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Previous work on colour lexicons focussed on universal patterns in their structure and evolution. We collected new colour naming data in Japanese and three under-described Ryukyuan languages (Amami, Miyako and Yaeyama) to investigate semantic variation and change in the colour lexicon of related languages in a modern context. We found several new colour terms (e.g., midori and guriin for ‘green’) in the lexicon of Ryukyuan speakers, apparently resulting from contact with Standard Japanese and English. A comparison of our data with historical data suggests that modern Ryukyuan colour systems are closer to modern Japanese than they are to their historic pasts. However, we also found that modern-day Ryukyuan languages are more similar to each other than they are to Japanese. These findings show the scope of semantic changes that can occur through outside influence and highlight the need for fresh empirical data in the study of semantics in related languages.

Original publication




Journal article


Studies in Language

Publication Date





323 - 351