Colour is one of the bridges of cultural communication. The definition and extension of colour and cultural connotation of Chinese and English are also unique. As a common language civilisation of human beings, there are many similarities between Chinese and English in expressing colours, but there are also many differences. This paper starts with the relationship between colour words and culture, and specifically analyses the cultural connotation of Chinese and English colour words.
Language and culture are homologous. Culture is inherited by language, and language is colourful due to the development of culture. In the prolonged historical development of the Chinese and British nations, the uniqueness of language and culture to each ethnic group have been formed with its own human civilisation. But in terms of cultural traditions, national psychology and cognitive style, some differences can still be found. Starting with the different expressions and connotations of the same colour word in Chinese and English will help us comprehend the Chinese-English culture more accurately and deepen the research level of different national cultures.
1. The relations between language and culture
The differences in cultural expressions of different ethnic groups are enormous. This is mainly determined by their specific historical, religious and geographical factors. Different cultures can be reflected in different aspects such as language, clothing, food, habits and architectures. Language is the most intuitive and significant factor to reflect a culture. Culture is the basis for the existence and development of language. Language cannot exist independently from culture. Concurrently, culture is also influenced by linguistic development. Language and culture are accompanied by each other. Before the emergence of the history of human languages, culture is inextricable. It is precisely due to the emergence of language, culture plays the function of carrier and data recorder. It can be said that language has given us the ethnical cultural embodiment. Language has long been one of the important symbols of a nation to distinguish themselves from another nation. Colour vocabulary is the description and expression of language on objective reality. This applies to any kind of cultures, and hence the connotation expressed by colour has cultural differences. In the following section, this paper will specifically analyse the different connotations of several colours in the context of Chinese and English.
2. Connotational Contrast of Chinese and English Colour Words
In Chinese, we have several basic vocabularies to describe colours, namely red, yellow, blue, green, black, white, etc. These basic vocabularies will be used below as an example to compare and analyse the different cultural connotations through the expression of synonymous vocabularies in English.
Red often carries the meaning of joy and pleasure in Chinese. In the traditional Chinese culture, when the bride gets married, she must wear red clothes and cover the red hijab to manifest the jubilation - candles on wedding night are also red. The Chinese will put red spring couplets on the doors to celebrate the traditional Chinese festival and red lanterns will be hung at the doors in the Lantern Festival. Red can also express a trend and worship in the Chinese culture. In addition, it expresses beauty, success and other positive things, such as “confidante" (「紅顏知己」), “dividend/bonus” (「分紅」), etc. In the British culture, red is sometimes used to convey the same connotation as part of the festivity, as illustrated in “red carpet” , which is globally admitted as a cordial reception, and “red-letter day” is any day of a special significance or opportunity that one will always remember, in which this phrase comes from the practice of marking the dates of church festivals on calendars in red. Regardlessly, red is mostly associated with blood in the English context. It is often used as a derogatory expression to imply horror, cruelty and danger. For example, “red hand” can be misunderstood as grace, luck or skilful in Chinese context, yet the actual meaning in English connotation is precisely the reverse. “Red hand” metaphorically means having hands red with blood, which is likening to a murderer with hands red with the victim's blood. Red also has other interpretations, such as ”red-ruin" (war) and "red skin” is a disparaging term for the North American Indians. Red also functions as an alert and warning, such as “red alarm” is referring to the emergency alarm.
Yellow is the colour of the emperor in ancient China. It is a symbol of power and status. In modern times, yellow becomes a substitute for vulgar interests, such as “yellow novels (「黃色小說」)”, “yellow movies (「黃色電影」)” that illustrate obscene books and audio-visual publications. In English, yellow sometimes brings a similar expression to that in modern Chinese, such as "yellow journalism or yellow press”. Despite it does not bear any means of obscenity, it still has a negative meaning. “Yellow journalism” is generally a type of journalism that includes exaggerating facts and shocking headlines to catch reader’s attention for a higher sales. Yellow, in English connotation, most often represents melancholy, morbid, annoying, timid, for example, a "yellow-dog contract” is a metaphor used to refer to the employee who is signing an illegal agreement wherein he/she agrees not to join up a with the company’s labour union, to be “yellow-livered” or “yellow-bellies” is to be easily or cowardly scared - if you are yellow-livered/bellied, you are not brave.