Basic color terms in Vietnamese ethnic minorities: Particularisms of the Tai Language

Author: Tong Hung Tam (Hanoi University of Natural Resources and Environment)
Speaker: Tong Hung Tam
Topic: Linguistic Anthropology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


The current study investigates ethnic communities in Northwest Vietnam employing the Tai language, and documents their use of basic color terms. Here, the study has recorded, and considers the use of these terms, by these communities, and the contribution of the language to perceptions and construction of, and socialization through, their lifeworlds.

The sample set comprises of approximately 400 participants, all of whom have been acculturated into the Tai language, in eight provinces throughout Vietnam: Hòa Bình, Lai Châu, Điện Biên, Sơn La, Lào Cai, Yên Bái, Thanh Hóa, Nghệ An. The study began in mid 2017, and is an ongoing project, aimed at increasingly documenting the linguistic particularisms of these communities.

The object of this paper thus becomes a documenting and elaboration of the basic color terms of Tai languages in those various communities throughout Vietnam. Based on the investigated structural and semantic features of six terms both denoting and connoting color, this study has thus far has determined that these color terms constitute the six basic categories of color in these Tai language(s).

This study thus seeks to elicit discussion on two issues; The first is on the usage of the Munsell chart to investigate this list of color terms, and the second is on the study of this list in view of historical language and culture contact. The study thus contributes to and moves classical Linguistic Anthropology forward, by revisiting discourses of color, particularism, and cosmology, in an Asian set of contexts.

Keywords: basic color terms, Tai language, Vietnam