Yellow as an PIE word

From: x99lynx@...
Message: 18027
Date: 2003-01-24

"alex_lycos" <altamix@...> wrote (Thu Jan 23, 2003  7:37 pm)
<<yellow... from P.Gmc. *gelwaz, from PIE *ghel-/*ghol- "yellow, green...>>

A note regarding the assumption that a word for "yellow" or "green" or
"yellow-green" existed in PIE. (I swore to myself not do this but I this
thread just made me do it.)

Antropologists investigating isolated, pre-literate cultures have found that
such abstractions do not tend to exist among such people. Claiming that
there was such an abstract color word equivalent to modern yellow or green is
a case that suggests that some PIE reconstructions may be reconstructions of
words that never existed.

Even Berlin & Kay -- whom I believe unjustifiably assume such abstractions
existed -- can find only three of their "Basic Color Words" for the Homeric
Greeks. Yellow was not one of them.

A more likely scenario is that our more modern color words arose as words for
dyes (e.g., purple) or other items of some regular color and then were much,
much later applied to abstracted colors (colors separated from objects).

One example of the process is seen in the Greek <glaukos> which originally
gave "no connotation of color" (per Liddell-Scott). <glaukos> might be
interpreted as 'gleaming' or 'shining'. It was early applied mainly to the
shining of the sea, and also to the eyes of a lion.

<glaukos> would later apparently come to refer to the color of grapes, vine
leaves, the elder tree, beryl, topaz, emerald, green eyes, gray eyes, eyes
afflicted with glaukoma, an owl, marble, perhaps a white-eyed duck
(glaukion), a fish apparently "of gray color"(?), a Chian inventor (glaukos),
a dyeing of wool (glaukoo:), a color of hair or a horses' mane,
"gray-colored" olives (?!!!) (glaukochroos), the moon (Glauko), "the sea-gray
color of arms"(?) (glauko:lenos), Athene (glaukopis), of the olive
(glaukopis), of the moon (glaukopis), dragon eyes (glaukops), snake eyes
(glaukops), and possibly derivatively, to shine, glitter (glaussô), august,
holy (glauron), shining, radiant (glauson), bold-spiried, confident, eager

On this basis, <glaukos> has been defined as "bluish-green" (a rather dubious
supposed description of the color of an olive), or "bluish green or gray".
Perseus says that <glaukos> most commonly occurs in conjunction with <elaia>,
the olive. Logically one might think that what happened was that the shining
or glassy surface of the sea was analogized to the shining or glassy surface
of eyes which was analogized to the appearance of the olive. (We have
attested <glaukops> (shining-eye) as meaning "olive".) So that it was not
the color but the gleam of the olive that was then being referred to. And as
to eyes, <glaukos> seems to have meant nothing more specific than bright,
translucent or "not dark" (see <diaglausso:>, shine through). Of course,
later, one would assume the more that <glaukos> would mean olive, the more it
would come to mean some kind of green. But just as likely that the learned
assumption that the word must have meant a color has falsely contributed to
the idea that the modern Newtonian concept of color and hue actually applied
in the past.

Let me suggest there was no word for "yellow" in these early languages.
There were only words that analogized objects of common experience
(bronze-like, like-the-sun-shining, gold-like, deerskin-like, etc., and
whatever <chloros> originally meant). "Shining" of course is not a color.
The idea of shining could be applied to a "shining" black. Shining does not
logically mean yellow, unless we connect it to a specific object (e.g., the
sun, gold, copper, the sea, the moon, whatever).

There was no word for color in Homeric Greek. When Plato finally approaches
the concept of color, as separate from an object itself, he takes the word
from <chro:s>, skin, surface.

And for that reason reconstructing a PIE word for yellow or green or red
might not only be creating a fiction, it might also be missing the true
semantic identities of and connection between the concrete objects that those
modern abstract words came from. To the extent that the reconstruction of
phonological development is based on such inaccurate meanings or
anachronistic concepts, they may also be off.

Steve Long