So there’s this thing going around about how supposedly no one could see the color blue until modern times. I’m not sure I buy that; it’s interesting, but sounds like all the other pseudo-science and “history” sloshing around my social media feeds. And I don’t have the time to investigate it well enough to form an opinion. The Chinese have a colour that we don’t. Does that mean we can’t see it? Are we missing out?
The relationship between language and culture (or language and perception) is fascinating. I suspect that if I could somehow perceive the world from a born-and-bred Mainland Chinese perspective, my mind would short-circuit within the first few minutes.
Anyway, that article reminded me of the Chinese colour é’ (qÄ«ng), aka blue, green, black, blackish-green, and the color of nature. The coworker I just asked says qÄ«ng is “a little bit greener than green” ï¼ˆâ€œæ¯”ç»¿è‰²ç»¿ä¸€ç‚¹â€ï¼‰ã€‚ Our almost-6-year-old daughter, who’s spent the last three years in an all-Chinese preschool and with whom we’ve never discussed qÄ«ng, mentioned the other day (without prompting from us) that qÄ«ng is “in rainbows, it’s really pretty green.”
One of the fun things about Anthropology 101 is discovering that there are different ways cultures categorize the world, including the color spectrum. Look at these less-than-helpful dictionary entries for the Chinese colour qÄ«ng:
In Chinese other words are usually used for blue è“ï¼Œgreen ç»¿ï¼Œ and black é»‘ã€‚ If I ask my Chinese kindergarten students the colour of the sky or grass or coal, they’ll probably use one of those three, not qÄ«ng é’ã€‚ But qÄ«ng isn’t rare; our city is QÄ«ngdÇŽo (é’å²›ï¼š “QÄ«ng Island”), our street is QÄ«ngshÄn Rd. (é’å±±è·¯: “QÄ«ng Mountain Rd.”), and there’s a province called QÄ«nghÇŽi (é’æµ·ï¼š “QÄ«ng Sea”). In these place names, islands, mountains, and oceans can all be qÄ«ng, but aside from that I’ve never heard someone refer to an object as qÄ«ng. Apparently the 1800-year-old dictionary é‡Šå defines qÄ«ng as “birth, like the color of things born” ï¼ˆç”Ÿä¹Ÿï¼Œè±¡ç‰©ç”Ÿæ—¶è‰²ä¹Ÿï¼‰ã€‚
Interestingly enough, a Google image search for â€œé’â€ (“qÄ«ng“) turned up entries for the colour, and shows mostly blue, while a Baidu image search (the Chinese Google equivalent) turned up entries for words that contain the é’ character, and shows mostly green.
But searching for â€œé’è‰²â€ (“the colour qÄ«ng“) yields more similar results:
It’s almost like Chinese qÄ«ng belongs in Dr. Seuss:
He has something called qÄ«ng.
qÄ«ng is so hard to get,
You never saw anything
Like it, I bet.
Then the qÄ«ng…
It went qÄ«ng!
And, oh boy! What a qÄ«ng!
Now, don’t ask me what qÄ«ng is.
I never will know.
But, boy! Let me tell you
It DOES clean up snow!
IMO, our differences between cultures are much more profound than we tend to realize, and they don’t get the respect they deserve. But even deeper than that runs what we have in common, and that transcends biological and cultural differences.
For more about qÄ«ng:
For more language and perception: