Colours – they paint beautiful pictures in front of our eyes every day. However, they definitely have more functions. They carry hidden meaning and, depending on the culture in question, they can be understood in completely different way. Therefore, if we have contact with people from other countries it is worth understanding reality from their perspective, regardless of whether we are culture experts, translators or travellers.

For people from West, red primarily reminds us of love, usually shown in the form of hearts.

It is also associated with danger and it often appears on prohibition and warning signs. In many Asian cultures, especially in China, this colour is traditionally supposed to bring good luck. Therefore, during Chinese festivals doorways are decorated with red couplets, relatives give each other red envelopes with money inside, and brides wear red qipao. Wedding dresses of Indian women are also red – this time as a symbol of their purity.

Ao Dai, Moda, Kobieta, Wietnamski, Czerwony Ao Dai

Green is the colour of nature – forests, meadows and gardens. In Ireland, it is also a symbol of good fortune, usually shown as a clover on St. Patrick’s Day. It is the colour of Islam, which is why most countries  in the Islamic world, such as Saudi Arabia, Palestine or Libya, have included this colour on their national flags. In Indonesia, according to tradition, green is a forbidden colour – it brings misfortune and may show infidelity. The Chinese also avoid green hats, since in the past they used to be worn by husbands with unfaithful wives.

Blue is the colour of trust and safety, that is why many companies eagerly design their signboards and logos in navy or azure. Sometimes, however, this colour may bring to mind sadness. This is due to the figurative meaning of the world “blue”, which has been used for some time in English language as an adjective meaning sad. In Hinduism, blue is the colour of happiness, joy and fertility, because, according to this religion, Krishna’s skin was blue.

Yellow is usually associated with the sun – it expresses optimism, happiness and positive energy. Nevertheless, people from Germany and France may associate this colour with envy and jealousy, and therefore, by tradition, in these countries we should not give anyone yellow flowers. By contrast, in Latin America and Egypt, it is the color of death and funeral ceremonies.

In the West, the colour white reminds us of goodness and innocence. Brides and children wear white clothes during Christian celebrations as a sign of purity. However, in many Asian countries this colour has a negative meaning reserved for mourning.

In contrast, in Western culture, it is the colour black that is associated with bereavement, misfortune and darkness. In the Chinese language, this colour also does not evoke positive associations. Hēi 黑 (black) is an adjective used to describe someone wicked and evil. However, in some African cultures black is a symbol of masculinity, maturity and sometimes it is reserved only for men. In present times, it is also a sign of elegance and prestige.

There are colours that appears only in a specific culture. One of them is qing – a Chinese colour which is a combination of dark blue and dark green. And in the Inuit languages, there are many colours of white.

Although almost all of us have the same beautiful sights right in font of our eyes, reality can look completely different on the language and culture level. The world’s languages like to use colours, putting them in many idioms and expressions, therefore knowledge of their meaning is really important in the process of translating. And that is why, according to the Picture theory of  language, it is worth learning new languages, learning about new cultures, and as a result – learning about completely new worlds.

(translation M.W.)

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