[b-hebrew] Colors and language

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Aug 21 09:37:57 EDT 2007

On 8/21/07, JAMES CHRISTIAN READ wrote:
> YS:But what he claims with the Piraha is that they do
> not have a single word for any color names.  Thus, one day
> they may say, take the gold-colored bowl, the next day,
> take the fire-colored bowl, etc.  The choice changes as the
> mood changes, and this is not because there are
> synonyms in the vocabulary, but because color names are
> not in their vocabulary.
> JCR: I'm not sure where you are getting this argument
> from. But it's not presented in any of the links you
> provided.

I got it from your article, as I understood it, but you should really
read the pdf through.  In general, the issue at hand is that the
Piraha refrain from coining words for abstract concepts.  Thus,
the following:

> "I can see three glasses. Two hold clear liquids the
> other holds a red liquid. One is water, one is water
> dyed red and the other is hydrochloric acid and I'm
> thirsty."

is not something the Piraha would be able to say in
their language, if I understood what he wrote in the pdf
(I read most of it now).  It involves counting, as well as
inferences from past experiences relating to water and
acid.  I'm not sure they would differentiate between
blood and red-dyed water, or water from clear but
poisoned water.  All this is based on my understanding
of the pdf.

> Anyway, back to the Hebrew. The reason I brought all of
> this up is because Isaac really needs to put his theory
> within the framework of linguistics and saying that
> 'indo-european languages have lost their root system'
> really isn't enough to get out of doing the necessary
> legwork because there are a whole range of living
> languages out there that don't belong to the i-e group
> that Isaac could use to make comparisons with that do
> still have their root system in tact.

I think Isaac has more serious problems in that he does
not use any standard linguistic methodology, nor relate it
to linguistic studies.  One compare with the Piraha study
where the differences with common linguistic theories are
highlighted and the author indeed takes to task those
concepts with which he disagrees.  The only thing he
seems to offer is his theory.  If you accept his theory, you
will understand Hebrew on a whole new different level.  How
do you know that this new understanding is correct?  I'm not

Yitzhak Sapir

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list