77 Shades of black: the pragmatics of emotive color terms in Korean

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In this study, we aim to propose the Pragmatics and Semantics of what we term the emotive color terms (ECTs) in Korean as a subcase of expressive elements, analyzed as Conventional Implicature (Potts in The logic of conventional implicature, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005 et seq.). In exploring extremely complex connotational nuances in 77 variants of ECTs, we show the regularity of how such abundant derivations can be achieved by systematic phonetic and morphological alternations. What is particularly noteworthy about Korean color terms, however, is the fact that many of the possible variants can convey the speaker’s positive or negative emotional attitude that is reflected in a particular derivation of the color term, in addition to the regular meaning of the color term concerning quality/quantity of the color (Kennedy and McNally in Synthese 174(1):79–98, 2010). To capture the precise meaning difference, we propose a hybrid analysis of ECTs at the interface of Pragmatics and Semantics, which allows us to successfully capture the subtle differences in numerous variants of the ECT. Furthermore, we show how the dynamic paradigm of multiple expressives, ECTs and others, can be predicted by the Compatibility Condition Model and the Compatibility Condition Index (Yoon in Spec Issue Slurs Lang Sci 52:46–69, 2015; Yae and Yoon in Lang Sci 64:69–102, 2017). The rigorous investigation of 77 possible variants for a single color like ‘black’ reveals the systematicity of expressives, as part of our grammar, while the identification of another case of expressive element in language further supports the notion of multidimensionality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-66
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of East Asian Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Compatibility condition
  • Conventional implicature
  • Emotive color term (ECT)
  • Expressives
  • Korean
  • Multidimensionality
  • Quality/quantity of color


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