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Original scientific paper

Cracking the colour code: A case study of red

Draženka Molnar orcid id ; Filozofski fakultet u Osijeku

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page 363-383

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For both physiological and psychological reasons the colour red is one of the most salient and semantically productive basic colours for human beings. Due to its stability over time, it has received a prominent status among speakers of different language communities. The present paper demonstrates a parallel semasiological analysis of linguistic expressions containing the colour term red in English and Croatian. Contrastive analysis of online corpora seeks to give insights into contextual samples and numerous meaning extensions in both languages under study. In line with Rosch’s prototype theory (1973, 1975) and Lakoff’s model of radial networks (1987), the extensions of the polysemous category RED are presented as networks of related senses emanating from the prototypical core. Available empirical data in the colour domain clearly suggest that there are both universal and language/culture-specific facets of colour terms. The aim of the paper is therefore twofold. Firstly, it has been argued that fairly universal natural prototypes, such as blood and fire, motivate the conceptualizations underlying non-central readings in both languages (Wierzbicka 1990; Verosub 1994). Secondly, the analysis attempts to confirm the crucial role of two cognitive mechanisms – metaphor and metonymy – in such a lexical creation. Special attention is paid to identification of metonymic types as construal of human thought, where we expect to find some cross-linguistic commonalities. The entrenchment of senses, on the other hand, might point to language/culture-specific variations. Therefore, it has been argued that the underlying cognitive mechanisms can only partly account for the wealth of the figurative expressions across languages. In order to describe how conventional figurative units really function, we suggest a rather dynamic meaning construal involving both knowledge of the language and relevant cultural factors.


colour term red; conceptual metonymy and metaphor; polysemy; meaning extensions; radial network; prototype-based categorisation; cross-linguistic corpus analysis

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