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Preferred Colors in Various Cultures based on Lexical Frequency: Comparison among Korean, English, French, Russian, Romanian, Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian

By Sang-Oak Lee, Seoul National University/Korean Studies Graduate Student Colloquium Series

Tuesday, October 07, 2008
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
11377 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Color Terms in Languages

Color plays a vitally important role in the world in which we live. Color can sway thinking, change actions, and cause reactions. The concept of color can be approached from several disciplines: physiology, psychology, philosophy, and art. As a powerful form of communication, color is irreplaceable. Red means "stop" and green means "go." Traffic lights send this universal message. Likewise, the colors used for a product, web site, business card, or logo cause powerful reactions.

English, French and Mongolian people like black most and white second most. In case of Mongolian, black means 'alone, without mixing' as well as 'dark' and white is regarded as the clearest and the purest color of mother's milk. The next ranks are red, yellow and blue. Green is relatively low probably because of rare vegetation in the most parts of Mongolia. [However, popularity among people based on common sense is in the order of white, blue and black. Black also appears to be the hippest color in the Korean mobile phone market as domestic handset makers compete to roll out black-colored models. "The phone is a big hit thanks to its unique colors. We expect more of our phones to come out in black this year," Samsung Electronics spokesman said.

Korean, Russian, Rumanian, Chinese and Japanese all have white on the top. In the second rank, Chinese has yellow unlike other languages because yellow had been regarded as the emperor's noble color or color of gold. Yellow color is also used as gold in flags of Ghana, Venezuela and Colombia. It is also interesting that red is ranked in the second in North Korea while it is the third in South Korea.

During the World Cup Games in 2002 Korean Soccer fans love to wear red shirts marked with 'Red Devil' and red head-bands. The Red Devil (Korean: Bulgeun Angma) is the nickname of the fans of the South Korean national football team, though not of the team itself. The Red Devils is also the long-time nickname of the English football club, Manchester United and Belgian national football team. The color red refers to the red jerseys the players wear during internationals. In Korea there had been red-fobia, fear to the red color which symbolizes communism since the Korean War in 1950. However, after the name and color of Red Devils from Europe were adopted, this fear has been phenomenally disappeared. They maybe forget the ideological concept associated to red since the communist's revolution and take up the passionate concept as color of blood for patriotic excitement. In Korean tradition as well as Chinese one there have been so-called obangsaek (lit. colors of five directions) in which red is included.

In the most recent event happened by a Korean artist, Jeon Sucheon, the AMTRAK train cross the American continent from New York to Los Angeles in eight days and was covered with white cloth to show that Korean is 'the race with white dress.' Indeed, white is the most favorite color but other four colors 'blue, red, black and yellow' have been preferred depending on the usage as mentioned above. The situation, however, is quite complex because statistical accumulation of used colors in different items may not guide us to a simple and single conclusion. We may roughly get general tendency but may not get clear ranking as obtained in rather clear criterion of lexical frequency in the first part of this study.

Open to the public

Cost : Free


Sponsor(s): Center for Korean Studies

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