The blue area requires more than one basic colour term in Italian

Prof. Galina V. Paramei - Liverpool Hope University, UK
Date and time
Monday, November 26, 2012 at 5:15 PM - 5:00 p.m. rinfresco; 5:15 p.m. inizio seminario
Ca' Vignal - Piramide, Floor 0, Hall Verde
Programme Director
Gloria Menegaz
External reference
Publication date
November 16, 2012
Computer Science  


‘Blue’ is one of the 11 basic colour terms (BCTs) in languages with a developed colour term inventory (Berlin & Kay, 1969). Recently, however, the evidence challenging this assertion has accumulated: several languages apparently have two BCTs designating the blue area. Among these are some Slavic languages (Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Belarusian); ‘Mediterranean’ (Catalan, Greek, Turkish, Maltese, Arab) and ‘Far East’ (Mandarin Chinese, Japanese).
In Italian, the ‘Blue challenge’ to the Berlin-Kay model is being empirically addressed in the last years by three groups who all use psycholinguistic methods. The conclusion is unanimous in that, unlike (one) English blue, Italian requires more than one ‘Blue’ BCT. The consensus is incomplete, though: it is argued that Italian has two ‘Blue’ BCTs, azzurro ‘light blue’ and blu ‘dark blue’ (Paggetti et al., 2011; Paggetti & Menegaz, 2012); in comparison, Uusküla’s (2012) findings point out to three BCTs: celeste ‘light blue’, azzurro ‘medium blue’ and blu ‘dark blue’.
In my talk I will report results of our study with Italian speakers on mapping colour names onto the blue area of colour space, with the aim to explore terms used most frequently, as well as focal colours for these, and to compare with the outcome for English speakers. Eight Munsell charts (7.5 BG–5 PB) were used spanning the Hue from cyan to blue-purple and varying in Value and Chroma (The Munsell Book of Color, glossy edition). Monolingual Italians (N=13; Sardinia, Alghero) and British English monolinguals (N=13; Liverpool) performed the task. Participants named each Munsell chip using an unconstrained colour naming method. Following this, they indicated the best example (focal colour) of most frequent CTs (blue, light blue, turquoise, English; celeste, azzurro, blu, turchese, Italian). In addition, we tested Italian-English bilinguals residing in the Liverpool (N=13), in both languages, while questioning whether bilinguals’ focal blu undergoes a shift towards the focal blue (cf. Athanasopoulos, 2009).
For the Italian speakers, both monolingual and bilingual, we found that to name the blue area they required at least three CTs, with the most frequent and consistent use of celeste, azzurro and blu. Italian focal azzurro was found to map closely onto the English focal blue whereas celeste focals significantly overlapped with focals for light blue. As expected, Italian focal blu appeared darker than the English focal blue. Notably, in bilinguals, highly proficient in English and long immersed in the UK, the focal celeste and blu were shifted, compared to monolinguals, which conceivably indicates a conceptual adjustment to the English blue category.
In conclusion, I will discuss factors that may have affected the inference of either two or three Italian ‘Blue’ BCTs in the studies in question, in particular the format of the colour naming method and the stimulus sets employed, as well as variation in Italian dialects between the regions where these studies have been carried out.

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