In 순우리말, the basic color terms are 하양(white), 검정(black), 빨강(red), 노랑(yellow), and 파랑(blue). (There is also 보라(purple), but this word has Mongolian origins.)

This seems to violate the results of Berlin & Kay (1969) when 파랑 strictly refers to blue and not green.

However, there is also 푸르다, which can refer to green. Inserting this word between 노랑 and 파랑, the results of Berlin & Kay is agreed.

Yet however then, why isn't there a noun form of 푸르다 that is a 순우리말? All other color terms have both a noun form and a verb form: 하얗다/희다, 검다, 빨갛다, 노랗다, 파랗다.

1 Answer 1


Modern Standard Korean has the nouns 파랑 parang = blue vs 녹색/초록 noksaek/chorok = green, where the first is native Korean and the second is hanja-eo. Other nouns exist, e.g. 파란색 paransaek.

But 푸르다 pureuda, the root adjective connected to 풀 pul "grass", is not just blue or green - it is both, and also has connotations of "young" and "youthful". This mirrors 青 (Mandarin: qīng; Cantonese Jyutping: cing1) in Classical Chinese and 青い (あお​い) aoi in Japanese. Thus:

푸른 바다의 전설 pureun bada-ui jeonseol

Legend of the Blue Sea

푸른 숲 pureun sup

Green forest

Note that Berlin & Kay identify Stage IV, including most Classical East Asian languages, as continuing to colexify blue and green.

The derived 파랗다 parata is derived from 푸르다 + 하다, and is attested in Middle Korean as 파〮라ᄒᆞ다〮 (Yale: phálà-hòtá). This retains some of the "grue" meaning, but has narrowed over the years to blue, similar to Japanese 青い aoi; this was particularly accelerated after World War II, possibly due to education reforms.

So Korean over the last few centuries shows a 'model' transition from Stage IV to Stage VII on the Berlin-Kay development path, with semantic narrowing of 파랑 and 녹/초록 borrowing being its main strategies.

Note that such "families" also exist for other colours, but this semantic narrowing hasn't quite happened in the same way. E.g. the colour of fire 불 forming 븕다〮 in Middle Korean, with 붉다 as its 'normal' modern form, and 밝다 as a totally different derived term (to be bright); subsequently when suffixed with 하다 and then reduced, forming 발갛다, 벌겋다 and 빨갛다, the last of which forms the noun 빨강.

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