aged lenses support the Lens-Brunescence

hypothesis and reveal individual categorization types, Sebastian Walter.


Colour Preference and Colour Meaning:

Age-dependence of colour preference in the U.K. population, Yazhu Ling and Anya


Ecological valence and human colour preference, Stephen E. Palmer and Karen B.


Look and learn: links between colour preference and colour cognition, Nicola J.

Pitchford, Emma E. Davis and Gaia Scerif.

Effects of lightness and saturation on colour associations in the Mexican population,

Lilia Roselía Prado-León and Rosa Amelia Rosales-Cinco.

Colour and emotion, David R. Simmons.

Colours and colour adjectives in the cortex, Alessio Plebe, Marco Mazzone and

Vivian De La Cruz.


Colour Vision Science:


Chromatic perceptual learning, Paul T. Sowden et al.

Unique hues: perception and brain imaging, Sophie M. Wuerger and Laura Parkes.

A short note on visual balance judgements as a tool for colour appearance matching,

Lucia R. Ronchi.


Dr C P Biggam, FSA
English Language
School of Critical Studies
University of Glasgow