Friday, 8 August 2014

Moten Word for the Day

va /va/, noun: “colour, tint, hue”

Yes, I went there ;).

Anyway, as promised last time, here’s the second part of my discussion on Moten colours.

While no|se and leksod refer respectively to brightness and darkness, as well as specific parts of the colour spectrum, va is just the generic word for “colour” or “hue”. On its own, it’s nothing special, but it becomes much more interesting when we look at its use as part of compounds.

Although Moten lacks basic colour terms, it can form ad-hoc, context-sensitive colour names by compounding various words with va as the last element. Before you ask how this is any different from for instance naming a colour after a fruit (“orange”), notice the key words here:

  • ad-hoc means that the compounds used are not set phrases. They do not have a generally accepted meaning and are not lexicalised. They are just compounds that are formed on the fly, something that Moten’s strong compounding capabilities easily allows.
  • context-sensitive means that the same compound can refer to a different colour depending on the context where it is used. Moten, in a similar way to Japanese, is very strongly pro-drop and relies a lot on context to clarify sentences. In other words, to a European ear Moten sentences will often sound more like hints towards a specific message, rather than the specific message itself.

To illustrate, here are a few examples:

A common ad-hoc formation is to combine the noun at: “fire” with va, forming adva: “fire colour”. But what does adva mean exactly? Well, it depends. Fire has various colours. So in the absence of any specific context, adva will usually refer to some kind of warm colour, ranging from yellow to orange to red. However, if the conversation mentioned something like a natural gas or an alcohol fire, which naturally burn blue, then adva will normally refer to that kind of blue colour!

In the same way, a term like bova: “sky colour” will usually refer to a colour “similar to that of the sky at the moment of the conversation”, unless the context says otherwise. In any case, bova can refer to basically any colour the sky can take, from light blue to grey to orange to black!

A last example is knamava: “grass colour”. If you think this will usually refer to a green colour, you’ll be right some of the time. But grass can also be yellow, and some specific sorts of grass have blue-grey hues. Knamava can refer to all those tints, and once again you need to rely on context to know which one is meant.

Naturally, it’s possible to form more specific compounds, when one wants to be clearer and rely less on context. But in any case, the various colour terms formed that way do not have a meaning independent from the thing or object described by the compounded word.


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