A Bilingual Child: Not blue

Variations of blue

The future is bright, the future is blue (Wikipedia)

One of Mr. T’s first words wasblue‘.  This is hardly surprising as my football team back in the UK, Birmingham City, are nicknamed Blues.  I am certain that this is due to the fact that they play in blue rather than a near-lifetime of giving me the blues.  Whatever, the reason, I made sure he was exposed to the name for the colour very early on in his life with songs and chants that it was almost inevitable that it would be one of his earliest words.

Since then, other colour words have been very slow coming.  He will say ‘red’ and has something approaching ‘black’ but sounds more like ‘ba‘.  He has a word for ‘white’ that is similar to the English, and he knows the word ‘orange’, but only in the context of ‘The Gruffalo’.

The interesting thing is that all the colour words he uses are English ones.  Our theory for why this should be so is the mere fact that the English words are generally a lot shorter and easier to say; compare ‘red’ with its Portuguese equivalent of ‘vermelho‘.

He understands most other colour words, in both English or Portuguese, he just hasn’t got around to remembering how to say them.  To get around this he has devised a cunning strategy.

Yesterday evening I picked him up from school and the teacher had drawn an alligator on his hand, or a ‘jacaré‘ as it is known in Portuguese and to Mr. T.  The jacaré was green so I asked him what colour it was and he looked at it for a bit and then proudly declared ‘Not blue!’


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3 thoughts on “A Bilingual Child: Not blue

  1. With my daughter, it was “green”, and she went through a phase of saying “other green” when she meant blue or yellow. It always used to make me think of “evergreen”! Funnily enough, though, she was quite happy to use the Greek words for blue or yellow (!)

    • There is a great book called ‘Through the Language Looking Glass’ by Guy Deutchser. It talks a lot about how we perceive colour and how that is reflected in our vocabulary for colour. It uses a lot of Ancient Greek to look at whether our perceptions have changed over time. It is a brilliant book and you can see a review I wrote about it here http://goo.gl/kyx4J5

      • Oh wow, thanks! That does look interesting. I have noted both books – the one you reviewed and the other mentioned in the comments – and I shall definitely order them. Funny thing about the wine-coloured sea – still today in modern Greek a lot more food vocabulary is used to describe colour – like cabbage, morello cherry, wine, carrot, coffee, walnut, etc. When was the last time in English you described something as “egg-yolk coloured”?!

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