Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

This dissertation discusses the color terms of the Old Norse-Icelandic (or Old West Norse) language and seeks to establish which color terms in that language are basic (i.e., not further reducible, as English scarlet is to red), and what the fields of reference of these color terms are. By establishing how the color spectrum is divided in Old West Norse, and deducing the sequence in which these color terms became basic, it is also possible to test diachronic theories of the emergence of basic color terms, especially those developed since 1969 by Paul Kay and associated scholars. After comparing the color terms of Old West Norse with the criteria for basic color terms (as presented in the most recent studies and reference works), I conclude by suggesting that Old Norse has seven basic color terms: blár (blue), bleikr (yellow), grár (gray), grǿnn (green), hvítr (white), rauðr (red) and svartr (black). In the terms of the most recent version of Paul Kay's theory, Old West Norse is a Stage V language which organizes the color spectrum in a manner similar to some North American languages. I suggest also that the Old West Norse color vocabulary developed from an earlier Stage IIIBk/Bu vocabulary, a stage that has been postulated but never shown to exist in another known language. My examination of the fields of reference of individual Old West Norse color terms also leads to major innovations in our understanding of how to read and translate these terms. Among other new ideas, I demonstrate reason to doubt the popular notion that blár is better translated as black than blue, establishing that its use for ravens is poetic (and justified by close examination of ravens) and that the overwhelming evidence of its referents points to a meaning focused near that of English blue. I also postulate that gulr is not a basic color term for yellow in Old West Norse, as has previously been suggested, but that bleikr probably is, and that this term, though focused near English yellow, also includes other non-optimal (i.e. non-red) warm colors such as pink, orange, and brown.

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